School of Nursing Perspective: A New Role for Nurse Practitioners

Apr. 6, 2010


By Patricia Alpert, Assistant Professor

Health care reform will fuel a need for primary care providers. Where do nurse practitioners fit in?

Since the collapse of proposed health care reform in the early days of the Clinton administration, meeting consumer demand for quality care at an affordable cost has been the driving force in the effort to reshape health care delivery. Today, amid increasing economic pressures, we are faced with yet another attempt at health care reform; and, as part of this process, it will be necessary to take a hard look at the evolving role of the nurse practitioner.

Under pressure to balance cost and quality care, health administrators and policy makers are mandated to determine needs in terms of manpower and its effectiveness. Utilizing nurse practitioners more creatively and at a greater rate might help alleviate the imbalance of cost versus quality. 

High Quality Care

Studies have demonstrated that nurse practitioners deliver their services at equal the quality, and, in some cases, with higher rates of patient satisfaction, than primary care physicians.

The nurse practitioner should not be considered a surrogate doctor or a “junior physician” – terms frequently used by many health care providers to describe nurse practitioners.  Rather, the nurse practitioner performs a very professional set of functions inherent in his or her training.  Although physicians and nurse practitioners have many overlapping roles in primary care, each has something unique to offer the consumer that broadens the spectrum of health care delivery.

Call to Action

To meet the growing primary care needs of Nevadans, we need to make a push to educate more nurse practitioners. Nurse practitioner education is now offered in colleges and universities throughout the state at the post-masters and doctoral levels. Since 1992, the UNLV School of Nursing has offered advanced practice master degrees in family practice and pediatrics.  For working nurses, the school also offers post-master's certificates in family practice and pediatrics for those who already hold a Master of Science degree in nursing.

Today in Nevada, nurse practitioners are practicing in community and private practices, health-maintenance organizations, long-term care centers, large medical centers and small, rural hospitals. They are employees and contractual workers, they provide care and manage practices, and they are teaching and researching.  A few nurse practitioners have even braved the world of the entrepreneur and opened their own private practices.  The evolution of where nurse practitioners practice has changed dramatically, and they’ll become increasingly more important as we venture into a new era of health care delivery in America.  

Patricia Alpert is a UNLV nursing professor, practicing nurse practitioner and fellow of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. She teaches in both the family and pediatric nurse practitioner tracks at UNLV and actively researchers obesity and the effects of exercise on balance, memory and mood in older adults.