Nurse practitioners: Important members of the health care team
February 16, 2009
It’s a question nurse practitioners are often asked: “So what is a nurse practitioner, exactly?”
Most people want to know how a nurse practitioner relates to that of a physician or a physician’s assistant. With over 3,200 nurse practitioners in Colorado, it’s an important question.
What kind of training do nurse practitioners (NPs) have?
Nurse practitioners are registered nurses with advanced education (a master’s or doctorate degree) and training in order to diagnose and manage medical conditions and provide preventive services along the way. Many NPs specialize in order to care for a specific population. Examples include family, adult, women’s health care, geriatric, infectious disease and pediatric specialties. In addition to an advanced degree, they may choose to become board certified in their specialty.
Isn’t that the same thing as a physician assistant (PA)?
Although the roles of NPs and PAs are very similar in practice, they are not exactly the same. Nurse practitioners are required to have a degree and certification in nursing prior to entering graduate training as a NP. Physician assistants may enter graduate training with an undergraduate degree in any field. The most significant distinction between the two is their differing levels of autonomy. Although nurse practitioners collaborate with physician colleagues on a regular basis, they are not required to have oversight from a physician. Physician assistants are required to have supervision from a physician in order to practice.
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But NPs can’t write prescriptions, right?
Wrong. Each state has specific regulations regarding NP prescriptive authority. In Colorado, nurse practitioners can write prescriptions for all of the medications a physician can.
Why do we need NPs when we have doctors?
More physicians than ever are choosing to specialize, which makes family practice physicians harder to find. This is especially true for rural communities like those in Grand County. At the same time, our nation’s aging population requires more services than ever before. When you add the rising costs of health care to the mix, it is essential that we have as many professionals on our team as possible.
Nurse practitioners are not about to replace physicians or PAs, nor should they. The similarities and differences among these specialties provide for opportunities to collaborate that expand beyond their individual roles. The result is more options for you and your family.
” Brandy Mitchell, guest writer for this week’s column, is a board certified Adult and Women’s Health Care Nurse Practitioner practicing in Grand County.