Nurse practitioners deliver a unique blend of nursing and medical care, focusing on care and cure, order and interpret diagnostic tests like lab work and X-rays, diagnose and treat acute and chronic conditions such as diabetes and injuries and practice with other health care professionals to assess, diagnose, treat and manage patients’ health needs.
Currently there are more than 155,000 nurse practitioners nationwide, according to the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. The School of Nursing graduated 133 nurse practitioners this year. An estimated 149 students will graduate from the program in 2013.
Juan Garcia graduated from the School of Nursing’s acute care and nurse practitioner program in August and is eager to begin a new chapter in his career with Mike Rice, M.D., and his internal medicine team at UMC Health System.
“It’s pretty darn exciting, very overwhelming though,” Garcia said.
Making the switch from registered nurse to nurse practitioner will allow Garcia to provide holistic and medical care for a larger number of patients, but he said he hopes to never lose focus of treating patients through a nurse’s eyes.
“Adjusting to the new role of registered nurse to nurse practitioner is difficult,” Garcia said. “It’s difficult to leave the physical care of patients to a nurse. Time constraints make it not so feasible to spend that kind of time individually with patients. As a nurse practitioner, I can treat a larger number and still maintain that sense of compassion.”
A nurse practitioner is a registered nurse who has advanced education and clinical training in a health care specialty, according to the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.
“Right now PAs and NPs are in very high demand,” Garcia said. “And that’s just because of the whole health care restructuring reimbursement is different the whole economy has shifted.”
Nurse practitioners can help physicians see a greater number of patients each day, Garcia said. For example, a doctor can see about 40 patients in one day, but if they work with nurse practitioners, it is possible for more than 100 patients to be seen in a day.
Garcia said he believes the best nurse practitioners are those who have gained experience as a nurse and know what it’s like to hold the hand of a dying patient, for example.
“I would encourage an experienced nurse to pursue this avenue because they’ve already established themselves as a good provider and they’ve already encompassed that role of a nurse,” Garcia said. “You can be a much more effective health care provider because you’ve actually been there.”
Susan Doctolero, R.N., MSN, ACNP-BC, CCRN, a certified clinical research coordinator at the Clinical Research Institute, has been a nurse for more than 17 years working mostly with critically ill patients.
Doctolero said she recently decided to become a nurse practitioner to further her education and training, taking her nursing career to a higher level, and making her more professionally competitive in today’s ever-changing job market.
“There is now a higher demand for primary health care services and due to the shortage of primary care practitioners, nurse practitioners are able to fill that gap,” Doctolero said. “With all the budget cuts going on in the health care system and changes in reimbursement, nurse practitioners are considered to be the more cost effective alternative.”
Doctolero graduated from the nurse practitioner program at TTUHSC this summer and will begin working in collaboration with Maybin Simfukwe, M.D., at Lubbock Nephrology Associates next month.
“I think the most challenging aspect of being a nurse practitioner, especially as a new graduate nurse practitioner, is finding a job that you think will be most rewarding for you and your patients but also something that you really feel like that is your niche,” Doctolero said. “Another challenging aspect is maneuvering the maze in getting your career started.”
Nurse practitioners perform inpatient and outpatient procedures, provide patient education and counseling, perform physical exams and obtain health histories, order and interpret laboratory tests and diagnostic studies, diagnose and treat illnesses, and write prescriptions in collaboration with a physician.
“My favorite part about being a nurse practitioner is the opportunity it gives me to provide higher level care to patients,” Doctolero said. “It can be intellectually challenging at times, but knowing that you were able to provide care so patients can achieve their optimum level of health can also be rewarding.”
Before becoming a nurse practitioner at UMC Health System, Kara Jones was a critical care nurse working in the intensive care unit. She said she enjoyed bedside nursing, but felt called to do something greater
“I could see the demand for advanced practice nurses in health care and I wanted to do my part,” Jones said. “I knew I had the ability to succeed in advanced education and I had something very valuable to bring to patients: compassion and empathy. But, I also had something very valuable to bring to health care: the ability to evaluate, diagnose, manage health problems, promote health and collaborate among other members of the health care team.”
Credentialing for practice for nurse practitioners includes maintaining the registered nursing license, graduate education with preparation in a nurse practitioner role with at least one population specialty and national board certification in one or more population specialties like neonatal, pediatric, family, women’s health, adult, family, geriatric, psychiatric or acute care.
Jones said she enjoys using her advanced level nursing education to help people overcome acute illnesses.
“Being told or knowing that I did something positive in another one’s life is very rewarding,” Jones said. “Sometimes it’s hard to see the positive change I made, but at the end of the day, it’s rewarding to know that I did everything I could to make that particular person or situation better. Many times it’s the simple nature of caring.”
However, she said she sometimes encounters people who do not fully understand what she has to offer as a nurse practitioner. Although nurse practitioners are more in demand these days, the general public doesn’t always know to trust nurse practitioners with procedures typically performed by a physician.
“I think of it as a challenge to prove to them that I am able to provide quality care and I have the ability to evaluate, diagnose and manage health problems,” Jones said.
In a society where there is a shortage of primary care physicians and an aging and increasingly obese and diseased population, Jones said she hopes that more people will realize how nurse practitioners help meet the needs of patients who may not otherwise have adequate access to quality preventative and long-term health care.
Mercedes Day graduated from the School of Nursing’s Nurse Practitioner Program in August 2011. While finishing her nurse practitioner degree, she also worked as a registered nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit at UMC Health System and as a coordinator in The F. Marie Hall SimLife Center.
She now works at the UMC Southwest Cancer Center in pediatric oncology/hematology.
“I work with children who are battling to overcome cancer and I enjoy bringing hope to these children,” Day said. “All of my patients bring a smile to my face on a daily basis and make me appreciate how precious life really is.”
Day said her favorite part of being a nurse practitioner in pediatric oncology is working with children who go through so much and still have a positive outlook.
She said she became a nurse practitioner to be an advocate for patients and help them be 100 percent with their care to make them feel more at ease in an ever-changing health care world.
But she has since found that she is not only able to broaden her scope of practice, but her patients also allow her to look at life in a different way.
“They are some of the strongest people I know and they are determined to defeat cancer,” Day said. “I learn daily from my patients and I would like to have the courage and strength they have.”
In the future, Day said she would like to go back to school to obtain a doctorate in nursing practice, but years down the road she doesn’t see herself doing anything but growing as a nurse practitioner.
“I love my patients and cannot see myself anywhere else,” Day said.