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Nurse Practitioners (NP's) are registered nurses who have been prepared, through advanced clinical training and education, to be licensed independent practitioners. After obtaining a registered nurse license candidates enter an accredited graduate program to gain a master's or doctoral (DNP) degree in at least one specialty area. National board certification is usually obtained in one of the following 8 areas of specialization: family, adult, women's services, neonatal, pediatric, geriatric, psychiatric and acute care. Most NP's practice with a mater's degree and board certification which differs from most other licensed independent practitioners such as pharmacists, psychologists, optometrists and medical doctors who are prepared at the clinical doctoral level. It should be noted that many consider the degree of coursework required in the master's programs for NP's to be equivalent to that required in other clinical doctoral programs.
Nurse Practitioners have been providing health care services to patients in the United States since 1965 and today there are more than 150,000 providers nationwide. Approximately 10,000 new Nurse Practitioners are prepared each year and the demand for these providers is expected to grow steadily. NP's provide care in a variety of settings to wide ranging populations of all ages which include individuals, families and groups. Nurse Practitioners may work in acute care hospitals, employee health centers, universities, nursing homes, clinics, private offices and anywhere else health care may be given. Nurse Practitioners are frequently utilized as primary care providers in rural areas and at critical access facilities where health care providers are scarce. Many states authorize NP's to practice with autonomy and allow them to own their own practices. Since they have prescriptive privileges, including the ability to prescribe narcotics in most states, NP's generally write a lot of prescriptions for medications. In fact, recent surveys show that 96.5% prescribe meds and write 19 scripts, on average, per day. Together, Nurse Practitioners write approximately 556 million prescriptions, annually. Despite these figures, NP's don't just write prescriptions. Some of the other services commonly provided include: ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests, counseling patients, and collaborating with other health care professionals to diagnose, treat, and manage patients' health problems. Additionally, NP?s may also work as researchers, consultants, patients advocates and teachers.