Everyone is familiar with nurses and what they do. Regardless of whether you know a nurse, have been in the care of nurses, or spent time watching nurses look after a friend or loved one, you surely understand the basic role of the individuals who enact the decisions of doctors and keep healthcare environments running smoothly for all. There are also plenty of famous examples of nurses in history and popular culture to inform your notions of what these folks do: Florence Nightingale is one of history's most famous nurses, and films and television dramas like Nurse Jackie provide more modern portrayals of nursing.
That said, nursing is a more complex profession than you might imagine. There isn't simply one type of nurse who is responsible for all manner of healthcare environments and medical care: nurses specialize in different fields in order to work with different issues in entirely different sectors. Nurses are employed everywhere, from NGOs and grassroots organizations to corporate offices and hotels, using their skills to provide care and support to an incredibly vast array of individuals across the world.
Then there are nurses who have trained to take on slightly more responsibility in their chosen healthcare environment: nurse practitioners. This is a word you may have heard before, though you may not be aware of what it means. This article takes a look at what a nurse practitioner is, what nurses have to do to become one, and how exactly this role differs from the standard nursing work that everyone is used to seeing at hospitals, clinics, and care centers.
What Are Nurse Practitioners and Why Do They Exist?
Nurse practitioner is a job that was created in the United States in 1965 by Doctors Loretta Ford and Henry Silver. The expansion of healthcare services across the country and the increased access to medical care for so much of the population had created a need for nurses who were experienced and knowledgeable about the healthcare needs of diverse individuals. It was hoped that by training nurses to take on some of the responsibilities of doctors, more people would get the treatment they needed sooner.
The purpose of the nurse practitioner role was to move nurses more into the realm of public health. Nurse practitioners are not only trained to make decisions that standard nurses are not, they also have a community-based approach to care that allows them to work with larger populations in order to maintain and promote public health more broadly in the United States. By 1979, there were approximately 15,000 nurse practitioners in the United States, and the model was soon adopted in many other countries.
Today, nurse practitioners are common in many places. There are courses for nurses, as well as non-nurses, on how to become a family nurse practitioner at many colleges and universities across the United States and beyond.
Responsibilities: What Do Nurse Practitioners Do?
Nurse practitioners are responsible for undertaking at least one and a half years of post-baccalaureate training in a specialization of their choosing. While the original nurse practitioner model was exclusive to family medicine – the idea being that nurse practitioners would help alleviate the burden of family medicine on overworked doctors and thus make the healthcare system more manageable and accessible to all – nowadays, nurse practitioners can specialize in any field of medicine they choose!
Some of the most popular fields for nurse practitioners to specialize in are psychiatric care, adult geriatric care, women's health, oncology, and neonatal care. Where doctors are expected to be able to diagnose as many patients accurately as they can in a day, and write treatment plans that will be comprehensible, effective, and straightforward for each one, nurse practitioners are much more focused on patient relationships and communication. Rather than simply diagnosing and walking away, a nurse practitioner must identify the issue and discuss how to treat it with their patient.
Providing careful instruction to both patients and fellow nurses is a key part of a nurse practitioner's role: the idea behind the position is that it supplements the work of a doctor by outlining treatment plans that can be followed. In order to do this, nurse practitioners must be open, thoughtful, and able to communicate exceedingly well.
Setting: Where Do Nurse Practitioners Work?
Nurse practitioners are employed in a wide variety of medical settings. Of course, they often work in hospital environment, and are frequently employed by the ambulatory or emergency services of a hospital. This is because of the authority they have in their care knowledge, as well as their ability to communicate with a variety of individuals regarding treatment for illness or injury. Given the chaotic nature of emergency rooms and ambulance journeys, a nurse practitioner is the ideal person to be assessing and treating patients.
Nurse practitioners are also frequently employed at colleges and universities to provide care for students. This is because many concerns that students may have in their (often first) years of university are related to lifestyle – drinking too much, contracting STIs, etc. – and nurse practitioners are uniquely trained to be able to provide care that emphasizes the role of lifestyle and wellbeing in recovery and treatment.
One major environment that is constantly employing nurse practitioners, and that will only continue to employ increasing numbers of them in the coming years, is elderly care. As the worldwide population ages, an increasing number of elderly care facilities are being opened, all of which will require a great many nurse practitioners to care for patients and clients. Hospitals as well are dealing with increased numbers of palliative care patients (individuals who are at the end of their lives), and nurse practitioners are required to treat and monitor these folks as they die.
Private businesses, too, hire nurse practitioners. Companies that organize travel for businesses or schools often send along a nurse practitioner to ensure that everyone stays safe.
Nursing is a complex field that has grown to encompass a huge variety of roles in the last century. One such role is that of the nurse practitioner, a highly trained nurse who focuses on public health.