A nurse practitioner is a registered nurse who has achieved an advanced level of education and training. Generally, a nurse practitioner must have at least a master's degree, as well as a higher level of training in the diagnoses and treatment of a range of common medical conditions and illnesses. Some nurse practitioners seek training in highly specialized areas of medicine as well.
The job of a nurse practitioner is very similar to that of physician. In fact, nurse practitioners often have working relationships with physicians. Like a physician, a nurse practitioner can perform the duties of a primary health care provider and can offer medical care to patients of all ages. In most states, a nurse practitioner is legally allowed to prescribe medications.
A nurse practitioner is able to operate an independent medical practice. However, some choose to work in medical groups consisting of other nurse practitioners, physicians, or other medical personnel. Many work in hospitals and other types of medical facilities.
In addition to handling patient medical needs, nurse practitioners also pay close attention to the effects of illness on their patients' families, as well as on their home and work lives. Nurse practitioners typically place a good deal of emphasis on the prevention of illnesses, patient education, and wellness. Since they prioritize prevention and wellness, nurse practitioners generally prescribe medications less often than medical doctors. Furthermore, they are less likely to recommend expensive medical treatments.
In the United States, the level of care that may be provided by a nurse practitioner is regulated by each individual state. Therefore, the duties of a nurse practitioner may vary based upon where his or her practice is located. Typically, however, nurse practitioners diagnose and treat a full range of illnesses, chronic diseases, infections, and medical conditions. Individuals in this field also obtain patient medical histories and perform physical examinations. Nurse practitioners may also perform minor in-office surgical procedures.
Often, nurse practitioners work collaboratively with physicians and other medical professionals. They commonly provide counsel to patients, informing them of treatment options and guiding them in the development of self-care skills and healthy behaviors. When required, they refer patients to specialists.
To become a nurse practitioner, an individual must first complete the education and training required for a career as a registered nurse. Though an individual can become a registered nurse with an associate's degree, many employers in this field recommend achieving a bachelor's degree in nursing. Once an individual is a registered nurse, he or she may enter a state-approved training program to become a nurse practitioner.