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What is an NP and Other FAQs

In Alberta, Nurse Practitioners are Master’s or PhD prepared health professionals who provide essential healthcare services such as primary care, outpatient clinic-based care, or hospital care. Nurse practitioners are completely independent health professionals and require no outside supervision of their practice. Nurse practitioner care is grounded in professional, ethical and legal standards, regulated by the Alberta nursing college. Nurse practitioners integrate in-depth knowledge of advanced nursing practice and theory, health management, health promotion, and disease/injury prevention, to provide a wide range of health care services. Nurse practitioners work in collaboration with their clients and other health-care providers to provide patient-centred care. They are able to work with clients across the age ranges and throughout the province.

Nurse practitioners are able to provide full health assessments, to diagnose health or illness, and to treat acute and chronic illness in a comprehensive manner. Nurse practitioners order and interpret x-rays and other radiology tests, order and interpret laboratory tests, perform procedures (such as minor surgeries, suturing, bone setting or specialized injections) and prescribe medications. Nurse practitioners strive to limit health care costs as much as possible; working to improve health while saving individuals and our health system money.

Nurse practitioners are responsible for their own practice. They are required to communicate with clients about health findings and diagnoses, further required testing and referral to other health-care professionals, and are responsible for client follow-up. Nurse practitioners work with clients to help manage symptoms, to help clients understand their medications, to consider alternative therapy options, and rehabilitation strategies. Nurse Practitioners work with their clients to help them be as healthy as they can be.

Why would I want to see a Nurse Practitioner for my health care?

Here are just a few reasons:

  • People who see Nurse Practitioners for their health care often have fewer emergency room visits, shorter hospital stays and lower medication costs.
  • Nurse Practitioners have been shown to provide safe, comprehensive, and cost-effective health care services equal to family physicians.
  • Nurse Practitioners place a significant focus on teaching patients about their health conditions and treatment recommendations.
  • Nurse Practitioners listen to patients and strive to understand how their health problems are affecting them.
  • Patients of Nurse Practitioners report very high satisfaction with the care they receive.
  • Nurse Practitioners can improve access to health care.
  • In hospitals, Nurse Practitioners work with specialists and provide additional care to enhance recovery and a return to health.  They ensure that all of the patient’s medical and nursing needs are being met while in hospital, and can ensure adequate care will be in place after discharge. They are also known for their ability to communicate, teach and counsel patients and families in these settings.

Do I need a family doctor, too?

Nurse Practitioners are completely independent health professionals who can perform a wide range of services, very similar to the care that a family doctor provides. There is no reason that a Nurse Practitioner cannot be an Albertan’s primary care provider. Nurse practitioners order and interpret screening and diagnostic tests, perform procedures and prescribe medications. In a family physician’s office they are able to manage skin lesions, repair injuries, complete pap smears, perform minor surgeries and generally complete all of the tasks which you would expect at a family doctor’s office. 

If there are complex health problems or something beyond the knowledge, skills or abilities of a Nurse Practitioner, they have a responsibility to ensure that the appropriate specialist or health care provider is consulted. Nurse Practitioners want each patient to get the best care possible, and in some instances that may mean transfer of care to a physician. In other care models, the Nurse Practitioner may care for a patient in a care team including a physician and/or other health care professionals.

What can Nurse Practitioners do?

Nurse Practitioners provide all of the services of a Registered Nurse and more – expanding their services with the ability to diagnose illness, manage chronic disease, and manage the care of clients ranging from the community to the intensive care unit.

Nurse Practitioners can perform comprehensive physicals (check-ups), treat illnesses, screen for health problems, and manage chronic diseases like asthma, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, etc. They can monitor the health of babies, children, adults, and the elderly, and treat their illnesses should they get sick. Some Nurse Practitioners can provide emergency care, and others take care of patients in hospitals, nursing homes, or specialty clinics.

Nurse practitioners are accountable for their own practice. It is their responsibility to communicate with clients about health assessment findings and diagnoses, further required testing and referral to other health-care professionals, and are responsible for client follow-up. Nurse practitioners counsel clients on symptom management, health maintenance, medication management, alternative therapies, rehabilitation strategies and other health programs.

Where do Nurse Practitioners work?

You will find Nurse Practitioners in hospitals, urgent care centers,  nursing homes, assisted living facilities, maternity clinics, community clinics, and primary care offices. Nurse Practitioners may at times work in clinics in the community with a team of other health care professionals. However, the lack of a provincial funding model to allow Nurse Practitioners to have their own clinic in the community  is limiting access to Nurse Practitioner care.

Follow along on our blog to learn more about NPs in various practice settings. [/accordion-item]

Currently, most Nurse Practitioners work in hospitals but more and more are beginning to appear in community and clinic settings.  Stay tuned!

References

1. Brooten, D., Youngblut, J.M., Kutcher, J., Bobo, C. (2004). Quality and the nursing workforce: APNs, patient outcomes and health care costs. Nursing Outlook. 52:45-52.

Laurant, M., Reeves, D., Hermens, R., Braspenning, J., Grol, R., & Sibbald, B. (2006).Substitution of doctors by nurses in primary care. Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews. Retrieved from Web Site

Mundinger, M.O., Kane, R.L., Lenz, E.R., Totten, A.M., Tsai, W.Y., Cleary, P.D., et al (2000). Primary care outcomes in patients treated by nurse practitioners or physicians: A randomized trial. JAMA, 283(1): 59-68.

Ramsay, J.A., McKenzie, J.K. & Fish, D.G. (1982). Physicians and nurse practitioners: Do they provide equivalent health care? American Journal of Public Health, 72(1), 55-57.

2. Prescott, P.A. & Driscoll, L. (1980). Evaluating nurse practitioner performance. Nurse Practitioner. 1(1): 28-32.

3. Mundinger, M.O., Kane, R.L., Lenz, E.R., Totten, A.M., Tsai, W.Y., Cleary, P.D., et al (2000). Primary care outcomes in patients treated by nurse practitioners or physicians: A randomized trial. JAMA, 283(1): 59-68.

4. Horrocks, S., Anderson, E., Salisbury, C. (2002). Systematic review of whether nurse practitioners working in primary care can provide equivalent care to doctors. British Medical Journal, 324: 819-823.

5. Canadian Nurses Association (2009).Nurse Practitioner: Position Statement. Retrieved from Web Site

6. Kleinpell, R.M. (2005). Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Practice: Results of a 5-Year Longitudinal Study. American Journal of Critical Care. 14: 211-219.

VanOyen Force, M. (2009). Nurse Practitioners in acute care: Better outcomes, better care. Nurse Practitioners and PAs, 17(2): 37.

7.  American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, 2010. Nurse Practitioner Cost- Effectiveness. Retrieved from Web Site

*This is not an exhaustive list of references for these claims.