About Nurse Practitioners

Who are nurse practitioners?

Nurse practitioners (NPs) are registered nurses (RNs) who are prepared, through advanced education and clinical training, to provide a wide range of preventive and acute health care services to individuals of all ages. NPs take health histories and provide complete physical examinations; diagnose and treat many common acute and chronic problems; interpret laboratory results and X-rays; prescribe and manage medications and other therapies; provide health teaching and supportive counseling with an emphasis on prevention of illness and health maintenance; and refer patients to other health professionals as needed. NPs have prescriptive privileges and are authorized to practice across the nation. NPs can prescribe controlled substances (narcotics) in all States except Alabama and Florida.

What is the history of the NP role?

Nurse practitioners have provided a healthy partnership with their patients for more than 45 years. The nurse practitioner role had its inception at the University of Colorado in 1965 in response to a nationwide shortage of physicians. Programs were developed to provide additional education for experienced nurses. The first programs were in pediatrics and they soon spread to many other health care specialties.

What type of services do NPs provide?

Nurse practitioners provide primary and some acute care, and are qualified to meet the majority of patients' health care needs. NPs promote a holistic approach to healthcare and emphasize the overall health and wellness of their patients. For example, NPs take medical histories and perform physical exams; diagnose acute problems such as infections and fractures as well as chronic problems such as asthma and hypertension; provide routine care such as prenatal; well-child and preventive adult health care; order and interpret laboratory tests, X-rays and other diagnostic studies; prescribe medication and other treatments; and provide education and support healthy lifestyle behavior.

Where do NPs practice?

Nurse practitioners practice in a variety of specialty areas and settings where health care services are provided for individuals and groups. These include: employee health services, health maintenance organizations (HMOs), home health care agencies, hospitals (inpatient and outpatient services), long term care facilities, NP-managed health centers, prisons and correctional institutions, private offices, psychiatric facilities, schools and college health services.

How are NPs different from PAs (physician assistants)?

While NPs and PAs often perform similar functions, there are important distinctions between these health care professionals. PAs work under the supervision of a physician. They must meet the entrance requirements of a PA program, but that does not necessarily include a background in medicine or nursing. In contrast, NPs may work independently or in collaboration with a physician and must have an RN license before being accepted into an NP educational program.

How do NPs feel about access to health care?

Access to cost-effective, quality health care is a right of every American. Furthermore, individuals should have the right to access the health care provider of their choice. Legislatures at the national and state levels should advocate for individuals to have reasonable access to health care services.

NPs provide services for diagnosis, treatment and management of disease as well as illness prevention and health maintenance. Numerous studies conclude that nurse practitioners perform as well as physicians in their specialty of practice, in patient diagnosis, management of specific diseases and patient outcomes. NPs have improved access to and affordability of health care by consistently offering high quality and cost effective service. Nurse practitioners should be active partners and providers of health care as they ensure delivery of quality health care in a cost-effective manner.

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