Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) are often primary care providers and are at the forefront of offering preventative care services to the public. They could be nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, clinical nurse specialists, and nurse midwives amongst other roles. Their duties include treating and diagnosing illnesses, managing chronic diseases, and advising the public on health issues. Additionally, they engage in continuous education to remain ahead of developments in the field, whether technological, medicinal, or operational.
The tasks and responsibilities of advanced practice nurses are wide and varied, and very much depend on their specialty. Nurse practitioners provide primary, acute, and specialty healthcare across a person’s lifespan through assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of injuries and illnesses. The duties of a certified nurse-midwife include providing primary, gynecological, and reproductive healthcare. The duties of clinical nurse specialists include diagnoses, treatment, and ongoing management of patients as well as providing expertise and support to nurses caring for patients. Certified registered nurse anesthetists provide a full range of pain management and anesthesia services. All APRNs hold at least a master’s degree as well as the initial nursing education and licensing required for all registered nurses (RNs).
The importance of disease prevention
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, six in ten Americans live with at least one chronic disease such as cancer, diabetes, or heart disease. These and other chronic diseases are the main cause of death and disability in the country and a major driver of healthcare costs, but many are preventable. Encouraging patients to make healthy choices can lessen their likelihood of getting a chronic disease and improve their quality of life.
Vaccines have reduced the prevalence of diseases that once harmed or killed people routinely. Many illnesses in the United States are vaccinated against, and many deaths by common diseases, such as flu, are therefore preventable. It’s important for nurses to advocate for vaccinations in order to keep the population protected. The effectiveness of vaccinations diminishes over time, so it’s also important that people get boosters where necessary.
Some diseases that are vaccine-preventable can have serious complications or even lead to later illnesses, so vaccinations provide protection not only against a particular disease but also against the complications or consequences it can bring. For example, seasonal influenza, also known as flu, affects tens of millions of people every year in the United States alone, and an annual vaccine can help individuals avoid infection and reduce the chances of being hospitalized or dying if they do become infected. The vaccine also provides protection from pneumonia and flu-related heart attacks or strokes.
Hepatitis B is a potentially deadly infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Although there is no cure, the vaccination can prevent the infection as well as the cancer and chronic liver damage that the infection can cause. Another virus that can be prevented by vaccination is the human papillomavirus (HPV) which is one of the leading causes of cervical cancer and can cause other cancers to grow in both men and women. The HPV vaccine prevents people from being infected with the virus or passing it on to others.
Advanced practice nurses play a vital role in providing healthcare access to the general public, especially in rural areas and underserved populations. They are able to utilize their skills and knowledge to provide holistic care plans to patients and their families, with an emphasis on disease prevention.
Infants and children should be vaccinated in order to prevent diseases such as measles, hepatitis, and pertussis, and although most children in the United States get the recommended vaccines, some communities have low vaccination coverage, and this puts them at risk of outbreaks.
As well as encouraging and delivering the vaccination of children in time for the new school year, it is important nurses encourage patients to keep up with their recommended vaccinations into adolescence and then adulthood. For example, adolescents need the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine and older adults need vaccines to help prevent pneumonia. Other vaccine-preventable diseases such as pneumococcal disease, which results in thousands of deaths and hospitalizations every year, are also preventable.
Nurse practitioners are able to help patients within their communities be protected from these diseases and are able to access guidance, strategies, and resources from their NP organizations. There is continuing education on tools and resources available from organizations such as the American Association of Nurse Practitioners which can help nurses improve vaccination coverage in their areas.
In the United States, statistics show that unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death in people under 45. Many unintentional injuries are caused by motor vehicle crashes and falls. Interventions to prevent different types of injuries are a crucial part of keeping people safe in their homes, workplaces, and communities. Drug overdoses are the leading cause of injury death in the United States and most of these involve opioids.
In some cases, problems with drug addiction occur because of attempts to manage chronic pain, for example, and nurses often lead the way in attitudinal change toward pain management. Because RNs practice in a variety of direct care, care coordination, leadership, and executive roles, they are often in a good position to help patients and their families understand the risks and benefits of the different options of pain treatment. Nurses are both patient advocates and educators and are in a positive position to help patients with non-opioid pain management, including other medication, regional anesthetic interventions, surgery, psychological therapies, rehabilitative/physical therapy, and complementary and alternative medicine.
Nurses are often responsible for educating patients and helping them to become responsible for their own health. In order to encourage patients to become proactive in their own care, it’s important that they understand their conditions so that they can work to minimize or prevent complications that may arise from any chronic illnesses. Patient education has to be both easily understood and comprehensive.
Nurses should begin educating patients early in their treatment, finding out what patients already know and correcting any misinformation. Information should be given in layman’s terms, and where practical, it can be useful to utilize visual aids. For patients who have an existing health issue, it can be helpful to ask them how they would explain their disease or treatment to a loved one. Another way to educate is to ensure patients understand any medications as they are administered and to provide information about signs and symptoms of their conditions that could require immediate attention.
Suggesting patients embark on their own reading around healthy lifestyles is also helpful, as it encourages patients to read information designed for members of the public rather than that aimed at healthcare specialists with specific medical knowledge.
Teaching patients is an important part of nursing; whether it is teaching a new mother how to bathe a newborn baby or instructing someone who has a chronic heart disease, a successful outcome will often depend on the quality of a nurse’s instruction and support. Other effective ways to do this include using technology and educational resources that can be customized and printed out for patients, ensuring an individual’s specific needs are addressed rather than handing out a generic stack of papers. It’s vital to review instructions with patients and ensure they understand them.
Finding out a patient’s learning style can help too, so ascertaining whether a patient would benefit more from watching a DVD or reading, for example, will pay dividends. Establishing a rapport with a patient is also important, so asking and answering questions that incorporate their specific concerns is helpful—some may want detailed information about every aspect of a health condition, whilst others may simply want the facts and a simple checklist. Including family members in health care management is also useful, as it improves the chances that instructions will be followed. Families play a critical role in health care management and teaching patients and their families can be one of the most important elements in providing nursing care.
A career in nursing
Embarking on a career in nursing opens the door to a long career improving the lives of others, whether it be in direct care, policymaking, or education. The requirements to become an APRN vary depending on the specialty, but all must have at least a master’s degree, and it should have a concentration in the medical specialty that is being pursued.
So, what can you do with a master’s in nursing? With a master’s degree, students open up specialized career opportunities, from a specialized registered nurse to a nurse educator or a nurse practitioner. Elmhurst University offers a master’s entry to nursing practice online which is designed specifically for students with bachelor’s degrees in other fields who want to become nurses. Students will earn a Master of Science in nursing (MSN) degree in 20 months whilst preparing to sit for the registered nurse licensure exam (NCLEX-RN) and clinical nurse leader (CNL) certification exam. Students will also be eligible to bridge from this program to a nurse practitioner role through post-graduate certification programs or a Doctor of Nursing Practice program.
Elmhurst University also offers an online accelerated BAS (ABSN) available to students with a prior bachelor’s degree in any discipline. Candidates will earn their degree in 16 months and will be prepared to take the National Council Licensure examination (NCLEX-RN), qualifying them for a number of roles providing direct patient care.
For example, upon completion of their master’s in nursing, students could become a nurse health coach, who consults with patients to reach their wellness goals, evaluating their current lifestyle, and creating plans to encourage healthy eating and exercise habits. This role is key in educating individuals to help prevent disease and injury in the long term. Other roles not yet mentioned will include nurse nutritionists, who specialize in providing clients with advice related to their diets, such as in relation to diabetes, and public health nurses who promote the well-being of the community by advocating for preventative healthcare and creating health programs.
The demand for nurses is high, and, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurse practitioners are among the 20 occupations with the highest projected percent change of employment between 2022 and 2032. Overall employment of nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners is projected to grow 38% in those ten years, with about 30,000 openings projected each year over that decade.
The aging population in the United States is growing along with the rising incidence of chronic disease and increasing rates of infectious diseases, meaning nurse practitioners are in high demand. According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, over 350,000 nurse practitioners in the US conduct more than 1 billion patient visits every year, including via mobile outreach and telehealth. With nearly 100 million people now living in primary care shortage areas, nurse practitioners can help to address this challenge, as many are trained to deliver primary care. In rural areas, nurse practitioners make up 1 in 4 of all primary care providers.
All this means that embarking on a career in nursing will not only be rewarding, but it will also provide the opportunity for consistent employment and progression throughout a nurse’s working life, placing them in an important role that enables them to help to educate and treat patients in order to help prevent disease and injury within their communities.