Advanced practice registered nurses improve access to health care

What do these specially trained nurses do to improve health?
March 27, 2017

Although they are increasing in number and participating in many different areas of health care, many people don’t know exactly who advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) are and what they do. As they become increasingly common, it seems like a good idea to shine some light on these specially trained nurses.

APRNs specialize in one of four areas, becoming nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists, or nurse midwives. Nurse practitioners (NPs) have further subspecialties, defined by the population of patients they see: children, adults and geriatrics, family or women’s health. “Nurse practitioners play an important role in access to health care across the lifespan,” said Kara Jones-Schubart, DNP, a clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Nursing and a family nurse practitioner herself. “They care for and promote the health of people across the state and the nation.”

NPs provide primary care for millions of Americans—in fact, more than 83 percent of them are certified in an area of primary care. They can diagnose common medical problems, order tests, prescribe medication and make referrals. “It’s cost-effective and high-quality care,” Jones-Schubart said. “They are key members of the health care team.”

More than just caring for sick people, though, NPs work on health promotion and disease prevention, partnering with the patient to identify health risks and needed screenings, and provide other patient education.

They are well trained and educated themselves. At Texas A&M, students in the family nurse practitioner program are required to complete 635 clinical hours before graduation, pass a national certification exam and become licensed and credentialed before they practice. Some even go further. While more than 96 percent of NPs have graduate degrees, “it’s becoming a national trend for NPs to have a doctoral degree,” Jones-Schubart said.

Registered nurses come from a number of fields into the program. Some are currently pediatric nurses, flight nurses, occupational health nurses and more. One thing they all have in common, though, is the desire to advance their education and expand their scope of practice. “Nurses return  to graduate school to become family nurse practitioners because they want to improve health and wellness in their communities,” Jones-Schubart said. “Many have a strong desire to work in medically underserved areas to become part of the solution.”

— Christina Sumners

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