The Role of Nurse Practitioners in Primary Care

An aging population, a shortage of primary care physicians and more people with chronic conditions are factors prompting the rise of nurse practitioners becoming a part of patients’ health care teams.

Certified registered nurse practitioners or CRNPs are advanced practice registered nurses who provide health care to patients in a variety of settings such as physician offices, emergency departments, hospitals, urgent care centers, nursing homes and more.

To become a CRNP, you must hold a bachelor’s degree in nursing along with several years of general nursing experience. CRNPs must also earn a master’s or doctoral degree and complete intensive classroom and clinical training. Finally, CRNPs are accredited by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners or the American Nurses Credentialing Center and licensed by the state.

Jennifer Burnett, CRNP, with Meritus Family Medicine-Williamsport, explains the role of nurse practitioners in primary care. A nurse with 17 years of experience in critical and surgical care, Jennifer became a nurse practitioner to improve patients’ health by providing health education.

“I really value helping patients make lifestyle changes and seeing how those changes affect their weight, blood pressure, cholesterol or blood glucose levels,” says Jennifer.

In a primary care setting, CRNPs augment the work of their physician colleagues, but they can also be responsible for preventive care, disease management and acute care of their own patients. CRNPs conduct physical examinations, diagnose and treat common illnesses and injuries, provide immunizations and manage high blood pressure, diabetes or other chronic conditions.

Similar to other Meritus Medical Group primary care practices, Jennifer and her nurse practitioner colleagues operate using a team-based approach to primary care where patients are seen by the right provider at the right time.

“Patients are very open to seeing me as their provider,” says Jennifer. Her approach to patient care involves spending time with her patients to understand their current health needs and barriers to improved health.

As the fastest growing group of professionals in primary care, CRNPs help increase access to health care—especially in underserved rural and urban areas. In a team approach to health care, CRNPs allow primary care physicians to focus on patients with more intensive needs while they care for patients with more routine health care needs.

“Nurse practitioners can also see patients with immediate acute care needs when a physician’s schedule is full,” says Jennifer.

There’s no doubt that as the population’s demand for primary care services increase and the number of primary care physicians plateau, nurse practitioners will fill the gap.