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Advanced Practice Nurses Play an Essential Role in Health Care

Let’s change antiquated laws that limit what APRNs can do

Nurse smiling while talking to a patient

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AARP has long advocated that nurses be permitted to contribute to the full extent of their capabilities.

En español | Few professionals enjoy the trust and respect that nurses do. They’ve earned every bit of it and deserve even more.

Why is it, then, that so many of the most educated, thoroughly trained and well-credentialed nurses aren’t allowed to use all their skills and talents to take care of patients who want and need their help? Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) have extensive post-graduate education, including at least a Master’s degree and often a doctorate of nursing practice. They have had specialized training to qualify as a certified nurse midwife, clinical nurse specialist, certified registered nurse anesthetist, or nurse practitioner. Yet in more than two-thirds of the states, antiquated laws prevent APRNs from practicing to the full extent of their education, training and certification.

As we celebrate National Nurses Week from May 6 to May 12, this would be a good time to focus on fixing this inequality, a top priority for AARP because consumers and family caregivers need full access to all of our clinicians.

It’s been over seven years since the Institute of Medicine issued a report calling for nurse leaders to play an expanded role to improve health care in the United States; yet, many barriers and limitations still exist.

Restrictions vary by state, but often APRNs have to wait for a physician to sign documents such as disabled parking placards, referrals for physical therapy, or death certificates. In some states, APRNs cannot write prescriptions for certain drugs – or at all. Some aren’t even allowed to refer patients to specialists.

We are wasting precious resources. More than 60 million Americans live in areas – many of them rural – where primary care physicians are in short supply.  Many patients have long waits for needed services such as diabetes monitoring, diagnoses of illnesses, routine tests, prenatal care and wellness visits, to name a few. As the population ages, the shortages just keep growing. APRNs could ably fill many of these gaps if they were allowed.

AARP has long advocated that nurses be permitted to contribute to the full extent of their capabilities. We want to help ensure that everyone in America has access to a highly skilled nurse, when and where they need one.

We are making progress. In 22 states and the District of Columbia, nurse practitioners can now practice to the full extent of their education, training and certification. The Department of Veterans Affairs gave most APRNs full practice authority in 2016. And just last year, legislatures in more than 20 states passed laws that lifted some or all of their restrictions on APRNs, meaning better access to care for consumers. More than a dozen other states are considering lifting restrictions in 2018 – and several already have.

Together with our partners at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and AARP Foundation, AARP has created the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action, which is dedicated to improving America’s health through nursing. We’re working in every state to mobilize nurses, health providers, consumers, educators and businesses to improve health by strengthening nursing on multiple fronts.

This National Nurses Week, let’s celebrate this honorable, ethical and vital profession by removing the barriers that prevent APRNs from doing what they do so very well.

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