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The Role of a Nurse in Primary Health Care

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Primary health care is the medical care a patient receives during first contact with the health care system, from a primary care doctor or general medical practice. Nurses in primary health care typically work for a general medical practice or in general practice doctor's office.

Education and Licensing

All registered nurses are required to have a minimum of an associate’s degree in nursing from an accredited program. To practice nursing, candidates must pass a national licensing exam—the NCLEX-RN—to receive a nursing license. Primary care practices may also require nurses to have Basic Life Support certification.

Medical Role

Under the supervision of a general practice physician, responsibilities include assisting doctors with outpatient services—direct patient care, taking vital signs and noting symptoms before the physician’s examination, phlebotomy, and telephone triage to assist patients before their scheduled appointments or refer them to emergency medical facilities.

Primary health care nurses may oversee non-medical staff in the office and answer questions regarding medical insurance, billing and patient care. Because medical technology continues to advance, oversight organizations such as the National Council of State Boards of Nursing and the Bureau of Health Professions have allowed nurses to take on additional medical responsibilities, letting doctors see more patients.

Additional Duties

Primary health care nurses may work with insurance companies to ensure a patient's treatment and care is covered. Preparing prescription information can also be part of the job, including contacting pharmacies to ensure prescriptions can be filled in a timely manner.

Work Environment

Most general practice offices are open during normal business hours, which are Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Offices typically are closed holidays and weekends, unlike hospitals, which typically require nurses to work holidays, weekends and evening shifts.

Average Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, an average salary for a nurse working in a doctor’s office in 2006 was $53,800 per year. Such occupations are expected to grow 39 percent by 2016, because of technological advances and an increasing emphasis on preventive care. Also, elderly populations are growing and are expected to require more medical care.


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