7 things you might not know about nurse practitioners (NPs)

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Debbie Fraser, the head of Athabasca University's nurse practitioner program.

Debbie Fraser, the head of AU’s NP program and the winner of the 2014 CNA Order of Merit for Nursing Education, stands beside the “wall of honour” at her workplace, the neonatal intensive care unit at Winnipeg’s St. Boniface General Hospital. The wall is where the unit hangs pictures of their “graduates.”

Debbie Fraser is the director of Athabasca University’s online nurse practitioner (NP) program, and on June 17, the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) honoured her with the CNA Order of Merit for Nursing Education. In celebration of Debbie receiving this award, the AU blog tapped into her expertise and asked her to share seven things you might not know about nurse practitioners.

1. What makes NPs different than registered nurses (RNs) and doctors?

Nurse practitioners begin their career as registered nurses, so they share many of the same approaches to patient care as RNs. But NPs have added training to their tool kit that allows them to diagnose illnesses, prescribe medication and perform procedures that are beyond the scope of RNs.

The three added competencies of NPs overlap with our physician colleagues, who have additional training for seeing more complex patients.

2. Why does the NP profession exist?

With an aging population, budget constraints and changing consumer expectations, there’s a need for more health care services than what can be provided by the traditional nursing and physician roles. For nurses like me who find fulfilment in providing direct care, being an NP is a tremendous opportunity to improve health care while constantly challenging yourself to grow and learn. It is truly a role where lifelong learning is a must.

3. What’s the job market like for NPs?

With an increasing demand for cost-effective health care services across Canada, there’s been a tremendous growth in the number of NP positions in most provinces. Not only are there jobs in primary care, but there’s an increasing number of positions for NPs in areas such as long-term care, women’s health, pediatrics, emergency and of course, my favourite, neonatal care. (Note: Neonatal care is Debbie’s specialty.)

4. What can an NP do?

An NP can meet about 70 – 80 per cent of the primary health care needs of the average Canadian. In specialized settings, NPs work collaboratively with other health care team members to provide comprehensive care for their patient population.

5. What can an NP not do?

The needs of complex patients may be beyond the scope of a nurse practitioner. In this case, the NP would refer his or her patient to a family physician or specialist.

6. Why does online learning work well for aspiring NPs?

Online NP studies allow RNs to continue their education without leaving their community. For many RNs, online learning allows them to stay in the workforce and keep contributing to their family income while they attend university in the evening or on weekends.

7. Where do the NP students at AU come from?

The Master of Nursing: NP and Post-Master’s Diploma: NP have over 400 students across Canada. Ontario, Alberta and B.C. have the largest numbers of NP students.

More about Debbie

Debbie Fraser (MN, RNC-NIC) has been shaping nursing education and practice both in and outside of Canada for 30 years.

At AU, she’s an associate professor and has overseen the NP program — Canada’s first online NP program — since 2010. She’s also taught at the University of Manitoba and the University of Toronto and works in neonatal intensive care at the St. Boniface General Hospital in Winnipeg.

“I’ve had the honour of attending over 3,000 births,” she says. “There’s no greater pleasure than seeing a family take their newborn home or having them bring that child back to visit months or years later…. It is truly a privilege to combine a career in teaching with a grounding in clinical practice.”

Written with files from the Canadian Nurses Association. Photo by Teckles Photography Inc.