If you go to the doctor regularly for checkups, then you may have encountered a nurse practitioner at one time or another. Nurse practitioners perform a variety of functions in private practices, hospitals, clinics and other areas in which there’s a shortage of medical doctors, but they also practice on their own. Like doctors, nurse practitioners can diagnose and treat patients. They also practice in specialized areas of medicine. However, there are a few things that set nurse practitioners apart from other medical providers.
A Unique Perspective
Nurse practitioners or NPs can diagnose your symptoms, suggest treatment options, order and interpret medical tests, and provide ongoing care for conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes or pregnancy. These are all things that a doctor might also do. The primary difference between an NP and a doctor is what they focus on, according to Maverick Health. Medical doctors go to school to study diseases and cures. Nurse practitioners train to treat patients on a holistic level. Your doctor may want to make you better, but a nurse practitioner wants to help you avoid getting sick in the first place. It’s a small distinction that makes a big difference in standard of care. Nurse practitioners are more patient-focused, which is why they typically make good primary care providers.
Education and Training
A regular nursing career requires an associate’s or bachelor’s degree depending on location, but nurse practitioners must train for much longer. They also need advanced degrees. In fact, a master’s degree is usually just a starting point for nurse practitioners. Most successful NPs go on to earn a Ph.D. or a Doctor of Nursing Practice, which is also called a DNP. Neither of these degrees is the same as a medical degree, as in what your doctor holds, but they serve to designate that your nurse practitioner has gone through rigorous academic, didactic and clinical training in her field. Nurse practitioners must also register with and be licensed by the state in which they practice.
In addition to standard training, NPs can also specialize in different areas of medicine, including gerontology, psychiatric or mental health, and women’s health care, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. Subspecialties include gastroenterology, sports medicine, cardiovascular health and emergency treatments. The American Nurses Credentialing Center is just one of several boards that offers individual certification to nurse practitioners.
On an average day, an NP will meet with patients, perform physical examinations, order tests, diagnose and treat different conditions, monitor regular patients on ongoing treatment plans, conduct research, meet with other medical practitioners for consults, and perform a variety of tasks that support these and other efforts. In short, nurse practitioners handle a workload that’s similar to a medical doctor’s with the added responsibilities of nursing duties. Nurse practitioners usually focus on preventive medicine in an effort to keep patients better for the long term.
Related Resource: Nurse Executive
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurses are in high demand thanks to several factors, including new health care legislation, an aging Baby Boomer generation and greater need for preventive care. By 2014, it’s expected that the employment of nurse practitioners will grow by 31 percent, which is much faster than the average for other jobs. The average nurse practitioner earns a six-figure salary, making this a good career choice for those who are looking for better job security and passionate about treating people.