The nurse practitioner role in healthcare is becoming more influential every year in the United States. More than one billion patient visits have been made to nurse practitioners for diagnosis, getting prescriptions filled and to receive comprehensive medical care, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP).

Almost 212,000 people are expected to work as a nurse practitioner by 2026, according to federal government projections. That’s a 31% jump in the number of nurse practitioners just since 2016. Those who earn a master’s degree and decide to work in a nurse practitioner role fill a gap in medicine by providing  primary care. More nurse practitioners are choosing primary care than are physicians or physicians assistants, according to the AANP.

What Do Nurse Practitioners Do? 

Healthcare is expanding rapidly. That’s partly driven by a patient population in the United States that is getting older. There’s also more specialized care. That’s opened up opportunities for ambitious Registered Nurses who want positions of more responsibility in their profession. As doctors move into specialist positions in larger numbers, fewer are becoming general practitioners. Nurses who earn a Master in Nursing Science degree and become a nurse practitioner can, if they focus on family care, offer general practitioner-type medical services for patients. This is especially important in rural, poor and underserved areas of the country.

Care in Rural Communities 

One of the most significant impacts of the nurse practitioner role in healthcare is in providing medical services for those in smaller towns and rural communities. As more people move into cities, smaller towns and rural communities have often been left without healthcare professionals. This is especially true when it comes to doctors. Nurse practitioners handle many of the duties that patients in generations past would consider the duties of primary care physicians, working in many cases under the guidelines provided by physicians. Those duties include:

  • Giving patients a physical exam
  • Creating patient care plans
  • Performing and ordering diagnostic tests
  • Evaluating how patients respond to treatment and medications

Nurse practitioners can work in many different areas of healthcare. Family care is one of the most popular. They also can work in geriatric care, mental health and pediatric care.

Regulations for Nurse Practitioners 

The duties of nurse practitioners are regulated by state law. Every nurse needs to know what they can and cannot do in the state where they work. In Texas, those rules are developed and overseen by the Texas Board of Nursing.

All nurse practitioners enter a Master of Nursing program and pick a specialty. At Houston Christian University, for example, hybrid online degrees are offered in family care and pediatric care. Once they finish the program, nurses must then pass a national exam. In all, it takes more than six years of education and clinical experience to become a nurse practitioner.  Filling a nurse practitioner role in healthcare involves committing to getting an education and taking your knowledge and skills to a new level. It’s also a way to make a strong, positive impact on the health outcomes of many patients.