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Nurse practitioners at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital are key to providing care to children undergoing treatment for cancer and other catastrophic diseases. The team of more than 50 serve both inpatient and outpatient populations.
Many nurse practitioners at St. Jude are in a position to be part of the patient’s primary team of caregivers, which allows for greater continuity and efficiency in their care," said Emily Browne, a nurse practitioner in Leukemia/Lymphoma inpatient services at St. Jude. "They work closely with nurses, physicians, pharmacists and other members of the inter-disciplinary care team to provide a holistic focus on health promotion, illness prevention and treatment of symptoms.”
A nurse practitioner is a registered nurse who has a master’s degree in nursing and who has passed a national certification exam. At St. Jude, nurse practitioners diagnose and treat, perform physicals, order and interpret diagnostic tests as well as order medications such as chemotherapy under the supervision of physicians. They also perform procedures such as bone marrow aspirates and biopsies, skin punch biopsies, lumbar punctures and hip joint injections.
“We are not just treating the acute illness but also are looking at the whole, big picture,” Browne said. “We’re looking at vital signs as well as looking at stress levels, illness prevention and wellness promotion. We are focused on the whole patient and incorporate all of those things into treatment.”
The position of nurse practitioner was created as a response to the primary care physician shortage. In the early 1960s, an increase in specialization in medicine drew many physicians out of primary care. This led to a shortage of primary care physicians, particularly when government programs in 1965 provided health care coverage for underprivileged patients.
Many physicians had already begun collaborating and mentoring nurses with clinical experience to expand their role to fill the need in primary care services. The first nurse practitioner role was developed in 1965 at the University of Colorado. The first master’s program for nurse practitioners started at Boston College in 1967.