If you are not feeling well and decide to contact your family medicine practice, you may be offered an appointment with a nurse practitioner rather than with a doctor. There are many nurse practitioners working in family practice and in every other aspect of healthcare, but patients often don’t understand this role and may worry (often unnecessarily) that they won’t receive the same quality of care from a nurse practitioner that they would from a doctor. So, what does a nurse practitioner actually do?

Almost everything that a doctor can do

Sylvia Estrada, who works as a nurse practitioner for the Cedar-Sinai medical complex in the L.A. area, says that nurse practitioners are allowed to do pretty much anything that a doctor is allowed to do, apart from performing surgery independently. This includes prescribing medicines, diagnosing conditions and ordering diagnostic tests.

Focus on wellness and preventative care

While their job is very similar to that of a doctor, many nurse practitioners emphasize the fact that their training puts less emphasis on acute care and much more emphasis on holistic and preventative care as well as on health education and promotion. According to Chrystine Zacherau of global consultancy firm APCO, many nurse practitioners focus on building positive patient relationships in order to encourage healthy behaviors and disease prevention in their patients, from quitting smoking to getting vaccinated.

Rigorous training

As hinted in the paragraph above, nurse practitioners receive different training from doctors, and are accredited by different professional boards in many states. While it doesn’t take quite as long to become a licensed nurse practitioner as it does a doctor, nurse practitioners still hold graduate degrees which require them to complete clinical practice education modules. They are therefore much more highly qualified than registered nurses, who may only have a bachelor’s degree or even an associate degree. Aspiring nurse practitioners have to gain a bachelor in nursing degree and become licensed registered nurses, before going on to graduate studies, which most often take the form of a Master’s of Science in Nursing degree. They then have to pass another exam in order to become licensed nurse practitioners.


Before beginning their graduate training, student nurse practitioners have to choose their area of specialization, such as family practice, neonatal care or geriatric care. They have to complete their clinical education practicums in person, but can choose to enroll in an FNP online program – or an equivalent program for their chosen area of study – in order to work while they study, or to accommodate other existing responsibilities.

In conclusion, nurse practitioners are highly qualified medical professionals who can provide you with a very similar level of care to that provided by a doctor. In addition, a nurse practitioner will be more likely than a doctor to focus on preventative healthcare and on holistic wellness promotion. While their training does not take quite as long to complete as a doctor’s, it is still a rigorous and comprehensive medical education program.


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