Nurse Practitioners Celebrate 50 Years as Expert Health-Care Providers

More than 300 students are pursuing their Doctor of Nursing Practice degree—the highest level of education for nurse practitioners—through the University of Arizona.

This week, more than 205,000 nurse practitioners (NPs) throughout the United States, including more than 5,500 in Arizona, are being recognized for their contributions to health care during National Nurse Practitioner Week, Nov. 8-14. This year also marks 50 years since the first NP program was established.

At the University of Arizona College of Nursing, more than 300 students are enrolled in the online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program, which offers nurse practitioner specialties in family, pediatric, psychiatric mental health and adult-gerontology acute care.

“Nurse practitioners and other advanced practice nurses are essential to our health-care system, especially in primary care, where we are facing a significant and growing provider shortage,” said Joan Shaver, PhD, RN, FAAN, dean of the UA College of Nursing. “Particularly in rural and underserved areas, nurse practitioners are often the sole health-care providers.”

NPs are licensed, expert clinicians with advanced education and extensive clinical preparation, who provide primary, acute and specialty health-care services. According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, more than 80 percent of NPs are educated for primary care practice. At the UA College of Nursing, more than half of current DNP students are pursuing the family nurse practitioner specialty.  

Historically, NPs have been educated at the master’s level, but since 2004, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing has recommended that all advanced practice nurses be educated at the doctoral level.

“Our DNP program builds upon the traditional master’s program,” said Rene Love, DNP, PMHNP-BC, FNAP, FAANP, clinical associate professor and director of the DNP program at the UA College of Nursing. “In addition to learning how to provide comprehensive, evidence-based care for patients, students address the scientific underpinnings of practice, health-care policy, leadership and quality improvement. They examine not only individual health, but population health.”

NPs are the health-care providers of choice for many patients. More than 916 million visits are made to NPs every year. In addition to providing a full range of services, NPs emphasize the health and wellbeing of the whole person in their approach, including educating patients about how to manage chronic conditions and helping them make informed health-care decisions and healthy lifestyle choices.