Last weekend at a large community event, I was speaking with a retired university professor, and she asked me what I did. When she found out I was a faculty member in a nurse practitioner program, she asked if I knew a nursing student that attends the university. When I responded I did not, because I only teach graduate nurse practitioner students, she seemed stumped. She then asked me if there was as difference between nurses and nurse practitioners.

Maybe I am sheltered in my thinking, but after more than 20 years in health care I really thought that everyone knew what a nurse practitioner was, even if they do not understand the intricacies of practice laws in different states. I was surprised to meet  a woman with a PhD, who did not know that there were differences between NPs and RNs.

After I picked my jaw up off the ground, I was able to explain to her that NPs are able to prescribe medications and order tests; although, that’s not the only thing that demonstrates our ability to provide care. This interaction got me thinking that there are probably other individuals of various education levels, who still have not been exposed to a nurse practitioner, and therefore, do not know what we can do.

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In the early 1990s, I was employed at the Carle Clinic in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, a forerunner in utilizing NPs.  At this practice, we developed a patient brochure that was placed in waiting areas and exam rooms throughout the facilities, explaining what NPs can do and emphasizing our focus on health promotion and wellness. 

This week, my mother actually sent me a copy of a similar brochure she found in her retirement community health center, which was developed by the North Carolina Nurse Practitioner Council on NPs. The pamphlet was developed in the mid 2000s and explained what NPs are and what they can do for patients.

Now it is the 2010s, and although I wish we still did not need to provide basic  information and education to the general public about who NPs are and what we can do, I’d rather err on the safe side and get out those informational brochures one more time. Here are two that you might consider using:

Don’t forget to practice your elevator speech, so the next time you are caught off guard by someone who doesn’t know what an NP is, you can provide you’re uninformed acquaintance with this information and help bring the profession one step closer to universal recognition.

If anyone has ideas for additional ways that we can improve outreach and raise awareness about the NP profession, please share them in the comments section.

Julee B. Waldrop, DNP, FNP, PNP, is the Director of the MSN-DNP Program and an associate professor at the University of Central Florida. She provides health care to children at a local community health center.