What Is a Primary Care Nurse Practitioner?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 01 June 2018
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A primary care nurse practitioner provides health care to patients at all life stages. These medical professionals typically have a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree along with clinical training in the field. They can help meet shortages of primary care physicians, ensuring timely access to health care. Additionally, they may handle routine medical needs for a practice, giving doctors more time to handle complex cases. For example, a patient with routine needs associated with chronic illness might see the nurse, while a patient with new symptoms and a tricky diagnosis could visit the doctor.

To become a primary care nurse practitioner, people need to complete medical training and take an examination to get a nursing license. The training includes a variety of classroom subjects surrounding patient care, along with clinical experience under supervision. Nurse practitioners can work in a hospital or clinic setting to handle both inpatient and outpatient needs. As with other primary care providers, they act as a first point of contact with the medical system and may refer their patients to specialists as needed.


The length of time spent in training is shorter than that for doctors, and allows people to start working earlier. This can help fill shortages in medical providers by getting people with training into the field as quickly as possible. In nations with a critical lack of primary care physicians, primary care nurse practitioners can fill gaps. Patients may see a primary care nurse practitioner for a variety of needs and may be seen more promptly than if they are forced to wait for physicians.

Standalone clinics in locations like schools and workplaces might use a primary care nurse practitioner to provide basic care on site. This allows people to receive treatment immediately, along with a referral if they need more complex services. Facilities may save money and time with services provided on site by a nurse, without sacrificing patient care.

Some professional organizations of physicians have concerns about using nurse practitioners to replace doctors. A 2000 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that patient outcomes tended to be comparable, however, illustrating that this practice doesn’t endanger patient health. In a busy practice, care providers may network with each other to communicate clearly and discuss cases, ensuring that problems can be caught early. A primary care nurse practitioner with a puzzling patient might refer the patient to a doctor, for instance, or could meet with a doctor or another nurse to discuss the case and determine if additional diagnostic steps could be taken.



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