What is a Nurse Practitioner?


There are several ways to answer this question. The textbook definition describes educational preparation, licensure and scope of practice. An assortment of terms is also frequently used in relation to nurse practitioners. Finally, there is my personal explanation that I would share with you if we were to have this discussion face to face.


Technically speaking, a nurse practitioner is a registered nurse who has completed graduate school with additional clinical requirements to become nationally board certified to provide a wide range of health care services. These health services include the entire spectrum of patient care from evaluation to diagnosis, writing prescriptions, follow-up, patient/family education, wellness promotion and referrals as needed. In every state, a board of nursing governs nursing practice and determines scope of practice (i.e. what a nurse is allowed to do within her/his practice). In Maryland, nurse practitioners are independent healthcare providers who have entered into a collaborative agreement with a physician. This means that a nurse practitioner can independently manage patient care in any health care setting and if the need arises to consult or collaborate about any aspect of patient care, a physician is already identified with whom to do so. Dr Lee is the physician with whom I have a collaborative agreement.


You might hear the terms “midlevel provider” or “physician extender” or “advanced practice nurse” in relation to nurse practitioners within the healthcare field. The first two terms generally refer to the fact that nurse practitioners are certified to manage fully the care of 75-80% of patients whom physicians manage. The remaining 20-25% of cases are referred to a primary or specialty care physician because they are outside the scope of practice of a nurse practitioner.

The term “advanced practice registered nurse” is shared by nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and clinical nurse specialists. More specific to nurse practitioners are initials which denote the type of national certification obtained (e.g. neonatal, pediatric, family practice, women’s health, adult, geriatric). I am a family nurse practitioner so my title is shown as “FNP.” A family nurse practitioner is certified to provide care to patients of all ages, newborns through the elderly.


When I am asked what to clarify the role of a nurse practitioner, I simply explain that a nurse practitioner is a nurse with a medical toolkit. I interpret my role as a healthcare provider who strives to understand each patient as a whole person who is experiencing health uniquely. With the nursing and medical resources available to me, I then try to tailor a plan of care to fit their individual needs. My goal as a nurse practitioner is to empower patients and their families to find their way toward good health as part of a good life.

I feel blessed to be working with Dr Lee and everyone here at Frederick County Pediatrics and I look forward to meeting and working with all of our patients and families.

 – Megan Richardson, Family Nurse Practitioner