By Gwen Wodiuk, DNP, FNP-C
Faculty, College of Nursing and Health Care Professions
Most people understand what a nurse is. Usually, they picture someone taking care of sick people. Frequently this care takes place in a hospital. There are several pathways nurses can pursue after the initial stage of caring for people who are hospitalized. There are four types of nurses who are considered “advanced practice.” These nurses work as nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and clinical nurse specialists.
The earliest role to develop was that of the nurse anesthetist. Nurses during the American Civil War began to administer the anesthetic for surgeries performed. Keeping patients asleep was initially a specialized nursing function for a few decades. Having nurses perform this allowed the physician to focus on the work of the operation.
The next group that developed were nurse midwives. This group grew out of nurses that provided care to underserved communities in the early 1900s. They began to focus more on improving care and health outcomes for women who were pregnant or had recently given birth. They also focused on the care of the newborn — the education and care they provided improved life expectancy for these populations.
In the 1950s & 60s, the last two categories developed. Nurses who provided care for patients with mental health issues realized that they helped a different population. This grew into a graduate level preparation specializing in the care of patients with psychiatric issues. Clinical nurse specialists grew from this beginning. They continue to have a focus on a special population to provide the best care possible for those patients. Much of the time today, they work in health care organizations and support patients by educating staff, working on policy with the administration of the organization, and caring for patients.
The newest of the roles is the nurse practitioner. The first education program was intended to help provide wellness care for children. Since the 1960s, this specialization has expanded to include nurses who provide care for patients in offices and hospitals. They work with newborns, children, adults, and older patients. Many specialize in a specific group of people or a health care concern.
These nurses have gone back to school and usually earned a Master’s degree or a Doctorate in their specialized area to care for patients. Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) can meet many health care needs of Americans. As our nation’s health care needs continue to grow, this is a group of caring and educated nurses who can help fill some of the gaps in being able to get needed care. Many times, APRNs chose to help promote health in smaller communities or areas that are underserved with the availability of health care professionals. These nurses bring their caring but also the science of health care to their interactions with patients.
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About Gwen Wodiuk:
Dr. Wodiuk first considered nursing as a career shortly while attending a Christian college in the Midwest. Ironically an aunt, who was a nurse, talked her out of it. It was almost 10 years later when she began the process that led to her being a family nurse practitioner and faculty. She first earned an associate degree as a nurse. Then attended Arizona State University for her bachelor’s degree in nursing. In 2005, Dr. Wodiuk completed her Master’s degree and became a family nurse practitioner. In 2017, she graduated from University of Colorado with her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree. She has been involved in education for family nurse practitioners since 2009.