What Nurse Practitioners Do and Why They Are So Important

Most people would agree that nurses are arguably some of the most important professionals in any healthcare setting. Due to the fact that nurses play such a critical role in healthcare, it has never been more important for them to get advanced training in order to ensure that they are providing their patients with the highest standards of care. The growth of advanced training for nurses has led to the development of the nurse practitioner profession.

Nurse practitioners are registered nurses who have gained specialized postgraduate training in nursing and closely related healthcare fields. Many nurse practitioners obtain a doctor of nursing practice qualification and become extremely skilled experts in their profession. Nurse practitioners have more autonomy and responsibility compared to registered nurses; in many states, they are able to diagnose, prescribe, and run their own clinics. Depending on the state, this work might be done under the supervision of a physician.

What Does a Nurse Practitioner Do?

The daily work functions and tasks of a nurse practitioner will largely depend on their chosen area of specialization and their work environment. The work setting of a nurse practitioner will require them to perform a variety of tasks. In the majority of clinical settings, nurse practitioners encounter the patient at an early stage and they are often the first healthcare professional to attend to them. Some common tasks performed by nurse practitioners include: diagnosis of illnesses and injuries; prescribing medication; providing counseling and education to patients on better managing their health; making treatment recommendations and referrals to specialists; recording patient medical history; and providing guidance to patients regarding medications and treatment options.

What Are the Different Types of Nurse Practitioners?

Each nurse practitioner will choose a certain healthcare field to specialize in, which has led to various types of nurse practitioner roles. Some of the most common nurse practitioner specialties include:

Family Nurse Practitioner

This role is a more general nurse practitioner with a primary responsibility of dealing with general family health. These nurse practitioners treat patients of all ages and deal with a wide range of conditions. In states where it is permitted for nurse practitioners to do so, family nurse practitioners are typically the most likely to run their own clinic. Some prefer to provide care specific to women.

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

Pediatric nurse practitioners work mainly with children and either run their own clinics or work in a hospital under a pediatrician. These nurse practitioners specialize in issues that affect children, adolescents, and infants. A registered nurse can become a PNP nurse practitioner with a specialized advanced degree to prepare them for this position.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

These nurse practitioners specialize in treating patients who have psychiatric or mental health conditions. They do sometimes run clinics but are mostly based in hospitals and other healthcare settings. Psychiatric nurse practitioners treat patients with both chronic and acute mental illness by referring to specialists where possible, prescribing medication, and offering advice and guidance to families.

Neonatal Nurse Practitioner

Neonatal nurse practitioners care for pre- and full-term newborns that are critically ill. They are typically based in neonatal wards at hospitals and may also work in the community to provide care to patients and their families at home. While it is one of the best-paying specialties for a nurse practitioner, it can also be one of the most stressful.

Oncology Nurse Practitioner

An oncology nurse practitioner works with patients who are suffering from various types of cancer. They are typically based in hospitals and specialist oncology clinics and tend to work in collaboration with physicians.

Retail Health Nurse Practitioner

Retail health is a relatively new field that concerns minor illnesses and injuries. Retail health clinics are becoming more and more popular as a way for patients to get treatment for minor concerns or get health advice while running other errands. Many nurse practitioners run retail clinics on a solo basis, making this one of the best specialties for a nurse practitioner who prefers to work independently.

Surgical Nurse Practitioner

The role of a surgical nurse practitioner is to assist surgeons with procedures. While they are not licensed to conduct surgeries independently, they typically receive more training compared to a surgical nurse and can offer more assistance in the operating room.

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

Programs designed to facilitate a career as a nurse practitioner are available to most registered nurses. To become a nurse practitioner, a registered nurse must complete a master’s degree program at the least. Those who want to take their career even further might consider getting a doctor of nursing practice (DNP). Professionals looking to become a nurse practitioner will need to undergo intensive and advance clinical training that is far beyond what is required of RNs. The certification process to become a nurse practitioner after completion of an advanced degree will vary across states; however, in most states, nurse practitioners will need to be certified by the American Nurse Credential Center and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.

Why Are Nurse Practitioners Important?

Whether you are already a registered nurse looking to progress or are considering an advanced career in nursing, you may wonder why nurse practitioners are so important in the healthcare field. Nurse practitioners are much more than simply caregivers, and are tasked with a wide range of responsibilities including mentoring other nurses and healthcare professionals, conducting research, and educating their patients and the general public. The role of a nurse practitioner involves providing health education and counseling, promoting good health, and preventing disease. In the healthcare industry, nurse practitioners are also essential for lowering health costs thanks to the services that they provide. Statistics show that patients who visit nurse practitioners tend to enjoy lower medical costs, shorter stays in hospital, and fewer emergencies with their health.

The nurse practitioner role is one that is steadily growing throughout the country. Due to a nationwide shortage of primary care physicians, the need for good nurse practitioners to fill the gap has never been greater.