Nurse practitioners (NPs) play an increasingly large role in delivering rheumatology care and services. Their specialized knowledge and skills help both rheumatology patients and rheumatologists to create an interlocking network of patients and medical professionals.
An NP is a registered nurse (RN) who acquires advanced credentials to expand his or her scope of responsibilities in the workplace. After completing an accredited graduate-level (master’s or doctorate) educational program and passing a certification examination that signifies advanced knowledge and skills, an NP often works either as an independent provider or as part of a care team. Every U.S. state board specifies the scope of practice for NPs, and many states allow NPs to establish their own practices. According to Angela K. Golden, DNP, FNP, and president of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), “Seventy to 80% of NPs stay in primary or family care, while 20% to 30% go into a subspecialty. Either way, NPs bring their nursing education and experience and advanced practice education to the care of patients and fill the need for more providers in clinical settings.” In fact, rheumatology practices are increasingly turning to NPs to fill the gap between the demand for and supply of rheumatologists. Spanning this gap is becoming a long-term goal for clinicians entering the rheumatology workforce.1
Building on the undergraduate RN training, the NP program requires courses in health assessment, physiology, pathology, treatment protocols, pharmacology, and research methodology. State laws regulate the licensing of NPs, and NPs in all 50 states have prescriptive authority. NPs specializing in rheumatology now can enroll in the ACR’s Advanced Rheumatology Course (ARC), an online course that offers a three-track (adult, pediatric, and combined) curriculum designed to provide in-depth information and advanced skills. A participant who passes each module within the selected track receives a Certificate of Participation. Golden, a professional leader in the AANP, says that the ARC meets important educational criteria. “The course is comprehensive and offers expertise in such a way that the participant can verify and document knowledge,” she says. She notes that the ARC “has a strong educational approach while emphasizing care based on patient participation in his or her treatment.”
What an NP Does
The NP delivers health care from the initial assessment through diagnosis to continuing management of chronic rheumatic illness. This includes taking health histories, performing physical exams, interpreting tests, and developing a treatment plan.2 Throughout the process, patient education and communication are key components to building a team partnership with the patient and health professionals.