Nurse Practitioner Programs in Alaska
Alaska nurse practitioners are recognized as primary care providers – and very important ones at that. They can make medical diagnoses and prescribe medications and other therapeutics. Alaska is classified as a full practice state by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. The state’s nurse practitioners practice without physician supervision; they have a scope of practice that makes full use of their education and training. The Alaska Center for Rural Health and Health Workforce notes that community health centers, clinics, nursing homes, health departments, hospitals, and school or college clinics are among the possible work settings.
Nurse practitioner is considered an Advanced Nurse Practitioner (APRN) role. The nurse practitioner will also have a population focus. Frequently this is as broad as family practice.
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Nurse Practitioner Program in AK
The University of Alaska-Anchorage nurse practitioner program is crucial to the state’s attempts to ‘grow its own’ primary care providers. UAA offers family nurse practitioner and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner options. Much of the coursework is offered through distance education. Students must complete their clinical hours in Alaska, but not necessarily in Anchorage – it’s acceptable to venture into more remote terrain. Programs are taught at the master’s level, but students can continue on for their DNP.
Becoming a Nurse Practitioner
The prospective APRN will complete an accredited graduate program that builds upon prior education as a registered nurse. The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accrediting Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) are both referenced in state code. Alaska’s entry-level nurse practitioner program, taught at the master’s level, is ACEN-accredited. The doctoral program is CCNE-accredited; this is actually the most common accreditation for graduate level nurse practitioner programs around the nation. Accrediting agencies ensure that schools provide a curriculum that is appropriate to the discipline and that they produce acceptable outcomes; pass rates on national examinations are among the many considerations.
State code mandates at least three credits of graduate/ advanced coursework in each of the following: pathophysiology, pharmacotherapeutics, and physical assessment. The program must include 500 supervised clinical hours. This requirements is not unique to Alaska; students will find similar notations in the standards upon which accreditation is based. Students who complete CCNE-accredited doctoral – ‘DNP’ – programs complete at least 1,000 hours of clinical practice.
The Alaska Nurse Practitioners Association has provided a list of preceptors looking for students (https://anpa.enpnetwork.com).
An Alaska student may complete a program that is based in another state yet still do his or her preceptorship in Alaska. The student will, however, need to be registered through the Board during this time. The program will need to meet Alaska’s basic approval standards.This arrangement can, among other things, allow a nurse practitioner to pursue a specialized program in a population focus not available in Alaska. In-state options include family practice and psychiatric/ mental health practice — two very in-demand specializations. However, RNs need to look beyond the Alaska borders for programs in areas such as pediatrics.
The graduate will seek a third party national certification appropriate to his or her population focus. This will be one of the following: families/ individuals across the lifespan, psychiatric/ mental health, pediatrics, neonatal, women’s health/ gender-related, or adult/ gerontology.
(See: Alaska APRN Requirements)
APN Prescriptive Authority
An Alaska APN can be authorized to prescribe legend drugs if he or she meets basic requirements, (including having had 15 recent contact hours in psychopharmacology and clinical drug therapy management). There is a separate application process to prescribe controlled substances. The nurse practitioner will register with the Prescriptive Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP). There is a new requirement, taking effect in July 2018, that an advanced practice nurse with a DEA number must have training in opioid usage and pain management.
Meeting Healthcare Needs in Underserved Areas
The Alaska Center for Rural Health and Health Workforce notes that there is plenty of opportunity for nurse practitioners in rural health. Other organizations have painted a picture of opportunity and need. In 2011, the president of the American College of Nurse Practitioners wrote of visiting a small Alaska town where a nurse practitioner worked a clinic that served as the community’s only source of healthcare (https://www.npjournal.org/article/S1555-4155(11)00483-1/pdf).
Loan repayment is part of the strategy to lure providers to remote outpatient clinics where they must weather difficult weather and terrain. The Supporting Health Access (through loan) Repayment Program – ‘SHARP’ – has helped attract nurse practitioners and other providers to Alaska’s underserved areas; these underserved areas are often located in rural parts of the state. SHARP program successes have been described in multiple articles. The Northwest Regional Primary Care Association quotes a nurse practitioner employed by Norton Sound Health Corporation who reported that the program had played a big part in bringing her to rural Alaska (https://www.nwrpca.org/news/news.asp?id=345081#featured-videos/?id=345081).
The Alaska Department of Health and Human Services has published a number of SHARP resources including a list of employer sites looking for clinicians (http://dhss.alaska.gov/dph/HealthPlanning/Pages/sharp/default.aspx). The list is not necessarily exhaustive.
Alaska nurse practitioners earned an average $60.16 an hour, or $125,140 a year, in 2017: the second highest salary in the nation. The pay rate is a little higher in the nonmetropolitan areas of the state.
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