Nurse practitioners and advanced practice nurses are healthcare professionals that can stand alone and work without the supervision of a physician, evaluating patients, making diagnoses, providing care and treatment, and even prescribing medications. These are highly-trained healthcare workers and they are important because they provide excellent and specialized care and improve access to primary care.

Because advanced practice nurses provide primary care, the role they play for patients is extremely important. They must provide good quality care because for some patients they are the only healthcare professional they see regularly. Types of advanced practice nurses that patients may work with include those that provide midwife services, general nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, and specialists.

What is an Advanced Practice Nurse?

An advanced practice nurse, or APN, is a nurse with more training and education than a registered nurse. APNs have at least a master’s degree in nursing or a nursing specialty area. They are certified by the state in which they practice to examine, assess, diagnose, and treat patients. They can prescribe medications and order diagnostic tests. There are a few different types of APNs by specialty, although general APNs are often referred to as nurse practitioners.

Types of Advanced Practice Nurses

Advanced practice nurses can train to be certified in one or more areas of nursing practice. The certification that an APN receives determines the patients he or she cares for and the type of care they are able to provide. Some APNs are general care providers, while others offer specialty care.

  • Certified Nurse Practitioner. A nurse practitioner is similar to a general practice physician. These professionals are capable of providing a wide range of services and care for all types of patients. They may choose, though, to work in a specialty or a hospital unit, like cardiology or pediatrics. In addition to directly caring for patients, nurse practitioners may work alongside doctors, provide education and training, and work in medical research.
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist. Nurse anesthetists are trained to administer anesthesia to patients. Like anesthesiologists, who are medical doctors, nurse anesthetists can provide all levels of anesthesia care, for example by administering anesthesia to patients having surgery, and then monitoring those patients and caring for them as they wake up after surgery.
  • Certified Nurse Midwife. A certified nurse midwife is trained to provide the full range of medical services to women before, during, and after pregnancy. In addition to aiding in delivery, they also provide lifelong gynecological care for women and family planning and education services. They may work in private practice or in hospitals and community clinics.
  • Certified Nurse Specialist. Nurse specialists train to work in a specific area of medicine. Like other APNs, they are able to provide diagnoses, evaluations, treatment, medications, and other healthcare services, but they provide these for a specific group. For example a nurse specialist may specialize in critical care, oncology, pain management, or psychiatric care.

What Do APNs and Nurse Practitioners Do?

The exact role that an APN plays for a patient depends on the nurse’s specialty area and the patient’s needs. In general, these nurses provide primary care. They evaluate and examine patients, diagnose conditions, and provide treatments for symptoms and conditions. They are often the first medical professional a patient goes to for care, but they may also refer their patients to physicians or specialists for additional care that goes beyond their capabilities.

Where APNs Work

Advanced practice nurses work in a wide variety of settings. They may work anywhere healthcare is provided to patients. They can work in private practices, such as a midwifery practice that employs nurses and other professionals but not doctors. APNs may also work alongside doctors in more traditional settings, including hospitals and medical centers. Nurses are often the primary caregivers in community clinics, providing much needed services for underserved populations. They may even work in mobile health facilities that go out into the community. Advanced nurses may also work in nursing homes and assisted living facilities as well as specialty clinics, wellness clinics, and college health clinics.

Who Needs Care from APNs?

A wide range of patients can benefit from the services of an advanced practice nurse or nurse practitioner. The services that these professionals offer are so varied, that anyone of any age with any level of wellness or type of illness may end up under the care of an APN. Some areas in which a patient is more likely to be cared for by these nurses include women seeking family planning and midwife services, patients who need to go under anesthesia, and patients who go to community clinics and have little to no access to physicians.

The Importance of Quality Advanced Nursing Care

Nurses in general are important for patients to get quality health care, but advanced nurses play a special role in healthcare. For many patients they are the primary care provider, which means that their services are as important as those provided by a physician. These nurses, because they can provide primary care, are crucial to increasing access to healthcare. People in remote locations or in poor communities with little access to doctors can benefit from good, comprehensive care from an APN or nurse practitioner.

The quality of this care is crucial because of how important these nurses are to their patients. This is especially true when the nurse is providing the majority of a person’s care. In many cases, advanced nurses can provide care of equal quality of physicians. It is important, though, that when the limits of a nurse’s abilities or knowledge have been reached, that they refer patients to physicians or specialists for comprehensive care.

Many patients will receive care from a nurse practitioner or advanced practice nurse at some point in their lives. These professionals are dedicated, highly educated, and provide care that is often complex and comprehensive. When patients are aware of how much nurses can offer in terms of healthcare, they are generally more open to seeing an APN instead of a physician. However, each patient is different and should seek out the professional hat they believe will give them the best care and with whom they are most comfortable.