This week is National Nurse Practitioner Week! In celebration of the men and women who have dedicated their lives to this amazing field of work, I want to take this opportunity to better explain what nurse practitioners are and why we have such amazing jobs. (Hint: It looks like US News & World Report agrees with me!)
Nurse practitioners are registered nurses with further education and training. To become a nurse practitioner, you must first receive a bachelor’s degree in nursing and then go on to complete a master’s degree in nursing. In fact, there are many nurse practitioners that have a doctorate degree as well (DNP, PhD). So yes, Dr. Nurses are becoming more and more common! At minimum, it takes 6 years of college education to become a nurse practitioner (and trust me, it is grueling hard – but completely worth it!). Most nurse practitioners choose to specialize with specific “populations” of patients. Before I started my master’s degree, I decided to work exclusively with children (because they are the best, IMHO!). Other common areas include family practice, neonatal, women’s health, adult health, geriatrics, and certified nurse midwives.

And here’s the beautiful thing: in my state as a pediatric nurse practitioner, I can do everything that a general pediatrician can! (Except, I don’t do circumcisions, which I am perfectly okay with…) In 19 states and the District of Columbia, nurse practitioners can practice independently without a physician. Here’s a run down of what pediatric nurse practitioners like me do everyday:

  • Document health history and perform a physical exam
  • Plan a child’s care with parents and the child’s health care team
  • Perform tests and procedures
  • Answer questions about health problems
  • Treat common childhood illnesses
  • Assist with management of chronic illnesses
  • Teach families about the effects of illness on a child’s growth and development
  • Teach kids about self-care and healthy lifestyle choices
  • Write prescriptions
  • Order medical tests
  • Provide referrals to community groups

Now multiply that list by 20-30 small, energetic children and it makes for a very busy day, trust me!

Here’s what else you should know about nurse practitioners:

According to US News and World Report, nurse practitioners rank #2 on the list of best health care jobs (second only to dentists) and #4 on the 100 best jobs list. That’s what I’m talking about!

Since 2005, Americans have ranked nursing as the most trusted profession

And most importantly, nurse practitioners provide excellent care. A comprehensive review of over 118 studies during an 18 year span compared doctor-led and nurse-practitioner-led clinics found equivalent outcomes when it comes to health and patient satisfaction.

So,  spread the word, because the kids in this country need as many #futurekidnurses as they can get! The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 37,100 new nurse practitioner positions between 2012 and 2022, growing at a rate of 33.7%. And when it comes to careers, being a nurse practitioner is hard to beat, especially when you get to be a part of changing one beautiful life at a time.


“So that means nurse practitioners are like physician assistants (PA)?”

Well, yes and no. Nurse practitioners are different than physician assistants, but people are easily confused by this all the time. The two main differences are found in training and independence. Nurse practitioners have to be registered nurses before they can apply for their graduate education. That means that we have already completed 4 years of clinical training with hundreds and hundreds of hours taking care of patients before we can even apply to become nurse practitioners. And beyond that, most nurses usually work for several years taking care of patients before returning to school to become nurse practitioners. Physician assistants on the other hand have a general undergraduate degree before applying to their graduate education. Because PAs do not have to have medical training beforehand, I have met an array of PAs with very diverse studies (from biology to fashion merchandising). While both NPs and PAs provide wonderful care, comparing new graduates from both fields, your typical nurse practitioner will have much more clinical experience. Nurse practitioners in many states can work independently, while physician assistants must work with a physician to practice medicine.