Whereas a typical RN assists in health care, an APRN is a primary health care provider. Although in practice the duties of a physician and APRN may be very similar, there is a fundamental difference in approach. Physicians seek to fix medical problems, often through medication and/or surgery, APRNs seek to help patients cope with problems and live the best life they can live. This distinction is a matter of emphasis and approach, as typically APRNs’ capacities overlap with physicians. For example, both have the capacity to prescribe medication.
The APRN will typically work in a primary care facility or clinic, and will be certified in a specialty relevant to the practice of the clinic. Like physicians, APRNs typically specialize. Thus APRN’s duties vary according to their specialty and the specialty of the clinic in which they work.
An APRN is not a nurse per se. Some states consider RN duties as within the scope of an APRN’s duties, many do not. While the employer has some say in whether an APRN can assume these duties, one must refer to the nurse practice act of the state in question for an authoritative answer as to whether an APRN can assume typical RN duties.
The APRN may diagnose actual or potential health problems as well as changes in overall health, plan treatment for patients, implement the plan, and evaluate their planned treatment’s success on an ongoing basis. They will also evaluate the patient’s health status on an ongoing basis. They will typically provide supportive and restorative care, and counsel or teach the patient as well.
APRNs collaborate with a physician in order to implement the total health care regimen. Whereas APRNs typically collaborate with physicians, in many states, there is no legal requirement for collaboration with a physician except in dispensing medication. However, like MDs, APRNs are generally supervised by MDs rather than by RNs or other APRNs. An APRN’s authority is considered delegated by the supervising physician, although this does not require the physician’s presence.
An APRN may, in collaboration with a physician, prescribe, dispense and administer medication and corrective measures and may request, sign for, receive and dispense drugs, such as professional samples. In order to be able to prescribe and administer drugs or controlled substances, the APRN must maintain current certification with the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists. During surgery, an APRN may only prescribe and administer medication if the physician supervising the prescriptive activity is physically present within the clinic or institution hosting the surgery.
The duties that may be performed by an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) vary from state to state. The requirements vary also. Typically, the APRN is expected to hold a master’s degree, and must be licensed in the state in which they practice. Additionally, APRNs must specialize in order to be licensed. Generally, however, there are broad similarities from state to state in both the requirements and duties of an APRN.
To summarize, APRNs work is very similar to what a physician does in a primary care practice. Unlike the physician, whose emphasis is repairing tissue and curing disease, the APRN focuses on overall quality of life.