Registered nurses play an important role in health care. They treat patients and teach them how to take care of themselves. They perform routine diagnostic tests, operate medical equipment and give medication to patients. With additional education and training, registered nurses can become advanced practice nurses. One type of advanced practice nurse is a nurse practitioner. Nurse practitioners are specialty care providers who offer advanced health-care services to patients and may have authority to prescribe medication.
The first nurse practitioners graduated from the University of Colorado in 1965, and the profession has grown steadily since then. According to the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, there were approximately 140,000 nurse practitioners working in the field by 2011. Almost 9,000 new nurse practitioners join the profession every year. State law regulates the nurse practitioners who practice in each state. All 50 states and the District of Columbia license nurse practitioners.
Nurse practitioners typically specialize in one practice area, such as geriatrics, pediatrics, oncology, family health, neonatology and mental health. They can prescribe medication for patients. A nurse practitioner can diagnose an illness or chronic condition, counsel the patient on how to manage the condition, prescribe treatment for the condition and manage the patient’s care over time. He may also analyze and interpret x-rays and laboratory test results.
Education, Residency and Internship
Nurse practitioners are not required to work as residents or interns. A nurse practitioner must have an undergraduate degree and a graduate degree. Nurses who have earned a bachelor’s degree receive nonhospital clinical training during their undergraduate years. A nurse practitioner may attain just a master’s degree, but the American Association of Colleges of Nursing has recommended that all nurse practitioners attain doctoral degrees. The AACN recommends that, by 2015, all nurse practitioners should earn a “doctor of nursing practice” degree.
Time to Complete Education
According to a Vanderbilt University study, a nurse practitioner can complete her education in six or seven years if she starts her practice after receiving a master’s degree. If she completes a doctoral degree, her education is complete with a total of 2,800 to 5,350 hours of study. In contrast, a family physician must complete a total of 20,700 to 21,700 hours of study, including up to 10,000 residency hours that nurse practitioners are not required to complete.