Nurse Practitioners Overview

Nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered professional nurses who are prepared through advanced graduate education and clinical training to provide a range of health services, including the diagnosis and management of common as well as complex medical conditions to people of all ages.

According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, nurse practitioners have provided primary, acute and specialty health care to patients of all ages for the past 50 years. As of June 2016, there were more than 222,000 licensed nurse practitioners in the U.S. Nurse practitioners assess patients, order and interpret diagnostic tests, make diagnoses, initiate and manage treatment plans—including prescribing medications. As clinicians, nurse practitioners blend clinical experience in diagnosing and treating health conditions with an added emphasis on health promotion, disease prevention and health management. As a profession, nurse practitioners state their commitment to bringing a comprehensive perspective to health care.

The information on this site focuses on three areas of scope of practice for nurse practitioners: practice authority, prescriptive authority and nurse practitioners as primary care providers.

Practice authority can be defined as nurse practitioners’ ability to practice independently without physician oversight. This often requires having a relationship with a physician that outlines procedures the nurse practitioner may perform and procedures for consulting with the physician. In some states, policy specifies whether a nurse practitioner must complete a transition to practice period before practicing independently. In other states, nurse practitioners have full independent practice authority, meaning they practice independently with no physician oversight.

Prescriptive authority refers to a nurse practitioner’s authority to prescribe medications. Some states require a relationship with a physician that outlines the nurse practitioner’s prescribing abilities.  Some states specify whether a nurse practitioner must complete a transition to practice period before being able to prescribe independently. State law in some places allows nurse practitioners to prescribe medications independently without physician oversight.

Some states explicitly identify a nurse practitioner as a primary care provider. This could include primary care being defined as a population focus for a nurse practitioner. Other states do not explicitly identify nurse practitioners as primary care providers.

The map on the right shows a comparison of all states and territories for these three areas. Choose a tab to explore different options. For more detailed information, please click on a state or territory.

For information on physician assistants and oral health providers, please use the practitioner links below the map.

Practitioner Links