Nurse practitioners are advanced practice nurses who provide care to patients across the lifespan. Nurse practitioners can prescribe medication in all 50 states (including controlled substances) and the District of Columbia. Nurse practitioners have the ability to practice independently in 26 states (and counting)!
Nurse practitioners are educated at the graduate level, with most graduating with a master's degree. The terminal degree for the profession is the clinical doctorate- the DNP. Back when the nurse practitioner profession was founded in 1965 graduate degrees weren't required.
Nurse Practitioners provide a range of services across the primary, acute and specialty roles including, but not limited to:
Ordering, performing and interpreting diagnostic tests such as lab work and x-rays
Diagnosing and treating acute and chronic conditions such as diabetes, fractures, infections and musculoskeletal injuries
Prescribing medication and other treatments
Managing patients' overall care
Education and counseling on disease prevention and health and lifestyle changes
ARTICLE TO READ
The Rise of The Nurse Practitioner
There are many specialties an aspiring Nurse Practitioner can choose from:
A FNP can see ages from infancy to adulthood and offer preventative health services, education and disease management. FNPs usually work in outpatient primary care clinics, but can be found in may other subspecialties such as urgent care, emergency room and rural health clinics.
Formally known as Acute Care NP, Adult Gerontology Acute Care NPs manage the care of acutely ill adults and seniors, both in the hospital and in speciality clinics. They are trained to manage complex issues and prevent complications. AGACNPs are found in acute care and hospital settings such as the MICU, SICU, trauma units and specialized outpatient clinics.
This designation was once known as the Adult NP. The Adult-Gerontology Primary Care NP. These NPs can see patients age 13 thoughout the senior years. They work in both inpatient and outpatient settings in a variety of specialties such as internal medicine, prisions and rehabilitation centers.
PNP-PCs take care of the primary care needs of children from birth to young adulthood, mainly in outpatient, non-acute clinics. The focus of their care is on well childcare, prevention, and management of common pediatric acute illnesses and chronic conditions. They can practice in a variety of settings including; but not limited to school-based clinics, private practice and subspecialty clinics.
These NPs focus on the acutely ill pediatric population. They are found working in intensive care unitis, emergency rooms, and subspecialty clinics. They can also be found in children's urgent care centers. Their scope includes infants, children, adolescents and young adults.
An ENP treats patients of all ages in emergency departments (EDs) or urgent care facilities. ENPs practice in community EDs, trauma centers, critical access hospitals and urgent care clinics. Most ENPs are FNPs who obtain additional emergency specialty education either through the completion of an academic or post-graduate fellowship program or through on-the-job training and continuing education (CE). Nurses interested in this path must first obtain certification as an FNP.
Neonatal NPs deliver care to pre-term and full-term infants, including those with life-threatening conditions and chronic illnesses. They oftentime attend high-risk births and are trained in neonatal resuscitation NNPs work in newborn nurseries (Level I), Intermediate care nurseries (Level II), and Neonatal intensive care nurseries (Level III).
A women's health NP delivers primary health care to women from adolescent to childbearing and advanced age. They also manage normal and high-risk prenatal well-woman care. They serve in infertility clinics and women's health clinics.
PMHNPs care for teh mental health needs of both children and adults. They can access , diagnose, and treat individuals with mental health disorders. They can be found working in outpatient clinics, hospitals, community centers, and even in private practice. PMHNPs are in high demand in the U.S.
Nurse practitioners hold advanced degrees; either a master of science in nursing (MSN) or a doctorate of nursing practice (DNP). All nurse practitioners must hold an active RN license, hence the term "Advanced Practice Nurse."
There are a variety of programs that will lead you to a Nurse Practitioner degree depending on your starting point; RN-MSN programs, BSN-MSN programs and even direct entry programs if you hold a bachelors degree in another field and want to become a Nurse Practitioner (the RN portion of the program is completed before one can sit for the NP boards). Didactic and clinical portions of a program prepare nurses with specialized knowledge to practice in primary care, acute care and long-term care settings.
After graduation from a Nurse Practitioner program, one must take a certification (board) exam dependant on their chosen specialty (Family, Women's Health, Pediatric, etc) to be granted "Certified" or "Board Certified" status. With whom you take your board exam is also dependent on the specialty you choose, as a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), I took the ANCC (American Nurses Credentialing Center) FNP exam which granted me the "BC" designation. I also had the option to test with AANP (American Association of Nurse Practitioners) to obtain the "C" designation, but ultimately it doesn't matter and you don't have to take both exams to become a nurse practitioner. Some specialties only have one certifying board, such as women's health which is certified by the NCC (National Certification Corporation).
It's best to enter into Nurse Practitioner school with a solid knowledge base from your time as an RN (at least a year, but more is best!) so you can build upon the information you already know.
Nurse Practitioners are able to practice independently in 28 states (and counting!) and in the VA health system. Take a look at the map to see what your state looks like in terms of full practice authority.