Many physicians’ offices, hospitals, and urgent care clinics often have nurse practitioners (NPs) working in them. Although it’s usually the patients who aren’t sure what this kind of nurse does, we know that some of our readers may not know as well—at least not all the minutia involved with this kind of job and career path. Considering that more nurses are choosing to become NPs, knowing this information is important—especially in helping you decide if this is where you want to go next.

We interviewed Joyce Knestrick, PhD, APRN, C-FNP, FAANP, a family nurse practitioner and president of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), to learn more about what exactly a nurse practitioner is and does. An edited version of our interview follows.

What is a nurse practitioner and what type of work does s/he do? What additional duties and responsibilities are they able to do because of their additional education?

The first thing to know is that NPs provide primary, acute, and specialty health care to patients of all ages and walks of life. We operate in all types of care settings from hospitals to home care, and urgent care clinics to the VA.  NPs conducted over a billion patient visits in the last year alone. Many of your readers have probably seen an NP at some point, and we have developed a solid reputation of being close to our patients. The profession’s track record of patient-centered health care and outstanding outcomes have been well established over 50 years of research. NPs assess patients, order and interpret diagnostic tests, make diagnoses, and initiate and manage treatment plans—including prescribing medications.

NPs complete a master’s and/or a doctoral degree program, along with having completed advanced clinical training beyond their initial professional RN preparation. If an NP wants to go on to specialize in an area of care, it requires additional education and training.

With over 234,000 NPs across America, each having to undergo rigorous national certification, periodic peer reviews, clinical outcome evaluations, as well as adherence to a code for ethical practices, we’ve quickly become the primary care provider of choice for millions of Americans from rural areas to dense urban ones. About 16% of the profession works in communities of less than 10,000 and over 36% work in communities with a population less than 50,000.

Are there currently any barriers to practicing as a nurse practitioner? If so, what are they?

Yes, there are several barriers to practice for NPs all across the country. Currently, 22 states, plus the District of Columbia, allow NPs to practice to the full extent of their education, training, and licensure. While that may be over 40% of the country, AANP believes every state should enact laws enabling what we call “full practice authority.”

Every state is unique with its own set of public policy and political challenges, but we are committed to removing the barriers between NPs and their patients by drawing on the expertise of NPs who serve at the intersection of health care policy and patient care with the goal of achieving better health and improved access to care, at a lower cost.

We’ve identified several states as priorities this year. Any of you readers who are interested in helping to reduce barriers to practice for NPs should visit and look for our state policy guide.

To make it easier for people to understand many of the nuances surrounding the FPA issue, we’ve assigned each state a color (see our map here).

Green states, which we’ve already mentioned, allow NPs to evaluate patients, diagnose, order and interpret diagnostic tests, initiate and manage treatments—including prescribing medications and controlled substances—under the exclusive licensure authority of the state board of nursing. This is the model recommended by the National Academy of Medicine, formerly called the Institute of Medicine, and National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

Yellow states are called “reduced practice states,” and they reduce the ability of an NP to engage in at least one element of NP practice. State law requires a career-long regulated collaborative agreement with another health provider in order for the NP to provide patient care or limits the setting of one or more elements of NP practice.

Red states are called “restricted practice states,” and they restrict the ability of an NP to engage in at least one element of NP practice. State law requires career-long supervision, delegation, or team-management by another health provider in order for the NP to provide patient care.

There are many reasons why states fail to modernize regulations to enable NPs to practice to the full scope of their education and clinical training, not the least of which is pressure from organized medicine. That’s not to say that there aren’t similarities between yellow and red states’ barriers, but each state requires its own approach, and we actively identify legislation, support state-level NP organizations’ policy initiatives, and develop policy resources that cultivate strong NP leaders and sound health policy in every state.

What states are the best to work in as a nurse practitioner? Why?

Of course, any state colored green on our map will be more favorable to NPs than ones colored yellow or red. As the map demonstrates, western and northeastern states have chosen to enable NPs to practice to the fullest extent of their clinical training and licensure.

Why is it important for NPs to be able to practice fully? What do they bring to the health care table, so to speak, that benefits the health care system as a whole?

As clinicians, NPs blend clinical expertise in diagnosing and treating health conditions with an added emphasis on disease prevention and health management. We bring a comprehensive perspective to health care.

Michele Wojciechowski

Michele Wojciechowski is an award-winning writer and author of the humor book Next Time I Move, They’ll Carry Me Out in a Box.

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