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What is a Nurse Practitioner? Understanding the Qualifications and Capabilities of These Underappreciated Medical Professionals

When you visit your local medical clinic or go into the hospital for surgery, your care team may include one or more nurse practitioners. But what are nurse practitioners, and what gives them the training and qualifications needed to provide patient care? Are nurse practitioners similar to the registered nurses you are used to, or are they closer in qualifications to the traditional physician?

The answer is somewhere in between. While nurse practitioners are not physicians, they do have a great deal of medical training. The path to becoming a nurse practitioner is a long and complicated one, with years of training, tough exams and ongoing education to stay current with the latest medical thinking.

The qualifications needed to become a nurse practitioner are daunting, helping to ensure that only the most dedicated and talented make it to advanced patient care. In order to become a nurse practitioner, interested candidates must first earn a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing, but that is only the first step.

Once their initial schooling is over, candidates must obtain their state license in nursing, allowing them to enter patient care but not yet giving them the title of nurse practitioner. In order to achieve that status, the candidate must first choose a specialty, like acute care, emergency medicine, anesthesia or mental health. With that specialty in place, would-be nurse practitioners must next earn a Master’s Degree, a process that can take many years, especially for nurses who continue to work full time during their advanced education.

Even after their Master’s Degree is in place, nurse practitioner candidates must obtain certification before they can begin practicing. This final step helps to ensure that the title of nurse practitioner goes only to those who have achieved the pinnacle of success and training in their chosen field.

No matter where they come from or in what capacities they serve, nurse practitioners are already helping to close the coverage gap in the medical field. There has been a marked shortage of doctors in many parts of the country, especially in rural areas that have traditionally been underserved.

Whether they work at the local hospital, prepare patients for outpatient surgery or serve as primary care providers, nurse practitioners have the training, the education and the qualifications necessary to get the job done. So if you find yourself in the office of a nurse practitioner, be happy. You are working with a true medical professional who can assess your current symptoms, review your medical history and even prescribe the appropriate medications to help you feel better.

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