If you are currently a registered nurse (RN) working with a physician in a primary care environment, you may want to investigate furthering your education and becoming a nurse practitioner (NP). In certain states, NPs can provide primary care without the supervision of a physician or physician’s assistant. Practitioners enjoy a higher level of autonomy compared to their RN counterparts and can open their own practices to treat patients, diagnose illnesses, write prescriptions and order and evaluate lab tests.
With the critical shortage of doctors and nurses that the United States is experiencing, there is a high demand for qualified and knowledgeable nurse practitioners who can fill the void. Often, practitioners will see patients of all ages over a long period of time and take on family members as patients from birth. The familiarity with these patients puts practitioners in a unique position to educate families with genetic predispositions on preventative habits and treatments.
What roles do primary care nurse practitioners play in healthcare?
Primary care providers
Nurse practitioners are licensed and trained to be independent clinicians who focus on treating and managing illnesses, injuries and disease prevention. They often work as primary care providers in areas where there is a shortage of physicians and can do much of what a physician can do, depending on the state licensing laws. NPs diagnose, treat and manage acute diseases, while focusing on the promotion of healthy habits and preventative medicine. These valued members of the medical community work in various settings including:
- Health management organizations
- Physician private practices
- Nurse practitioner private practices
- Schools and colleges
- Public health departments
- Homeless shelters
- Nurse managed clinics
Nurse practitioners have more autonomy and responsibility than registered nurses because of their advanced training and extensive education. Becoming a nurse practitioner requires a degree at the master’s level. The online MSN programs available with accredited schools like the University of Indianapolis provide a flexible way to attain this degree while still working. Online classes can be done on a part-time basis and often can be incorporated into a registered nurse’s existing schedule. The role of a practitioner brings with it an increase in professional satisfaction, personal growth, salary and autonomy. NPs are in a position with increased responsibility and often take on leadership roles within organizations.
When nurse practitioners are in a primary care role, their practice includes:
- Examining and assessing patients.
- Ordering, administering and interpreting laboratory tests.
- Making diagnoses and creating treatment plans.
- Initiating and managing treatment.
- Prescribing medication and non-pharmacologic treatments.
- Collaborating with other medical professionals to coordinate care.
- Counseling patients and their families.
- Educating patients and their families on healthy habits.
- Recommending resources in the community.
Other roles filled by primary care nurse practitioners include:
Mentors: Research suggests that there is great benefit to a mentoring relationship with new nursing practitioners in a hospital setting. The mentor and mentee go through three stages of the relationship and at the end of the process they both grow professionally and personally. It is the hope that the mentee would then take on a leadership role and acquire a mentee of their own to impart what they have learned. This helps train the future generations of nurse practitioners and improves the level of care.
Advocates: NPs are in a perfect position to advocate for their patients, their colleagues, and themselves. With the respect of their profession and others in the medical field, nurse practitioners can effect change in policy as well as offer recommendations on community resources. They are often referred to for their expert opinion on preventative care resources, and enhancements to existing resources for their communities.
Teachers: Nurse practitioners educate their patients on proper nutrition, lifestyle habits, and other preventative measures to keep disease at bay and maintain excellent health. The role they play in patient care places them in a unique position to treat different generations of a family and educate on any genetic diseases that may be apparent. With the advanced education and training, NPs can collaborate with other healthcare professionals in other disciplines to provide holistic medical care.
Primary care nurse practitioners are valued and respected because of their knowledge and unique perspectives when it comes to patient care. Most NPs work in the field directly with patients in clinical settings and have experience dealing with patients one-on-one. Their empathy, compassion and skills make them the perfect combination of clinician and caregiver. The role of an NP is invaluable in today’s healthcare system.