National Nurse Practitioner Week kicks off on November 7 and ushers in celebrations honoring the work of nurse practitioners (NPs) everywhere while also raising awareness of the career path and of the need for more NPs in healthcare.
Sponsored by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) and honored by many healthcare organizations, National Nurse Practitioner Week recognizes the many skills NPs bring to their patient care approach.
According to the AANP, nurse practitioners diagnose and treat health conditions, but also bring in the perspective of disease prevention and health management to patient care. As nurse practitioners look at the whole patient, they are able to identify areas that also might be impacted by a diagnosis or health condition and help patients manage and mitigate any symptoms.
For example, a patient with an inflammatory bowel disease diagnosis might benefit from additional information about the importance of sleep and nutrition. A patient with a family history of certain cancers will benefit from additional guidance around healthy behaviors and additional screening for prevention.
Nurse practitioners must have additional education and training above and beyond their RN status. Nurse practitioners have either a master’s or doctorate degree and have completed additional training in healthcare settings. With this elevated expertise, nurse practitioners are practically and legally able to care for their patients in ways RNs cannot. A nurse practitioner can diagnose and treat patients, prescribe medications, and order and interpret lab and diagnostic testing. They often are involved in research and advocacy as well.
As they move through their careers, nurse practitioners are sought after for their expertise and their experience treating many patients and conditions and practicing under the overall scope of reinforcing prevention and healthy lifestyle behaviors. As all nurses, NPs are especially focused on patient education and helping patients achieve their healthiest lives within the parameters of their health conditions.
The personal connections NPs make with their patients are exceptionally valuable to both. Nurses work closely with patients to understand their daily habits and any socioeconomic influences that could act as barriers in their pursuit of good health. Nurse practitioners are excellent at making connections to specialists when patients need that care and working with other healthcare providers to help ensure the best outcomes.
The week of November 8-14 honors nurse practitioners with National Nurse Practitioner Week. Nurses who achieve this professional status have plentiful and rewarding career opportunities to explore. As a nurse practitioner (NP), nurses have the flexibility and options to focus their practice in specialties that are most meaningful to them.
As nursing students consider their career paths, becoming a nurse practitioner is often a goal for nurses who want a degree of autonomy and who might enjoy the challenges of making many decisions in treating patients.
Because becoming an NP requires at least a master’s of science in nursing and a doctorate in nursing is encouraged, becoming an NP takes dedication to earning advanced degrees. If you’re considering becoming an NP, you don’t need to follow a direct educational path but you do need a commitment to earning those degrees.
Working as a registered nurse while you continue your studies to an NP gives you opportunities to find the niche of nursing that most appeals to you. Throughout your different roles, whether those are your early clinicals as a student or your first jobs after you graduate with a bachelor’s degree and assume a registered nurse (RN) role, you’ll explore many different specialties to find a good fit. Planning out your professional path helps you take steps toward each goal.
The American Association of Nurse Practitioners is a national organization that supports NPs ability to practice independently. In some states, NPs are able to practice entirely independently in a solo practice if they choose. Other states require NPs to work under the oversight of a physician. NPs and physicians are able to diagnose patients and treat them as they consider the patient’s health and additional factors that may impact their treatment plans. Like a physician, nurse practitioners’ required education and advanced training allow them to become licensed to prescribe medications to patients, something RNs aren’t licensed to do.
Within a NP path, nurses can choose a specialty that appeals to them. Many NPs become family practitioners and treat all ages and conditions. Others may specialize in the mental health and psychiatric specialties and others may choose to focus more on a specific age group (older adults or pediatrics). As you become more experienced in your career, you’ll develop important relationships with your patients, many of whom you’ll treat over a long time.
This week, celebrate your accomplishments and the changes you have made in the lives of your patients.
Operating with the highest level of autonomy, nurse practitioners are lifelines for many patients.
This week’s designation as National Nurse Practitioner Week (November 10-16) is an excellent time to examine the roles nurse practitioners (NPs) play in the nation’s healthcare system.
The American Association of Nurse Practitioners is a leading professional organization for NPs and also leads advocacy for issues relating to NPs. A nurse practitioner has achieved an educational path that brings them to Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (ARPN) designation. That gives them essential nursing knowledge and combines it with the ability to use it in a more comprehensive manner than a registered nurse (the first step to becoming an NP).
One of the biggest challenges facing NPs today is achieving full-practice authority (FPA) in all states. Because NPs have wide-ranging responsibilities that include examining and treating patients, diagnosing illness, and prescribing medications, they often work at the level of a physician. In some states, a nurse practitioner is not mandated to work under the supervision of a physician or required to have a physician sign off on some of their treatments. In states that don’t recognize the full practice authority of an NP, that additional layer of physician sign-off is required.
A nurse practitioner is able to “hang a shingle” and operate as a solo practice in any location. Many NPs choose to do so in remote areas where practicing physicians are hard to find or in urban areas where transportation to a medical office is a barrier to care. They are a vital cog in the healthcare wheel. They often assume many of the responsibilities of a primary care physician, developing relationships and providing preventive and long-term care. They see and treat patients with chronic diseases like asthma or diabetes and work in conjunction with a specialized care team as well.
If upping your career to a nurse practitioner level interests you, there are steps to get started. NPs require a master’s in nursing (with a focus on the population you intend to serve) and achieving a PhD in nursing is desirable for this role. After becoming a registered nurse, completing the BSN and MSN, you’ll need to earn your state-level advanced practice nursing license.
While NP authority is determined on the state level, there is progress toward achieving a national model. For now, some states participate in the APRN Contract, which allows a nurse holding an APRN license to essentially have authority to practice in several states. Not all states are part of the ARPN, so you’ll need to check to see where your own practice location, or intended location, fits in.
Career outlooks for NPs are stable. As the number of family practice physicians decline and the population increases, NPs are there to help patients on a high level. They are also able to work with communities that may not have had reliable medical care in years. The freedom to develop deep and lasting multigenerational relationships with patients and families is a routinely cited reason for working in this busy role.
If you’re an NP, National Nurse Practitioner Week is a good reminder to let people know of the training and skill set required of nurses in this area of nursing. And it’s a good time to give yourself a pat on the back for all you do.
The week kicks off today and runs through November 18 and honors the work NPs do both on the job and as ambassadors for the nursing profession.
Minority Nurse caught up with Dr. Scharmaine L. Baker, FNP, FAANP, FAAN, CEO at Advanced Clinical Consultants, to talk about the role of a nurse practitioner. After Hurricane Katrina, Baker’s New Orleans patient caseload swelled from 100 to 500 in three months. With a critical shortage of health care facilities and providers, Baker’s skills as an NP not only saved her patients, but also clearly showed how invaluable her thorough NP training is.
National Nurse Practitioner Week, says Baker, is a way to give nurse practitioners the recognition they often don’t receive. “National Nurse Practitioner Week gives us the positive spotlight that we deserve,” she says.
This kind of national attention to the nurse practitioner’s work shows the devotion nurses have to caring for a patient, and also helps clear up any misunderstandings about the role and how an NP works within a health care team. “Nurse practitioners don’t just prescribe a medicine and send you out of the door,” says Baker. “We take the time to listen to the patient stories about their children, spouses, pets, and job promotions. These stories often solve the complicated puzzle of making an accurate diagnosis. It’s called holistic care of the total man.”
When prospective nursing students are deciding on a career path, Baker urges them to consider a few things. Top in their minds should be the honest assessment of their commitment to making this career decision. Taking the time to complete the challenging NP studies isn’t easy, she says. “Once they have decided that this is indeed the right time to pursue an Advanced Practice Nursing degree,” she adds, “then the necessary preparations as far as letting family and friends know that they will be somewhat unavailable for the next three to four years because the schooling demands all of your time for successful completion.”
But when the degree completion and training are done, the potential for a lifelong career that challenges you, uses all your skills, and lets you connect with and help people is gratifying on many levels. As a nurse practitioner, you’ll be diagnosing, assessing, and treating medical conditions. You’ll also look at the whole patient. NPs take into account the interplay between a patient’s physical and emotional well-being as well as the environment they live in. By doing so, they can help treat every part of a patient’s condition.
“I get to hear the stories that make my patients happy or sad,” says Baker. “Then, I get to connect those stories to their physical state. They are always related. I enjoy providing health care on this advanced level. I get to take care of the whole patient.”
Baker also points out that while NPs continue to earn recognition and some states are allowing them to practice on their own, there is still work to be done. “The most challenging and frustrating part of advanced practice nursing is the many restrictive laws that prevent us from practicing to the full extent of our scope,” she says. “It’s downright ridiculous! I long for the day when all states will actively have full practice authority.”
Currently, nearly two dozen states allow nurses to have full practice authority where they practice without physician oversight. Baker continues to advocate for full practice authority among all nurse practitioners. She also urges NPs and the nursing profession to continue to honor the nurses who worked so hard to get all nurses where they are today.
“Many have fought for us to be where we are,” says Baker. “Every time we show up and provide stellar care, we make our founding nurses beam with joy. We must never forget their sacrifices.”
Celebrate National Nurse Practitioner Week this week and spread the word about these highly skilled professionals. Use #NPWeek to share photos and tags on your social media posts to help others see just what satisfaction a career as an NP can bring.
See Our Champions of Nursing Diversity
Sign up now to get your free digital subscription to Minority Nurse