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Nurse practitioners

Who they are, and what they can do

By Gary Porter

What’s a nurse practitioner, or NP? Many people don’t understand what these skilled professionals do, or how they are different from other health care providers.

’60-80 percent of primary and preventive care can be performed by a nurse practitioner.’

The basic answer: A nurse practitioner is an advanced-practice registered nurse who has completed an advanced educational and training program. The American Nurses Association reports 60-80 percent of primary and preventive care can be performed by a nurse practitioner. Nurse practitioners have been providing health care services to patients for more than 40 years, first emerging in the mid-1960s in response to a nationwide physician shortage. Nurse practitioners’ practice authority may vary from state to state. Their role has expanded to meet the demand for accessible health care and the clinical training to make diagnoses that will guide management and treatment for acute and chronic illnesses. Nurse practitioners play a pivotal role in disease prevention and health promotion.


Nurse practitioners can strengthen their role in the health care system as they build on their skills and knowledge with continued education. Based on the scope of practice and competency, a nurse practitioner may:

  • Provide well/sick care
  • Offer physical examination, treatment and procedures
  • Prescribe medications
  • Order and interpret laboratory and diagnostic studies
  • Offer health risk evaluations
  • Provide coordination of health care services
  • Provide health education
  • Perform certain procedures

A training nurse practitioner may pursue either a master’s or doctorate degree. Regulations outline the educational preparation, licensure and certification required for nurse practitioners. They may choose to specialize depending on personal interest.

Challenges may arise when addressing health risks and implementing patient education, but to ensure a patient’s best outcome, an effective, therapeutic relationship is needed. Despite obstacles, the focus of medicine is to improve health and quality of life through a patient-centered approach — and nurse practitioners play an important role in that process.

Porter is a nurse practitioner with Memorial Hospital, specializing in family medicine. Reach her at (228) 575-2680.

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