Exploring this Job
The Internet is a helpful research tool to learn more about nursing careers. Visit the Web sites of nursing programs and professional associations for tips on planning your education and career goals. In addition to your research, talk to people about your interest in nursing. Your school's career services office can give you advice on picking a nursing program and may even help you find contacts in the medical field. Visit a local hospital or other medical facility and ask if you can speak to a member of the nursing staff about his or her career. If the facility accepts volunteers, don't hesitate to sign up. Hands-on experience is the number one way to explore a career in health care.
A nurse practitioner's responsibilities depend on the work setting and area of specialization. A nurse practitioner may work in close collaboration with a physician at a hospital, health center, or private practice office. Sometimes, as in the case of rural health care providers, they many have only weekly telephone contact with a physician. Some states allow nurse practitioners to function entirely independent of a physician. In all states, a nurse practitioner may write prescriptions, but a physician's signature is often required to validate the prescription.
Family nurse practitioners are often based in community health clinics. They provide primary care to people of all ages, assessing, diagnosing, and treating common illnesses and injuries. Their interactions with patients have a strong emphasis on teaching and counseling for health maintenance. Nurse practitioners recognize the importance of the social and emotional aspects of health care in addition to the more obvious physical factors.
Nurse practitioners in other specialties perform similar tasks, although they may work with different age groups or with people in schools or institutional settings. Just as physicians do, nurse practitioners select a field of specialization. A pediatric nurse practitioner provides primary health care for infants through adolescents. Gerontological nurse practitioners are often based in nursing homes and work with older adults. School nurse practitioners work in school settings and provide primary health care for students. Occupational health nurse practitioners focus on employment-related health problems and injuries. Psychiatric nurse practitioners work with people who have mental or emotional problems. Women's health care nurse practitioners provide primary care for women from adolescence through old age and may provide services from contraception to hormone replacement therapy.