What is a Nurse Practitioner?
Nurse Practitioners (NPs) belong to a group of healthcare professionals who have been widely-researched to examine their credibility, efficacy and use in diverse healthcare settings internationally. Since the profession’s birth in the United States in the 1960s, its model has extended to approximately 70 countries worldwide, including the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. The profession’s aim is to improve access to treatment, provide cost-effective care, target at-risk populations, provide outreach services to rural and remote communities and provide clinical mentorship and expertise.
The first two NPs were authorised in New South Wales in 2000 and numbers have grown steadily. The latest figures from July 2014 registration data collected by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) reveal that there are 1084 NPs endorsed throughout Australia. The 2012 Australian College of Nurse Practitioners (ACNP) national member survey showed that NPs working in Australia are practicing in diverse settings and specialty areas, ranging from emergency departments (30%) to general practice environments (8%), with the majority (71%) working solely for the public sector.
There are four key elements which define the advanced, extended and collaborative role of NPs in Australia:
1. Advanced knowledge, skills and expertise in diagnostic assessment and reasoning
2. The ability to independently prescribe medicines
3. The ability to independently order and interpret diagnostic tests (pathology, imaging studies, etc)
4. The ability to independently refer to medical specialists