Who are Nurse Practitioners?
Have you ever been treated by a nurse practitioner? The number of nurse practitioners grows rapidly every year, so if you haven’t made an appointment with one yet, you may soon.
Nurse practitioners (NPs) are the primary care providers of choice for millions of Americans. According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, there are 355,000 NPs in the U.S., and more than 1.06 billion visits are made to NPs each year.
These essential providers are sometimes misunderstood by the general public because of the first word in the profession’s name, “nurse.” Some believe that a nurse cannot diagnose conditions or prescribe medications. However, nursing is a broad field, full of several different specialties and certifications. Just as a doctor or physician assistant can be your primary care provider, so can an NP.
National Nurse Practitioner Week is celebrated November 13-19. During this time, take the opportunity to learn more about NPs and how they can help you or a loved one. Below, Andrea Colvin, a family nurse practitioner at Stout Internal Medicine & Wellness, shares more about the role of an NP and addresses some common misunderstandings so you’ll feel confident in your care — no matter what type of provider you choose.
Understanding Nurse Practitioners
“A nurse practitioner is a nurse with a graduate degree in advanced practice nursing. They are highly educated and qualified,” said Colvin.
To become an NP, one has to receive their bachelor’s degree in nursing, earn their registered nurse license, complete an NP-focused graduate master’s or doctoral nursing program, pass the national board certification exam, and earn their state’s NP licensure. It usually takes 6-8 years of academic and clinical preparation to become a nurse practitioner.
A nurse practitioner can practice in both primary care and specialized areas like oncology, dermatology, or cardiovascular. They help patients in nearly every healthcare setting including doctors’ offices, hospitals, clinics, schools, and home healthcare.
“NPs provide a wide range of healthcare services including yearly check-ups, routine screenings, vaccinations, diagnosing illnesses, treating illnesses such as sore throat, allergies, or flu, disease prevention, and chronic disease management, among others,” said Colvin.
“They also help patients have a voice in their treatment and better understand their health,” she added.
Nurse practitioners can help patients in many of the same ways that doctors can. Like doctors, NPs manage their patient’s overall care.
“NPs and doctors are both authorized to diagnose conditions, prescribe treatments, and act as primary care providers,” said Colvin.
Many believe that NPs cannot prescribe medications, but they actually can. NPs can prescribe medicine in all 50 states, though the scope of practice varies by state. Whether this task requires physician supervision depends on the practice authority in each state.
It’s important to note, however, that NPs are not medical assistants to doctors. This is a common misconception. NPs are licensed healthcare providers who diagnose and treat patients.
“Nurse practitioners practice under their own license in collaboration with their supervising physician,” said Colvin.
Another misunderstanding, some believe you should visit a doctor after an appointment with a nurse practitioner. This is not the case. Seeing a nurse practitioner counts as a quality healthcare visit.
“You can choose to see a nurse practitioner as your primary care provider. Overall, NPs empower patients to advocate for themselves, leading to healthier lives,” said Colvin.
Why did you become a nurse practitioner?
“I became an NP so I could partner with individuals from all walks of life to achieve the highest quality of life through health education and healthy-lifestyle modifications,” said Colvin. “I find the long-term relationships that are formed through patient care very rewarding.”
Andrea Colvin, FNP-C, practices at Stout Internal Medicine & Wellness. If you would like to schedule an appointment with Colvin, please call 704-360-9310.