Find out what a nurse practitioner does and the benefits of choosing a NP for your medical care

If you’ve ever been to your doctor’s office and they ask you if you would like to see the nurse practitioner instead, you may be wondering what a nurse practitioner is.

What is the difference between a nurse practitioner and an MD?

Kira Laird, RN, NP
Kira Laird, RN, NP

“A nurse practitioner is a registered nurse (RN) with additional specialized education at the graduate level,” Ms. Laird said.

Nurse practitioners are educated in advanced nursing and selected medical studies as well as intensive clinical experience specific to the nurse practitioner’s area of practice.

“This education qualifies the nurse practitioner to provide care that incorporates both what physicians and nurses do,” she said.

NPs can perform physical exams, treat patients with acute and chronic illnesses and teach them how to help stay healthy.

Why would someone choose to be a nurse practitioner over an MD or another type of doctor?

“Many individuals are drawn to the focus toward wellness, education of patients and prevention of health problems,” Ms. Laird said.


NPs can also perform technical procedures and assist in surgery.

Another draw to becoming a nurse practitioner may also be that the cost of becoming an NP is considerably less than medical school, internships and residency.

How are nurse practitioners trained?

Nurse practitioners are trained in a graduate level educational program that prepares him or her for one of the four following recognized advanced roles:

  1. Nurse-anesthetist
  2. Nurse-midwife
  3. Nurse practitioner
  4. Clinical nurse specialist

They also must demonstrate competence by passing a national board certification examination that is recognized by the Board of Nurses.

Do nurse practitioners run their diagnoses or decisions past a doctor?

“NPs work in collaboration with MDs, but have the training and authority to diagnose and treat medical conditions and to prescribe medication,” Ms. Laird said.

What are the benefits to seeing a nurse practitioner?

Consumer and government studies have shown nurse practitioners are skilled clinicians and educators and can be more sensitive to patient’s needs, she said.

“Nurse practitioners take time to answer your questions and address your concerns,” Ms. Laird said. “They can also increase available access to medical care and can “fast track” their patients to the appropriate MDs.”

What do you want patient to know about nurse practitioners?

“Nurse practitioners are highly-trained medical professionals who can help facilitate access to healthcare,” she said.

NPs can also help reduce the cost of medical care by maintaining or improving patient outcomes and patient satisfaction.

Why do you think it’s important for there to be a nurse practitioner’s week?

“[We] are a key partner in the health care access and education of our patients,” Ms. Laird said. “We are a dedicated, caring and well qualified member of the healthcare team and having a week of recognition facilitates greater public appreciation of healthcare treatment options.”

Have you ever seen a nurse practitioner? Tell us about your experience with an NP.

About the author

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Jessa McClure holds a degree in journalism and mass communication from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, TX, where she is currently an adviser for student publications. She has been a writer in the health care field since 2009.

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Find out what a nurse practitioner does and the benefits of choosing a NP for your medical care