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This week is National Nurse Practitioner Week. With that being said, this week I am devoting my blog to answering questions about health care and nurse practitioners.

Health care has become more and more confusing over the years. With the addition of nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs) as health care providers, the water has been muddied even more. So, who should I see? What can they do? What is their relationship with a physician? Today, I am going to answer these questions, and attempt to clear up some misconceptions about choosing a health care provider.

What is a Nurse Practitioner?

A Nurse Practitioner is a registered nurse (RN) who also has a Master’s degree and clinical experience. The NP may work independently or as a member of a health care team. He or she helps to educate patients, with a focus on health maintenance, counseling, and disease prevention. A nurse practitioner must choose a particular specialty during his or her training. This training allows him or her to empower patients and ensure better patient outcomes, and may involve the patient’s family in their treatment plan. Practice of NPs is based on the state in which the NP practices. What one NP can do in one state, is somewhat different what another NP can do in other states.

Nurse Practitioners (NPs) have been providing personalize, high-quality, affordable care to patients for years. Nurse Practitioners are expert nurses with advanced degrees. They examine, diagnose, treat and prescribe medications to millions of people every day.

Nurse Practitioners have a median 36-hour work week, with a median salary of $91,000 annually. They may work in a variety of settings and specialties, including family medicine, neonatal, pediatrics, geriatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, acute care, occupational health. Other Advanced Practice Nurses include: Certified Nurse Midwives and Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists.

What Is A Physician’s Assistant?

A Physician Assistant is a licensed health professional who has passed the national certificated exam that is administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. He or she does not choose a specialty, but must complete a clinical rotation through various specialties without regard to post-graduation career path. The PA works under the supervision of a physician to provide preventative, diagnostic, and therapeutic health care services. He or she helps take medical histories, examine patients, treat patients, order and interpret lab tests, order and interpret x-rays, make diagnoses, and provide treatment for minor injuries. In most states, a PA also has prescribing privileges. A Physician Assistant may also participate in managerial or supervisory duties.

Physician Assistants have a median 32-hour work week, with a median salary of $83,500. They may work in a variety of settings and specialties, including family medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, internal medicine, emergency medicine, orthopedics, general surgery, thoracic surgery, and geriatrics. Those who specialize in surgery are involved in preoperative and postoperative care; they may also work as assistants during major surgery.

The basic difference, as you have probably seen, is that NPs and PAs are educated from a slightly different viewpoint. NPs are educated from a nursing standpoint, including diagnosing, treating and prescribing. The idea is treating patients from a whole person point of view, with focus on health and wellness. PA’s are educated from a medical standpoint. Their view is more from an illness/disease process standpoint, which does include health and wellness.

As the healthcare provider shortage crisis looms, NPs and PAs offer the high-quality, cost-effective, patient-centered services needed to help solve the increasing demand for access to quality healthcare in the United States. There are fewer physicians entering primary care, and more choosing to specialize. This creates an even greater deficit of providers. NPs are rising to the challenge and helping to meet the demand of health care.

Happy Nurse Practitioner Week!

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