The term “nurse practitioner” is widely misunderstood by patients who hear the word “nurse” and assume a certain set of responsibilities that complement the work of a doctor. Nurse practitioners have a very different role from registered nurses and provide a high level of care for many common conditions. Americans make more than 916 million visits to NPs each year, and for good reason. These healthcare providers are filling an important gap and helping patients stay healthy in a variety of environments.
Myth: Nurse Practitioners Aren’t as Experienced as Doctors
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A nurse practitioner is not the same as a registered nurse. An NP completes additional training and education. To become an NP, you must complete a master’s or doctoral degree program. This includes advanced clinical training and specialized courses. When treating you, an NP is just as equipped as a doctor. Depending on the individual, your NP may even have more experience than a new physician in the same practice.
Myth: Nurse Practitioners Don’t Work in Specialized Fields
Nurse practitioners can choose from several specialties. A family nurse practitioner treats patients of all ages, and may focus specifically on how illness can affect the family unit. An adult-gero primary care NP focuses on adults and elderly patients, typically treating only those individuals who are over the age of 13. A women’s health nurse practitioner focuses on the unique needs of women. These NPs may provide many of the same services you would get from a gynecologist. Many schools, like the University of Cincinnati, offer specialized programs for each path.
Myth: Nurse Practitioners Can’t Prescribe Medications
Just like physicians, nurse practitioners can prescribe medications. They can also order lab tests and analyze the results. In most cases, an NP can provide you with all the care you would get from a physician. They can diagnose and treat most conditions, and will continue to follow up with you and provide ongoing care.
Myth: A Nurse Practitioner Assists a Doctor
Unlike registered nurses, nurse practitioners may work independently of a physician. While some NPs do still have their charts reviewed and signed off by a physician, others work in an environment with no physician involvement. Rest assured that a nurse practitioner can and will refer you to a specialist or licensed physician if they discover an illness or ailment that they are not equipped to handle.
Myth: Nurse Practitioners Always Work in Hospitals
Some people think of nurses as professionals who are exclusive to the hospital environment. This is untrue of all nurses, but particularly of nurse practitioners. A nurse practitioner can work in a physician’s office, school, hospital, clinic, or have his or her own practice. The work environment for a nurse practitioner is as varied as that of a doctor. They can work in many different places depending on their specialty.
The job outlook for nurse practitioners is excellent, with an estimated growth of 34% over the 2012 to 2022 decade. Whether you’re looking for a new health care provider or are considering a future in nursing, this is one career keep an eye on.