When asked to name a type of frontline healthcare professional, most people will say doctor. The rest will probably say nurse. While doctors and nurses are the most commonly known types of frontline healthcare professionals, they aren’t the only ones. Others include physician assistants, pharmacists, and nurse practitioners.
Generally speaking, nurse practitioners are part-doctor and part-nurse. In fact, virtually every nurse practitioner was once a registered nurse. Due to the relatively fast turnaround time from school to certification compared to doctors and the resulting affordability from the point of view of healthcare facilities, nurse practitioners are in high demand.
For those interested in entering the healthcare profession, pursuing a career as a nurse practitioner could be the right decision. The academic process is not nearly as long and strenuous as medical school, nor is it as expensive. All the while, the high demand for licensed NPs means employment opportunities are plentiful. It all adds up to being a rewarding as well as a lucrative career.
But what do nurse practitioners do, exactly? To provide a sufficient explanation, we must first look at what it takes to become a licensed NP:
Those looking to become nurse practitioners must first earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and become registered nurses. While it’s theoretically possible to transition directly to NP certification, it’s considered ideal for aspiring NPs to work as RNs for at least two years.
The next step is to go to graduate school and earn a master’s in an NP-related program. The most common is the doctoral nursing program. Upon graduation, you’ll need to pass a national nurse practitioner certification exam.
By then, you should be thinking about which specialization you prefer. That’s because you’ll want to go for specialized certification rather than go back and retake the test at a later date. For instance, if you want to become a family nurse practitioner (FNP), you’ll want to take an FNP review course before your exam. That way, you gain specialized certification right out of the gate.
Demand for nurse practitioners is expected to grow dramatically over the next decade. It’s estimated there will be 29,400 job openings each year for the next ten years. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for NPs in the United States is $123,780 per year. That breaks down to $59.51 per hour.
Now that we have that out of the way, it’s time to dive into the duties and responsibilities of nurse practitioners:
Many nurse practitioners handle the physical exam tasks once performed by doctors. Once the nurse checks your vitals and asks a series of basic questions, the NP will come in and probe further. If they’re unsure of what’s wrong, they consult the doctor on duty. But chances are the NP will get to the bottom of the problem via physical examination. While the doctor will make the official diagnosis, that decision will be mostly based on the assessment of the NP.
While it varies from state to state, most NPs have the authority to prescribe medication to patients. This is perhaps the greatest distinction between registered nurses and nurse practitioners. RNs cannot prescribe medicine, but most NPs can. This effectively gives doctors more time to work on more pressing issues than writing prescriptions for patients.
When an NP is stumped, they often consult the doctor on duty. However, they may decide to authorize or conduct diagnostic testing in order to get a better sense of what’s wrong. In theory, a patient may only see the doctor once for a few minutes while the NP handles the bulk of the responsibility in diagnosing and treating patients.
Care plan development
Nurse practitioners have the power to devise and authorize various treatment plans for patients. They also have the authority to make medical recommendations to patients regarding lifestyle in an effort to help them achieve better health and wellness. Again, the doctor will always have the final say, but the doctor will typically allow their NPs to call the shots unless the situation is life-threatening or especially complex.
When it comes to frontline medical workers, MDs and RNs get most of the credit. While that credit is deserved, it fails to consider the other healthcare professionals working to help patients, like nurse practitioners. They’re one of the unsung heroes of modern medicine. But in due time, they’ll get the recognition they deserve.