Imagine this: your child's
is soaring, but the doctor's schedule is completely booked. The
receptionist tells you that a nurse practitioner is available to
see your child. Although you don't know much about nurse
practitioners, you set up an appointment.
This is the way many parents have discovered that nurse
practitioners (NPs) provide excellent care for their infants,
children, and teenagers. Recent studies show that in some respects,
these trained specialists deliver the same - or better - care as
What's an NP?
A nurse practitioner is a registered nurse (RN) who has
additional education and training in a specialty area such as
family practice or pediatrics.
Nurse practitioners (also referred to as advanced practice
nurses, or APNs) have a master's degree in nursing (MS or MSN)
and board certification in their specialty. For example, a
pediatric NP has advanced education, skills, and training in caring
for infants, children, and teens.
Licensed as nurse practitioners and registered nurses, NPs
follow the rules and regulations of the Nurse Practice Act of the
state where they work. If accredited through the national board
exam, the NP will have an additional credential such as Certified
Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (CPNP) or Certified Family Nurse
Pediatric and family practice NPs can provide regular health
care for kids. An NP who specializes in pediatrics can:
and perform a physical exam
- plan a child's care with parents and the child's
health care team
- perform some tests and procedures
- answer questions about health problems
- treat common childhood illnesses
- change the plan of care with a child's doctor as
- teach families about the effects of illness on a child's
- teach kids about self-care and healthy lifestyle choices
- write prescriptions
- teach other health care members and local groups about child
- provide referrals to community groups
NPs and Doctors
NPs work closely with doctors to provide individualized care for
their patients. NPs are licensed in all 50 states, and can dispense
most medications. A few states require a doctor to co-sign
Although doctors have additional training to help patients deal
with complex medical problems, many people think NPs may spend more
time with their patients. Experts who study NPs report that their
training emphasizes disease prevention, reduction of health risks,
and thorough patient education.
Like doctors, NPs are involved in more than just direct patient
care. Many participate in education, research, and legislative
activities to improve the quality of health care in the United
Should My Child See a Nurse Practitioner?
Pediatric NPs are capable of delivering much of the health care
that kids require, consulting doctors and specialists when
necessary. Educating the child and the family about the normal
growth and development issues that arise in childhood (i.e.,
) is a large part of the pediatric NP's role. They also take
the time to talk to families about issues that might be considered
routine, but that can make the difference between a pleasant office
visit and one that's stressful.
Pediatric and family practice NPs can treat acute (or
short-term) illnesses such as upper
, rashes, and
urinary tract infections
. They can also assist with management of chronic illnesses such as
, and many others that affect children.
If your child has severe health problems that require advanced
training or highly specialized medical care, you may need to seek
the care of a doctor. If you're unsure about your child's
specific illness and want to know if an NP can help, ask your
doctor. The scope of an NP's practice depends upon your
If you want to verify an NP's credentials, check with the
American College of Nurse Practitioners (ACNP). It's also a
good idea to ask NPs about their specific qualifications,
education, and training, just as you would interview a prospective
doctor for your child.
Also be sure to check with your health insurance provider to
ensure that services provided by NPs are covered through your
How Can I Find an NP?
You can find pediatric NPs through the National Association of
Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (NAPNAP) and through local hospitals
or nursing schools. In addition, many doctors share office space
with NPs to provide all types of primary care. Other doctors work
with NPs to offer them training in different types of health care.
Your doctor might already have such an arrangement in place, so
Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: February 2008
Previously reviewed by:
Betty Ann Sweet, MSN, APN
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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