As primary care shortages continue to affect the healthcare system in the United States, Master’s prepared nurses are stepping up to bridge the gap between primary care providers and patients’ needs. A primary care nurse, most often in a Nurse Practitioner role, provides broad healthcare services to patients including diagnosing illnesses and injuries, providing preventative care to patients such as immunizations and screenings, as well as managing ongoing care for chronic and/or terminal conditions.
With the increased access to primary care services that resulted from healthcare reform and legislation in 2014, comes the task of matching those who are seeking care with capable and well trained primary care providers (PCPs). Earning your Master’s degree in nursing can position you within this segment of providers, and allows you to use your nursing education to meet the needs of the populace.
If you are interested in becoming a primary care provider, you can choose programs from the schools on this page to get started. Request materials to review, giving you the chance to compare programs in order to choose the one that may be best for you.
Primary care nursing is another over-arching term that covers a wide range of duties, responsibilities and nursing positions. The most common and effective way to enter primary care is to earn your Master’s of Science in Nursing through a Nurse Practitioner program. As nurse practitioners, primary care nurses can work in a variety of settings such as outpatient clinics, family medicine clinics, specialty clinics, community health clinics and general physician clinics.
Primary care nurse practitioners work as part of the treatment team by assessing patient symptoms and providing a diagnosis, as well as designing a treatment plan for the patient to follow. As with all nursing positions, a primary care nurse will educate patients and their families regarding treatment and care of the illness or injury and extended care if the condition is chronic.
Primary care activities for Advanced Practice nurses parallel those of a physician, including diagnosing and prescribing, but nurse practitioners must still complete these duties under the supervision of a physician in some states. While the supervision is not always direct supervision, a primary care nurse is often required to have a collaborative agreement with a physician in order to practice.
As a primary care nurse, you will need to be highly organized, as you will be working with numerous patients throughout a day and you will need to maintain each patients records and ensure the correct information is passed on to labs and other treatment team members. You will need to possess great written and verbal communication skills, as you will be the primary patient contact and will need to coordinate care, making sure all team members have correct information.
As a primary care nurse, you will also need to have excellent bedside manner, as you will have a great deal of personal contact with patients. As with every nursing position, you will need to operate within the code of ethics at all times, ensuring for professionalism and confidentiality, as well as maintaining your role as patient advocate. Depending on your employment setting and degree focus, you may work with patients from across the lifespan in a variety of diverse environments, requiring you to be well versed in multiple treatment modalities and aspects of healthcare delivery.
Primary Care Education and Curriculum
To become a Primary Care Nurse Practitioner, you will need to obtain your Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, at a minimum. Many PCPs undergo Doctoral training as well, and the AACN is planning to raise accreditation standards in 2015 to make the Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree the educational standard for Nurse Practitioners. While this reflects the dedication of the nursing profession to maintaining a well-educated workforce, it may also hinder the availability of qualified Nurse Practitioners in the Primary Care environment. It also means that earning your Master’s degree now will set you firmly on your course to further advancement.
Through your career as a registered nurse, you may have found that you enjoy one patient population or care setting more than others which can aid you in choosing your primary care, you can choose to work in that field by choosing the corresponding work setting. For example, if you would like to receive your education emphasis in primary care nursing but enjoy working with children, a pediatric primary care NP program may be a good fit for you.
While you are obtaining your nursing Master’s degree, some programs allow you to choose courses in your areas of interest while focusing on the required program curriculum. Most Primary Care Master’s programs are approximately two-three years in length if courses are taken at a full time capacity, including the summer terms and clinicals. Part time programs can take longer, but may be a viable route if you intend to continue working while you are in graduate school.
As with most nursing degrees, you can usually tailor your course load to fit your schedule, including your clinical requirements. Most schools now give you the choice to participate in online courses or in-class lectures, though participation in instructional clinicals will be required regardless of which method of instruction you choose.
The core curriculum for earning your Master’s degree with a Primary Care emphasis will be similar regardless of your specific focus. Courses will include Nursing Management, Advanced Health Assessment, Pharmacology, Pathophysiology, and several business and healthcare delivery courses that address Advanced Practice Nursing roles in today’s healthcare system. Once you’ve completed the core classes, you will receive in depth instruction in regards to the specific patient population or care delivery setting you are focusing on.
After graduating with your Master’s degree, you can make yourself even more marketable in the field by obtaining a certification, which will also validate your knowledge and skills to potential employers. While there is no specific certification for a primary care nurse, you will have a couple of different options for certifications. One certification available is the Family Nurse Practitioner in Primary Care, which is a nursing board certification. To be eligible to take the certification exam you must hold a current and active RN license, have at least a Master’s degree and meet course requirements as outlined in the criteria.
Another certification available for primary care nurses is the Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner board certification which also requires a nurse to currently be certified as an RN and possess a Master’s degree. All information regarding both of the previously mentioned certifications can be found through the American Nurses Credentialing Center and discounts for exam fees can be obtained through the American Nurses Association if you hold a membership. If you are searching for a pediatric primary care certification, you can obtain one through the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board, which is recognized by many credible organizations.
Primary Care Nursing Career Outlook
Job outlook for primary care nurses is high and is expected to increase as the larger concentration of the nation’s population grows older and more people gain access to primary care services. Nurse Practitioner job outlook is projected to rise within the next few years, creating job security and higher demand to fill empty positions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average nurse practitioner in 2013 earned $95,070 per year or $45.71 per hour.
As with any nursing position, hours, benefits and wage will change from state to state and even within each setting a person is employed. Some positions may require overnights, weekends, holidays or overtime, often resulting in higher pay due to compensation, while other positions will require just a 9:00am to 5:00pm, Monday through Friday work week. Regardless of your hours, as a nurse practitioner, you will earn great benefits with your employment, and can make a significant impact on healthcare in the U.S.
To learn more about how you can enter the field of primary care, contact the schools that offer the programs you are interested in and request more information.
Primary Care Schools
Georgia Health Sciences University
Rutgers University-New Brunswick
New Brunswick, NJ
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
University of Missouri-Columbia
University of Southern Indiana
University of Wisconsin-Parkside