Many people may be unaware that the role of the Nurse Practitioner has been around since the mid-1960s when it came about as a result of a nationwide shortage of physicians here in the United States. These APRNs are prepared through advanced education and clinical training to provide a wide range of healthcare services to individuals of all ages. The NP is qualified to meet the majority of patients’ healthcare needs ranging from primary care to acute care.
What Do Nurse Practitioners Do?
NPs are allowed to provide a broad range of high quality, cost effective, and individualized healthcare services to patients, though exactly which services they are allowed to provide can vary slightly from state-to-state. Their scope of practice and authority depends on state laws, yet they are certified through national organizations which attempt to create consistent professional standards across all states in the U.S.
Depending on the state in which they operate, Nurse Practitioners can take health histories of their patients, perform comprehensive and very focused physical examinations, diagnose and treat acute as well as chronic illnesses, order diagnostic tests, interpret the results of those tests, read X-rays, prescribe and manage medications (including controlled substances) and other types of therapy, perform biopsies, perform or assist in minor surgeries and procedures, as well as educate and counsel patients on healthy lifestyles and how to prevent illness. If needed, they can also refer patients to other healthcare professionals or admit them to healthcare facilities such as hospitals. These are just a sample of the services that can be provided by this type of APRN.
Nurse Practitioners work in a variety of healthcare settings. They may work in clinics, office practices, emergency care centers, and hospitals. They often deliver patient care in rural areas, on college campuses, in inner city community health centers, or in worksite employee health centers. More recently they are being found in more and more pharmacy stores performing tasks such as administering flu shots, diagnosing illnesses for walk-in patients, and prescribing medications.
In some states NPs must work in a facility along site a physician with whom they collaborate. In other states they are allowed to have their own private practices. Some even operate nurse-managed health centers where all health care is provided by Nurse Practitioners.
In addition to providing patient care, NPs are often hired by healthcare technology firms such as pharmaceutical companies. They often teach in schools and universities. They can work for various government agencies. They can even work as healthcare researchers.
NP Sub-Specialty Areas
There are many sub-specialty or concentration areas that can be pursued by Nurse Practitioners. They can specialize in a variety of settings and a variety of patient populations. Some of those specialty areas include but are not limited to:
- Family Health (FNP)
- Pediatrics – General (PNP)
- Pediatric Acute/Chronic Care
- Pediatric Critical Care
- Pediatric Oncology
- Neonatology (NNP)
- Gerontology (GNP)
- Women’s Health (WHNP)
- Psychiatric/Mental Health (PNHNP)
- Acute Care (ACNP)
- Adult Health (ANP)
This is by no means an exhaustive list and is, instead, only a small sample of settings and populations served by NPs.
Many programs allow NPs to further specialize. For example, they may offer a general Acute Care NP program but also allow you to further specialize, choosing between Neonatal Acute Care, Pediatric Acute Care, Adult Acute Care, and Gerontological Acute Care programs. Some institutions may offer dual NP programs where you prepare to be certified in two different NP specialties.