The Nurse Practitioner
Nurse practitioners are an essential part of the dynamic field of health care, but the existence of this well-respected position is relatively new in the history of medicine. First finding its footing in 1965 as an educational option for health care professionals, nurse practitioner programs grew to more than 65 by 1973. In 1974, the Council of Primary Care Nurse Practitioners was formed by the American Nurses Association (ANA), which offered authenticity to the role in health care provision. In 1985, The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) was formed and had 100 members by the end of its first year.
The Journal of the AANP offered its first publication in 1989; The New England Journal of Medicine published an article in 1994, "Advanced Practice Nursing-Good Medicine for Physicians," that further emphasized the cost-effectiveness and quality that NPs could offer to the medical community.
National Nurse Practitioner Week was officially recognized by Congress in 2004, and by 2016, there are an estimated 222,000 NPs working in the United States. Most recently, the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners and the American College of Nurse Practitioners merged to create the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), and an even greater attention was given to the importance of the profession.
A Bill for Better Health Care
With recent modifications to insurance qualifications and a growing elderly population (approximately 78 million) seeking medical attention and treatment, the role of the nurse practitioner is already evolving, and in some states may soon have some rights equal to that of physicians.
The following 21 states and DC have already awarded their nurse practitioners the right to practice and prescribe independently of physician supervision:
- New Hampshire
- New Mexico
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
With more authority to diagnose illnesses, prescribe medications, and order tests, a nation facing a shortage of primary care providers is finding a solution by means of care by qualified NPs. A specific shortage of doctors in rural areas, and with underserved populations mandates the need for greater numbers of NPs.
As these new regulations take effect, many nurse practitioners will continue to be recognized for their ability to:
- Perform physical examinations, treatments and procedures
- Offer specialized services in such areas as women’s health
- Evaluate and advise on health risks
- Provide psychological counseling
- Order and interpret laboratory and diagnostic tests
- Offer pregnancy health care
- Organize health care services
- Provide health education
- Prescribe medications
Under these new bills, nurses will have increased independent prescriptive authority, allowing the ability to "prescribe, without limitation, legend (prescription) and controlled drugs, devices, adjunct health medical services, durable medical goods, and other equipment and supplies." Controlled substances can include pain relievers, antibiotics, medicine for cough and diabetes medications.
Currently, state laws concerning NP prescriptive authority vary slightly from state to state, including restrictions on controlled substances and/or the necessity to include physician oversight. The AANP's interactive map provides regulatory requirements and state policy fact sheets for all 50 states.
The Future of Nursing
Presently, all NPs in the U.S. must hold a master’s or doctoral degree. Additionally, most have years of experience, both in clinical arenas and in terms of professional work. Their presence in the health care industry has proven to be of high quality, cost-effective, and more affordable for patients and health care organizations. The number of states adopting these new policies is growing daily, and in a country where the number of primary care physicians pales in comparison to the number of individuals seeking medical treatment, nurse practitioners are greatly needed.
If you are ready to join a group of extraordinary individuals who are part of an evolving medical community, now is the time to earn your online Master of Science in Nursing with a Family Nurse Practitioner Concentration at The Catholic University of America. You can help meet the demand for advanced practice nurses and join the ranks of esteemed colleagues who are gaining more and more responsibility in medicine. CUA is a well-respected institution with a 75-year history in nursing education with experienced faculty and staff dedicated to support, advanced knowledge to inspire you, and values to guide you toward making a real difference in patient care.