When you go to the doctor's office, sometimes you might see a nurse practitioner (NP) instead of a doctor. Some patients are confused about why they are seeing an NP. Can they trust their quality of care?
More doctors are sending their patients to NPs. Often, NPs can see patients sooner than a doctor can. NPs also can spend more time with patients to better understand their health issues. Nurse practitioners are important healthcare providers where there aren't enough doctors to meet the community’s needs.
Even in cities, doctors can be very busy. Without the help of NPs, they might not be able to give their patients all the care they need. Also, minority nurse practitioners are stepping up to bridge gaps in healthcare. Many people prefer NPs with a background they can relate to. The nurse practitioner listens to their concerns and helps them understand medical problems.
Nurse Practitioner vs. Physician: What Is the Difference?
So, what's the difference between a nurse practitioner and a doctor? Doctors usually go to medical school for four years after completing a four-year undergraduate degree. Then, they train on the job for three to four years in a specialty such as family practice. Surgeons and other specialists might also spend their first few years being supervised by other doctors.
Nurse practitioners are not doctors. They’re registered nurses (RNs) who have gone through additional schooling and training. After earning a four-year nursing degree program, they gain experience as a nurse. Then, they study for three or four years to be a nurse practitioner. Graduates earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree.
Nurse practitioners can assess patients, order diagnostic tests and prescribe medications or other treatments. However, they cannot perform surgery or other special procedures such as cardiac catheterizations. In most states, NPs can work on their own but must have an agreement with a doctor to consult with them on complicated cases.
NPs can work in many medical settings and see a wide range of patients. Family nurse practitioners see patients of all ages in primary care settings. Geriatric nurse practitioners specialize in caring for elderly patients. Acute care nurse practitioners treat patients in the hospital. Psychiatric nurse practitioners focus on people with mental health conditions or brain disorders.
There are also other types of advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). The clinical nurse specialist (CNS) diagnoses and treats older people or other specialized groups. A certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) handles anesthesia and pain management in hospitals.
What Does a Nurse Practitioner Do?
Doctors and nurse practitioners work together to care for patients in outpatient and hospital settings. NPs can work with patients, order diagnostic tests and prescribe treatments. If they haven’t had much experience with a condition, the NP will talk with a physician about the care plan. If patients feel they need a physician’s expertise, they can also request to see a doctor.
For health plan members, NPs also trained to listen closely to patients. They show respect for their concerns and give detailed treatment instructions. NPs are an important part of getting a smooth transition of care. They manage the handoff from a hospital, rehabilitation center or nursing home. Working alongside doctors and other medical staff, nurse practitioners deliver high-quality care.
Nurse practitioners have practical training that’s different from doctors. Yet their time spent with patients helps them get to the heart of problems. This is why NPs are so important. Patients can trust the quality of care they receive from nurse practitioners. They work as part of a team to ensure the best possible outcomes.