Nurse Practitioners FAQ

Q: What is a Nurse Practitioner?

A: A nurse practitioner (NP) is a registered nurse with advanced academic and clinical education and experience who is qualified to meet the majority of patients' health care needs both in the hospital and in the outpatient office. Moreover, NPs promote a holistic approach to health care and emphasize the overall health and wellness of their patients. NPs can either provide general care as a primary provider or specialty care as a consultant for an individual condition. NPs specialize their practice in both the ambulatory and inpatient settings and are relied upon as experts for both patient care and training of other health care professionals.

NPs are qualified to formulate patient diagnosis and treatment plans. Nurse practitioners order diagnostic tests and prescribe medications. They take the “whole person” into account, not just the immediate ailment. NPs concentrate on patient-centered care. They are specifically trained to educate and support individuals and families, helping them change behaviors and make informed, individual choices about their health and their health care.

Q: How are nurse practitioners (NPs) different from physicians assistants (PAs)?

A: While NPs and PAs often appear to perform similar functions, there are important distinctions between these health care professionals. 

Some physician assistants come to their education with a background in health care, but it is not a requirement. Rather than focusing on a specialty patient population, the PA certification process includes education that introduces the provider to the health care system and provides general education about the variety of skills needed for the PA to manage different types of patients. PAs work under the supervision of a physician. 

Nurse practitioners have initial training and licensure as a registered nurse before pursuing advanced education and training. All NPs in the state of Maryland are masters-prepared providers. Nurse practitioner programs provide specialized education in a variety of clinical areas, providing in-depth education about a particular specialty. NPs may treat patients independently or in collaboration with a physician.

Q: What is the education of a nurse practitioner?

A: A Master's degree is required to sit for a national certification examination, which is mandatory for practice in the state of Maryland. The advanced education of the nurse practitioner includes both classroom education and over 500 hours of clinical training in the hospital or office setting.

Q: What is the nurse practitioners' relationship with physicians?

A: NPs practice in collaboration with a physician. This means that every patient cared for by a nurse practitioner has a team of providers considering the case and discussing treatment strategies. Acute care nurse practitioners work collaboratively with their physician colleagues in the hospital setting, while pediatric nurse practitioners see patients in the hospital setting or in the outpatient office. Adult, family and geriatric NPs may treat patients in the outpatient setting or nursing home in conjunction with their collaborating physician. Psychiatric NPs manage patients with behavioral disorders in a variety of settings.

Q: Can anyone see a Nurse Practitioner?

A: Yes. People interested in being treated by a NP can ask their current health care provider if a NP works in that office, and ask for an appointment to meet the NP.