What is a Nurse Practitioner? (Part I)

Chances are that one of your upcoming medical appointments will be with a nurse practitioner (NP) like me, rather than the doctor you’re used to. And chances are you know very little about who NPs are or what they do, and you may not even know how to address an NP like me–should you call me Nurse Practitioner Troutman? Nurse Casey? In this two-part series, I aim to provide you with clarity on what nurse practitioners are and most importantly, confidence in the NP who may walk into your exam room.

When meeting new patients, I’m asked all sorts of questions:

Why am I seeing you today?

What is a nurse practitioner?

Are you a specialized registered nurse or an assistant to the doctor(s)?

Why didn’t you just go to medical school? Is medical school the next step?

Although less common now than in the past, some patients greet me by saying, “I agreed to see you today rather than the doctor because my issue seems basic, and I figured you could handle it.” Still others ask me if I need to check with a doctor before their appointments end.

Admittedly, I used to get upset about patients questioning my ability to help them. But over the years, I’ve learned that it usually takes just a couple of minutes to show apprehensive patients that they’re in capable hands with me, explain my role as an NP, and talk about my educational background and years of experience.

Frankly, any confusion about NPs is our fault collectively as a profession and individually as practitioners. We do not do enough to shed light on what we do, how we got here, how we distinguish ourselves, what we can offer that may be unique, and what we anticipate for our professional futures.

First, the easy stuff–you can just call me “Casey.” I’m not “Dr. Casey” or “Dr. Troutman” as I do not have a doctoral degree, nor am I “Nurse Casey” because I am an advanced-practice clinician. If you’re thinking that patients calling me by my first name seems too casual, I agree, but at the moment, we don’t seem to have a good title that works for everyone. NPs in aggregate used to be referred to as “mid-levels” or “physician-extenders,” but these outdated terms misrepresent our professional standing by “inferr[ing] an inaccurate hierarchy within clinical practice.” We’re colleagues.

Second, what do we do? Were I not an NP, you can be sure that I would be investigating the differences and similarities between NPs and physicians. This site has an excellent, side-by-side chart that compares the two careers: NP vs. Doctor (Physician).

You may be more familiar with the term physician assistant (PA) than NP. We share a similar clinical and collaborative role to that of PAs, but the educational background, scope of practice, and professional prospects of PAs differ. This site provides a helpful comparison of NP and PA roles.

Up next in Part II of the series, I discuss a laundry list of NP facts that I believe all patients and other healthcare professionals should know.

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Categories: General


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2 Comments on “What is a Nurse Practitioner? (Part I)”

  1. Joanne Melzer
    November 2, 2021 at 6:12 pm #

    Nice post Casey!


    Liked by 1 person

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