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Nurse Practitioner Zone

The Differences Among RN, NP and MD Degrees

The major difference between a nurse practitioner and a registered nurse is that he or she has had advanced training and expertise. Nurse practitioners are able to diagnosis a medical condition for the patient and prescribe medication if necessary. Registered nurses are not permitted to do this under their license. Most will decide to work alongside a physician in a medical practice. Registered nurses play a key role in the health care, but they are not able to prescribe medication, nor order laboratory or medical testing.

The role of the nurse practitioner differs from the physician in such a way that the NP has the authority to prescribe medication but in some states prescribing has to be in collaboration with a physician. This varies from state to state and continues to be updated and revised as the importance of the NP role continues to grow.

The role of the NP has grown within the medical community. Some have decided to open their own clinics separate from physicians. This has created some controversy in the medical community, as physicians are concerned about misdiagnosis if the NP does not work in collaboration with licensed physicians. Most NPs have a master’s degree while some have advanced their education to doctorate level.

These and other major differences among medical doctors, registered nurses and nurse practitioners will continue to evolve as the health care field changes and implements new medical guidelines for health care professionals. One role that we know will not change is the caring and compassion that the nurse offers, which is the unique perspective that the nurse brings to the profession in general.

Coming Soon: NP Doctoral Degree

Today is a new day for the nurse practitioner. The once-adequate master’s prepared nurse will become obsolete by the year 2015. Changing education requirements have dictated that the new nurse practitioner degree will require greater education requirements. Changes are taking place now within universities, online education, colleges and instructional facilities across the country.

The degree that is currently accepted to take certification and licensing for the nurse practitioner is the master’s degree. This is the current standard in place in most states across the U.S. The master’s prepared programs of today are nearly equivalent to the doctoral programs of tomorrow, and this has influenced the change to this norm for the future. The credits required have increased and specialization and education has become much more intense. The master’s program takes almost three years to complete at the current colleges, and universities who offer an advanced practice nurse option.

Take this all into consideration when making a selection for a career in this field. Current nurse practitioners will be “grandfathered” in, but this is currently an ongoing legislative debate. It is still not clear how this will take place and what states will adopt this option. Be sure to keep abreast of these changes to come.

The changing education requirements for nurse practitioners were adopted by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) in the fall of 2004. This established that new guidelines would require advanced practice nurses and other registered nurses who plan to become nurse practitioners be educated at the doctoral level by 2015. This will include all programs that prepare nurse practitioners, advanced practice nurses, midwives, anesthetists and clinical nurse specialists to achieve the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). There will not be a change for advanced practice nurses who are currently practicing medicine. With their master’s degree, they will maintain the ability and authority to practice.

While this change will be beneficial in the long run, it is not without controversy. Many schools of nursing are moving in this direction. Others are unclear about the plan for the transition and have maintained the status quo.

The Doctoral of Nursing Practice will prepare the graduate to take on a full leadership role in clinical practice, clinical teaching and research and development. According to the AACN’s Position Statement on the Practice Doctorate in Nursing, the nursing practice refers to direct patient care by clinicians and direct care policies, programs and protocols that expert nurse clinicians organize and improve on.

One advantage of the DNP program is that it will provide and acknowledge nurse leaders with equality in regards to medical doctors, pharmacists and dentists. This has been a source of ongoing debate since other health science disciplines award doctoral degrees for their highest level of practice, then why wouldn’t nursing be the same. The practice doctorate would differ from a research-focused doctor of philosophy degree in that it would emphasize clinical practice, leadership and health policy. It would likely include a residency requirement, this all according to the AACN’s current requirements for 2015 enactment.

The doctorate-prepared nurse will be best prepared for clinical teaching, which is one advantage for the nurse who would like to enter the teaching profession at this level. This type of clinician will be an expert who can prepare nurses for basic and advanced clinical practice. By having a doctorate degree, the nurse can do research and have the knowledge needed for practice. This advanced degree gives the nurse the to ability to conduct research and teach, and hospitals often hire them as chief nurse officers, directors of education, quality improvement and various other clinical roles.

When the nurse practitioner doctorate program is launched, the curriculum will be credit dense and some programs will be twice the length of the master’s programs in other fields. The degree is also expanded with extensive clinical work and enhancement of the master’s program. It will also include a residency component.

The changing role and expectations of the advanced practice nurse has evolved with the changes in health care, expanding and ever changing technology to provide greater opportunities for the new role as a doctorate prepared nursing professional.

Continuing Education for Nurse Practitioners

The process of continuing education is health care field wide. All health care professionals have a certain required number of continuing education hours that are required to be updated and deemed competent in their field. The nurse practitioning field is no different, and nurses are required to obtain the courses and education that are required to remain certified. This ensures that you are continuing your education in your specialty. It is each nurse practitioner’s option to take additional courses in any area they choose; these however, cannot be used towards recertification in their current specialty field.

The advantages to having continuing education are endless. This provides the nurse practitioner with the latest information regarding pharmacological changes, updates on treatments and protocols, as well as new technology and the various areas that can be utilized in their area of specialty. According to the ANCC, the 51 percent of continuing education must be directly related to the area that they are certified in. The academic courses that are taken must be in the area of certification as well. This process can be time-consuming although when a practitioner is working in their particular field of specialty they will encounter many opportunities to register and continue the education process.

If you choose to take independent study courses that are approved by the ANCC for the renewal process, 100 percent of those credit hours can be used for your recertification. The approved list of the ANCC accredited providers is located on their web site: Their web site provides the details about where there are courses, workshops, and group study projects that a nurse practitioner can participate in.

Continuing education credits are required when the nurse practitioner applies for his or her license renewal. This process is done every two years unless otherwise required. The process can be done online and there is a notification sent to the practitioner although, it is solely the responsibility of the individual to make sure they are in compliance at all times. When thinking about the areas of continuing education that are offered, consider all the options that are available to ensure that all requirements are met before the deadlines expire.


Last Updated: 05/19/2014