The month of November’s National Nurse Practitioner Week (October 10-16) honors these highly qualified nurses, who play a vital role in the health and care of the public. The demand for nurse practitioners dates back to the 1960s when state governments were forced to create new ways to meet the ever-growing demands for health-care services due to shortages of doctors and increasing health-care demands of the public. Here we are 40 years later, and the demands remain the same if not greater. With the current implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, an additional 32 million patients will require access to primary care. The primary care physician workforce is expected to continue to shrink as fewer medical residents choose internal medicine specialties. By 2020, the United States will face a shortage of more than 45,000 primary care physicians. The scarce supply of primary care physicians requires a robust nurse practitioner workforce to answer the increasing demand.
Nurse practitioners are certified to deliver safe and cost-effective care to their patients. They utilize a holistic approach in their care and see their patients as individuals with unique individual needs; they formulate their care plans accordingly. Research has shown that with nurse practitioners’ expert knowledge and excellent bedside manners, they deliver same quality of care as physicians, if not better. Nurse practitioners (NPs) are dedicated to bridging the gaps in health care to meet the needs of patients in California. Working in collaboration with physicians, NPs diagnose and manage acute and chronic conditions, prescribe medications, educate and counsel patients on health-care issues, and provide hands-on care to patients.
California has more than 16,000 of the 140,000 practicing NPs in the U.S. Nearly 9,000 new NPs are trained each year at over 325 colleges and universities. They work under standardized procedures that are developed in collaboration with the physicians, nurses, and facilities they work with. These standardized procedures are tailored to meet the needs of the unique setting and patient population in order to allow the nurse practitioner to maximize his or her education and training.
Nurse practitioners play a critical role in meeting California’s health-care needs. Working hand-in-hand with other licensed medical professionals, NPs improve the responsiveness and efficiency of our health-care system. Because of their focus on primary care, disease prevention, and counseling, NPs serve as health-care first responders for many families, providing care to people of all ages and in diverse health-care settings, such as private office practices, hospitals, long-term care facilities, schools, state and local health departments, and community clinics.
Nurse practitioners also improve the health-care system’s ability to reach underserved populations. Primary health care is desperately needed in many urban and central city communities. NPs serve in these areas where there is a high demand for health care and a shortage of available physicians.
Among the many areas in which nurse practitioners specialize are Acute Care, Adult Health, Family Health, Gerontology Health, Neonatal Health, Oncology, Pediatric/Child Health, Psychiatric/Mental Health, and Women’s Health. Their scope of practice includes:
• Diagnosing, treating, evaluating, and managing acute and chronic illness and disease (e.g., diabetes, high blood pressure)
• Obtaining medical histories and conducting physical examinations
• Ordering, performing, and interpreting diagnostic studies (e.g., routine lab tests, bone X-rays, EKGs)
• Prescribing physical therapy and other rehabilitation treatments
• Furnishing drugs for acute and chronic illness
• Providing prenatal care and family planning services
• Providing well-child care, including screening and immunizations
• Providing primary and specialty care services, health maintenance care for adults, including annual physicals
• Providing care for patients in acute and critical care settings
• Performing or assisting in minor surgeries and procedures, (e.g., dermatological biopsies, suturing, casting)
• Counseling and educating patients on health behaviors, self-care skills, and treatment options
You may find nurse practitioners in:
• Community clinics, health centers, urgent care centers
• Health departments
• Home health care agencies
• Hospitals and hospital clinics
• Hospice care
• Nursing homes
• Nursing schools
• Private and public schools, universities, and colleges
• Physician/private medical practices
• Public health departments
• School/college clinics
• Veterans Administration facilities
• Walk-in clinics
In honor of National Nurse Practitioner Week, let us take a moment to thank all the nurse practitioners for all that they do for their patients, communities, and colleagues.
Hangama Abassi has worked as a registered nurse since 2003, received a bachelor’s in nursing from CalState Fullerton in 2007, and earned a master’s in nursing earlier this year from UCLA. She is now a nurse practitioner in adult/gerontology acute care with subspecialty in oncology.