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Nurse Practitioner

Nurse Practitioner


What it Takes to Become a Nurse Practitioner


A nurse practitioner must enter the training program for the profession as a registered nurse.  There are multiple paths to RN status, but if the intent is to go on to nurse practitioner training a bachelor’s degree is recommended; some states require it.   The candidate must complete a state-approved advanced training program that usually specializes in a field such as family practice, internal medicine, or women's health. The degree can be granted by any of the following:


  • A community college, which grants an associate in arts degree


  • A hospital-based program, which grants a 3-year diploma


  • A university, which grants a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree


During the 1970s, the NP requirements relaxed to include continuing education programs, which helped accommodate the demand for NPs. Currently, all three educational options to attain NP status are valid, provided they are acceptable in the state where you intend to practice.


After completing the education program, the candidate must be licensed by the state in which he or she plans to practice. The State Boards of Nursing regulate nurse practitioners and each state has its own licensing and certification criteria. In general, the criteria include completion of a nursing program and clinical experience.


The Scope of Practice for the Nurse Practitioner


About five years ago, the Journal of Advanced Nursing undertook the job of developing a white paper defining the nurse practitioner’s role in the evolving healthcare environment.  In sum, the contributors to the document concluded that nurse practitioners provide primary health care services to individuals, families, groups of clients, and communities. While some nurse practitioners work independently, many are housed in doctor’s offices and see patients in that environment much as a physician does.  


Within that setting, a nurse practitioner’s job involves the diagnosis and management of common acute illnesses/injuries and stable chronic diseases. In the provision of these services, the nurse practitioner may order, conduct, and interpret appropriate diagnostic and laboratory tests and prescribe pharmacologic agents, treatments, and types of therapy.   Educating and counseling individuals and their families regarding healthy lifestyle behaviors are key components of NP care.


The Health Care Environment and the Nurse Practitioner


Legally, the nurse practitioner falls in the category of Advanced Practice Nurse (APN).  In is in this context that each state’s Nurse Practice Act, the law defining nursing jobs and qualification requirements, establishes the extent of treatment that nurse practitioners can offer.  Generally, the states are waking up to the fact that there are over fifty million Americans with no health insurance because legislatures are witnessing the public health systems being overwhelmed.  For that reason, alternatives to traditional medical care are being welcomed more readily – and nurse practitioners fall into that category.


Nurse Practitioners have demonstrated the ability to provide care to many underserved groups, such as children, women, migrant workers, the homeless, and the elderly in nontraditional settings, such as schools, work sites, and health departments. Multiple studies have documented the high quality of care and cost-effectiveness of nurses providing primary care.  Schools of Nursing are investing significant resources for preparation of NPs and NPs are graduating in record numbers.

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