What is a Nurse Practitioner?

            I have been told on a number of occasions about patients of mine being sent to see a Nurse Practitioner, instead of a Medical Doctor, when they visit a medical office or Emergency Care setting.  This seems to surprise many people who assumed they were going to the clinic to have a MD evaluate their condition and often people seem to feel they are getting short changed this patient-practitioner pairing.  I could not possibly disagree more with this notion and I went to speak to a Nurse Practitioner about what her scope of practice consists of and to what extent is she educated in comparison to a MD or Physicians Assistant(PA).  I wanted to get this description in her own words and I offer them up to my patients as both informative and encouraging in their future interactions with Nurse Practitioners in the medical setting. NPs are going to take more and more control of our health care as the new policies go into effect and we should embrace these changes as a way to receive better care, more one on one time, and greater affordability in all our medical needs. I will be adding a second part to this post in the following week about why exactly we should want to see a NP over another provider.


I am an Adult Nurse Practitioner (NP) who has received an Master’s degree from UCSF School of Nursing.  My degree and my national board certification allow me to care for adult patients in a primary care setting.  I am able to take medical histories, preform physical exams, diagnose, order and interpret laboratory tests.  I am also able to order x-rays, CT scans and MRI’s.  I am able to refer patients to medical specialist for advanced care.  I work closely with physicians, nurses, dietitians, physical therapist, and occupational therapist to help manage the care for my patients.  My clinic works with adult patients of varying ages.  I treat teenagers to geriatric patients in a primary care setting.  We accept patients of varying economical situations.  We accept both private and public health insurance.  I am the point person in managing each patients care.  Patients come to see me to preform ‘check-ups’ or to manage diseases such as diabetes or high blood pressure.  I can also help patients manage depression and other mental illnesses. I am able to preform these duties because of the education and prior experience I have had as a Registered Nurse (RN).  To become an NP, I had to already have the education, certification and experience of an RN.  As an RN, I had been working with adult patients with varying medical conditions in the intensive care unit at UCSF Medical Center.  During school at UCSF, I had clinical experiences that helped prepare me for this role.  The experiences varied from caring for patients with low back pain, urgent care, primary care and women’s health.  Having a variety of experiences allowed me to learn and manage a diverse population.  Other experiences at UCSF has taught me to interpret research in order to use evidence based research to care and teach my patients.  These experiences and my past work as an RN has helped differentiate me from staff nurses, physicians and physician’s assistant (PA).  As a staff nurse, I was able to monitor and assess patients conditions but in order to be able to help patients with new medications or treatments I had to rely on the NP or doctor to make the decision.  My role and education differs from a doctor (MD) and a PA.  A MD must have completed medical school and an intensive medical residency program in order to practice.  I work closely with a doctor but manage patients on my own.  A PA must complete a masters degree while having clinical experiences during school.  Although, a PA and a NP education are similar, the focus of care differs.  As an NP I never forget that I am a nurse first.  In this aspect I care for patients on a holistic level.  I care about all aspects of a patients life including the community they live in and the cultural background they come from.  These factors play highly in how I work with patients to find treatments that best suit each person individually.



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