If you're interested in a dynamic healthcare career that precludes years of medical school, you might be well suited to become a nurse practitioner. In many states, nurse practitioners have full authority to assess, diagnose, and treat patients, not unlike a primary care physician (PCP). You'll answer a noble call and fill a gaping void in the national healthcare system; University of the Cumberlands can help you get there.

What Is a Nurse Practitioner?

Nurse practitioners hold a master's degree or higher in nursing and have received advanced clinical training. In other words, they're highly trained medical professionals who are fully capable of seeing patients without the oversight of a medical doctor. To date, 24 states and the District of Columbia have granted nurse practitioners full practice authority. And this is a good thing because it's helping to fill the gap in primary care. 

In the 21st century, roughly 84 million Americans remain without regular health care. Instead of seeing a primary care physician for preventative and maintenance care, they visit emergency rooms when something goes wrong. This is due, in part, to the growing deficit of physicians that is only expected to worsen. A recent study by the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts alarming trends in healthcare over the next ten years, including shortages of more than 17,000 medical specialists, 28,000 surgical specialists, and 41,000 miscellaneous medical specialists, including psychiatrists, pathologists, radiologists, and neurologists.

If no one steps forward to fill these voids, Americans can expect much longer wait times to see certain specialists, higher costs of medical care, and longer travel times to and from their doctors. Fortunately, nurse practitioners can be trained to take over many of the duties of a primary care physician, helping patients with preventative medicine to lessen their dependence on physician care. This is changing the quality of health care for the millions of people who live in remote or depressed areas that can't attract enough PCPs.

What Can a Nurse Practitioner Do?

Nurse practitioners can do more than most people realize. In full-practice states, this includes evaluating patients, diagnosing patients, ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests, and prescribing medications. They may even legally prescribe controlled substances when warranted. In some situations, nurse practitioners may even assist with surgery as long as the surgeons are present to oversee the procedure.

In states that follow reduced-practice or restricted-practice regulations for nurse practitioners, there must be a collaborative relationship with a physician in place before the NP can assess and treat patients.

Whether you live in an area where nurses have more autonomy or must report to a physician may mean the difference between booking an appointment a week in advance and being seen the same day, whether you end up having to go to the emergency room for medical attention, and how much your medical care will cost. 

How Is a Nurse Practitioner Different from a Nurse?

A nurse practitioner is an advanced practice registered nurse, or APRN. They possess either a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). As a result, they have more education and clinical experience and are permitted more responsibilities concerning patient care. To become a nurse practitioner, you would need 500 or more hours of clinical experience in addition to your degree. You must also become licensed in your state of practice and be certified and re-certified every five years by the American Nurses Credentialing Center or the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.

In contrast, a licensed practical nurse needs an associate degree in nursing, and a registered nurse needs a bachelor's degree. Both positions require licensing and passing the NCLEX (National Counsel Licensing Examination).

Why Are Nurse Practitioners Becoming So Popular?

There is a high demand right now for anyone with a nursing or medical degree, and there needs to be more skilled and trained people to fill these roles. As a result, nursing positions across the country have many elements in common, including:

  • Lucrative salaries
  • Impressive sign-on bonuses
  • Great job security
  • Great benefits
  • Flexible scheduling

Those with the proper credentials have the opportunity to step into roles that are highly rewarding in multiple ways—and becoming a nurse practitioner positions you to help patients and communities with inadequate access to primary care.

What's Changing in Healthcare for Nurse Practitioners?

Today's nurse practitioners have more opportunities than ever before. And along with opportunity comes a more significant burden of responsibility. In many states, NPs can now provide most facets of primary care without the oversight of a medical doctor. This means they can have their own practices and see their own patients, acting as primary care providers. About half the states permit NPs full practice rights, but the push is on to get the remaining states on board shortly.

Therefore, if you decide to pursue your Master of Science in Nursing or your Doctor of Nursing Practice, you may enjoy more freedom on the job than ever before, depending on which state you find employment.

History of the Nurse Practitioner Role

It wasn't always this way. The role of a nurse practitioner is relatively new; that is to say, it came about in the early 1960s. In 1965, the first college program designed to train nurse practitioners opened in Colorado. Still, it took nearly a decade for the position to earn recognition from the medical community. Beginning in 1973, nurse practitioners began having access to continuing education courses and credentialing programs that boosted their status as independent healthcare professionals. But it wasn't until 1989 that they could receive reimbursement from programs such as Medicaid and Medicare without the oversight of a medical doctor. In the early ’90s, the American College of Nurse Practitioners was formed, and this organization oversees and supports today's nurse practitioners.

How NPs Are Shaping the Future

Changing healthcare has made it possible for nurse practitioners to enjoy the freedom they experience today, which includes the ability to treat patients of all ages. In the beginning, nurse practitioners mostly treated children and families, which is where the Master of Science in Nursing - Family Nurse Practitioner (MSN-FNP) comes into play. This is still a popular specialization among those pursuing their NP education, and it's part of the reason NPs are so adept at filling the gaps in primary care.
NPs in Independent Practice

In many states, nurse practitioners now function as primary care providers. This means they no longer need oversight or permission from a medical doctor to care for patients. It also means their services are fully reimbursed by insurance companies such as Medicaid and Medicare, they no longer have to be paid by a hospital or doctor, and they’re free to build a private practice from the ground up – things that were once disallowed in the field of practical nursing.

How Today's Nurse Practitioners Are Answering the Call

Today, nurse practitioners are heading out into areas where primary care physicians often won't go. This includes rural areas, areas that are depressed, and areas that are remote and difficult to access. NPs are answering the call and providing life-saving health care for the families and individuals who live there. It's a noble cause that requires strength, determination, and a willingness to help others.

If you're interested in learning more about the dynamic world of considering a career as a nurse practitioner, we invite you to consider University of the Cumberlands today. At University of the Cumberlands, we offer an online Master of Science in Nursing -- Family Nurse Practitioner, or MSN-FNP. It gives you more flexibility to earn your degree around current life responsibilities. Contact us today to learn more.