It Is a Mistake to Call a Nurse Practitioner a Nurse
I do not like it when people call me a Nurse. I liked it when I was a Nurse, but for more than 17 years now I’ve been a Nurse Practitioner. The two titles are NOT interchangeable and the duties and responsibilites are NOT the same.
As a Nurse Practitioner I’m often asked “What should I call you?“. Doctors are addressed as “Doctor”, but if your doctor is a Nurse Practitioner, how should you address that person?
Call Me Carla, Just Don’t Call Me Late to Dinner
My patients are often not sure what to call me. When they ask me, I say “just call me Carla”. That’s my name. When patients call me Ms. Mills, it makes me feel like some stiff and formal version of myself - and that is not who I am as a health care provider. On the other hand, if you are my dry cleaner and just lost my best pair of black slacks, you will find Ms. Mills works a lot better for you.
Names matter. Don’t you dislike it when someone calls you by the wrong name? I think most of us do. Names call things what they are. A maple is a tree, but every tree is not a maple. A terrier is a dog, but every dog is not a terrier. A Nurse Practitioner is a Nurse, but every Nurse is not a Nurse Practitioner.
Types of Nurses and Their Correct Titles
I don’t know why my profession has chosen such confusing language to name the different types of nursing professionals but it’s no wonder you are confused about who does what.
Even among advanced practice nurses like Nurse Practitioners, there are other types of nurses who also have advanced clinical training. Those include Nurse Midwives, Nurse Anesthetists, and Clinical Specialists.
My purpose in writing this post is to help you get nurses’ names strainght. I will describe the three types of licensed professional nurses. I am also including CNAs, who are NOT nurses, but are healthcare workers that assist nurses. When you use the words “Nurse” or “Nurse Practitioner” I want you to know what you are talking about.
Correct Names of Nursing Professionals
Nurse Practitioner (NP) is a licensed registered nurse with advanced academic and clinical training at the master’s or doctoral level. NPs provide both medical and nursing care under their own license. NPs are licensed to give orders, prescribe medications, and direct medical care of patients. Depending on state law, NPs practice either independently or in collaboration with physicians. NP areas of specialization and certification include Family, Adult, Pediatric, Gerontologic, Women’s Health, Psychiatric, School and Occupational Health, Emergency, Neonatal, and Acute Care. NP education is shorter than physician education, and continuing education for certified NPs is 150 hours every five years and recertification is every five years. Click here for more about NP practice. Correct name: Nurse Practitioner or NP.
Registered Nurse (RN) is a licensed health professional who is a graduate nurse who has passed an examination for registration. Education required is an Associate’s or a Bachelor’s degree but may be a Master’s or Doctorate degree. RNs provide nursing care, administer medications, provide health counseling and teaching, and supervise less skilled personnel. The RN must have an order to administer any medications or give any treatments. RNs are NOT licensed to give orders, prescribe medications, or direct the medical care of patients. It is this difference in scope of practice between a NP and RN that makes calling a Nurse Practitioner a Nurse incorrect. Correct name: Nurse or RN.
Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) is a licensed health professional who works under the supervision of an RN, NP, PA, MD, or DO; education required is a high school diploma and completion of a formal training program at a vocational school or community college that includes supervised clinical instruction. LPNs must also successfully complete a licensing examination. LPNs can perform many basic nursing functions including administering medications. Their scope of practice varies from state to state. Correct name: Nurse or LPN.
Certified Nurse Assistants (CNA): are NOT nurses. They are healthcare workers, unlicensed but certified, and are known by many names including CNA, Nurse Aides, Orderlies, Patient Care Technicians, and Home Health Aides. They are an important part of the healthcare team and provide direct, hands-on care to patients in a wide variety of settings. They give personal care such as bathing and feeding and other duties and work under the supervision of an LPN or RN. Education depends on the state, and requirements for certification vary anywhere from two weeks of training followed by a test to several months of clinical and classroom training. Correct name: CNA or Nurse’s Aide.
3 Ways to Support Nurses
NPs, RNs and LPNs work together with the collective goal of providing you the best care possible. You can return the favor by doing the following:
- When you are treated by a Nurse Practitioner, say you saw a Nurse Practitioner and not a Nurse.
- When you talk about nurses who have cared for you, identify them by their correct titles.
- When you hear someone jumbling up our roles and titles - correct them.
We already love you, learning about our profession and understanding our titles are the best ways to love us back!
This information is offered for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, prescribe or treat. For that please seek direct care from a health professional.
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