Nurse Practitioners and Their Role in Healthcare

by Ruth M. Kleinpell Ph.D, RN, FAAN

If you have received healthcare lately, you may have encountered a nurse practitioner, but you may not be familiar with what they do. A nurse practitioner is a registered nurse with advanced education and training, which enables him or her to diagnose and manage many common illnesses, either independently or as part of a health care team. Nurse practitioners have a master’s degree in nursing, and many obtain national certification in a specialty area such as women’s health, geriatrics, pediatrics, family health, adult health, or acute care. Nationwide, there are over 100,000 nurse practitioners who work in a variety of healthcare settings. While nurse practitioners have traditionally worked in out-patient and primary care settings such as clinics, they also work in hospitals as well as acute care facilities and urgent care centers. The role of the nurse practitioner continues to evolve in response to changes in health care.

Most recently, the number of hours a medical student or resident can work in the hospital was reduced by government regulations. As a result, many hospitals are employing nurse practitioners to work in additional areas such as the medical or surgical floors, radiology, outpatient surgery, and intensive care units. The scope of practice of a nurse practitioner varies depending on individual state’s regulations. In all 50 states, nurse practitioners have the ability to prescribe medications, although some states limit their prescription of controlled substances or require physician delegation of prescription writing. Nurse practitioners often work in collaborative practice with physicians, which enable them to provide direct care to patients as well as to provide education and counseling. Nurse practitioners focus largely on health promotion, disease prevention, and education. As a result, they are knowledgeable resources for health related information, and often have time in their schedules to provide consultation and teaching. The advantage to the healthcare consumer is often better access to care as well as positive health outcomes.

Ruth M. Kleinpell Ph.D. RN. FAAN

Rush University College of Nursing;
Nurse Practitioner/Professor
Our Lady of the Resurrection Medical Center
Chicago, Illinois

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