The role of FNPs in promoting prevention

Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) play diverse roles that can vary according to the healthcare provider they work for and even the state they are based in. Some of their essential tasks are universal, however, including the important work they do in protecting the health of their patients.

This involves more than providing prompt diagnosis, supporting patients of all ages through treatments and helping them to manage long-term illnesses.

In fact, it could be safely argued that the most important work done by family nurse practitioners involves preventing people in their care from ever getting to the stage of needing a diagnosis and treatment!

In other words, FNPs are undoubtedly part of the nationwide campaign to promote preventative healthcare and to encourage lifestyle changes and better decision-making to avoid ill health.

The need for preventative healthcare

It would be easy to imagine that preventative healthcare measures, including those driven by FNPs in local communities, are aimed at reducing the massive cost involved in tackling ill health in the US. In fact, it is largely concerned with saving lives.

The most pressing reason that family nurse practitioners become involved in health education and protection can be summed up by one of the most shocking statistics in global healthcare. The World Health Organization (WHO) has released figures that show 41 million people die each year due to largely preventable non-communicable diseases. That equates to 74 percent of all deaths worldwide.

The main non-communicable killer involved in this startling report is cardiovascular disease. There has been a startling 60% increase in deaths from cardiovascular issues over the past three decades, so it is not surprising that it remains the world’s biggest mortality risk.

Behind that in the list of non-communicable diseases come cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes. Clearly, some of these illnesses are influenced by genetics and environmental factors, but the truth remains that preventable deaths are happening at an alarming rate despite the advances being made in medical science.

WHO has also announced that: “Every two seconds, someone under the age of 70 is dying from an NCD”, and the majority are in developed nations. That is clearly both a health crisis as well as an economic one.

Protections against preventable diseases

There is a massive push globally to slow down the rate of preventable deaths by adopting interventions that have already been proven to help manage the risk of many common illnesses. Below, we look at how family nurse practitioners are involved in this work. The general principles of preventative health care include:

Education and support regarding lifestyle changes and choices

Diet, exercise and smoking are the primary factors that can influence your risk of suffering from preventable illness and premature death. The need for regular exercise — whatever your age — is well known. There are also some great online and in-person initiatives to help people find diet strategies for smart and healthy eating. However, people often still associate this simply with weight management, rather than disease prevention.

We have a good awareness of what not to eat to avoid the increased risk of chronic diseases, such as cutting down on salt, sugar, fat and alcohol. Knowledge about how important purposeful nutrition is may not be as widespread.

For instance, avoiding processed and ultra-processed foods in favor of fresh, preferably locally sourced ingredients is a big part of this. There is also lots of information now available on the importance of hydration and switching to whole grain foods for essential fiber and slower-release energy.

Beyond the fundamentals of eating plenty of lean protein, fruit and vegetables — and drinking ample water — each day, there are other dietary things you may need to consider. The specifics of this can vary with your age and health status, which is often where a family nurse practitioner can step in with individualized guidance.

A good illustration of this is the fact that vitamin D deficiency is now common in the US. This is a serious issue, as it leads to bone density problems, including rickets in children and osteoporosis in adults. It can also contribute to illnesses such as depression and asthma.

According to one report on the topic, in the US, around 42% of adults have vitamin D deficiency. Perhaps even more worryingly, 50% of children aged one to five years and 70% in the 6-11 years, may have low levels of vitamin D.

How is this possible in the modern era? Vitamin D is something our bodies produce organically from exposure to sunlight, but as we spend more time indoors and use sunblocks more ardently, our ability to create vitamin D falls.

Even making sure you eat vitamin D-rich foods may not be enough to tackle this issue, especially as your ability to absorb this vital nutrient reduces as you age. In providing nutritional advice and support, many primary healthcare providers recommend a vitamin D supplement, especially for older patients in states with fewer months of sunshine.

This illustrates how the timely intervention of professionals, such as FNPs, can make a significant difference to the health of patients of all ages, from infants at risk of bone issues due to lack of vitamin D, to elderly people suffering from fatigue and other symptoms of low levels of this nutrient.

Staying alert to warning signs and symptoms

Taking better care of your health and making wise lifestyle choices go hand in hand with seeking help when the first signs and symptoms of ill health are spotted. Early diagnosis and treatment make it more likely you will recover from many of the most common diseases and can also prevent health conditions from advancing to life-threatening levels.

A good example of this is high blood pressure or hypertension, as it is clinically referred to. According to the World Heart Foundation: “Hypertension is the number one risk factor for death globally, affecting more than 1 billion people”.

Often undetected and undiagnosed, hypertension leads to around 50 percent of deaths from strokes and heart disease, which is why it is sometimes called “The Silent Killer”. Despite this, managing your blood pressure is relatively straightforward, including a healthy diet, exercise and reduced salt intake.

Clearly, it is vital that more people in the US have blood pressure checks and routine cardiovascular examinations regularly so they can take immediate action to avoid the risk of strokes and heart disease. Staying aware of your blood pressure levels and managing a diagnosis of hypertension well can also help you to avoid brain and kidney diseases.

Vaccines and preventative healthcare

This is one aspect of managing preventable death rates that carries some degree of controversy. However, it is widely considered to be vitally important to at least make people aware of the options, and the programs that can potentially protect the health of infants, children and adults in the US.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publishes a comprehensive list of recommended vaccines by age that are at the heart of the organization’s vaccines and preventable disease measures.

It points out that age is not the only thing to keep in mind though, as your career, travel activities, lifestyle and health conditions can all add to the need to stay aware of vaccine-preventable diseases and the steps you can take to manage your risk.

Family nurse practitioners are part of the solution

All the statistics and shocking reports about preventable deaths have been available for some years, but has this made a big enough difference to the daily lives and choices of people living in the US?

Fortunately, primary health care providers have seized the challenge of becoming educators and information spreaders, as well as providing screening and vaccines. This is especially true of family nurse practitioners, whose training and responsibilities make them ideally suited to delivering preventative healthcare.

This includes establishing a relationship of trust and openness with their patients, that enables FNPs to talk about healthier lifestyle choices. FNPs are also adept at knowing what questions to ask to elicit key insights from patients who may not even be aware of the risks they are facing.

Many healthcare providers who employ family nurse practitioners task them with educational projects in schools, colleges and other community organizations too, making the most of their leadership and innovation skills.

How FNPs prepare for this role

Family nurse practitioners are a classification of advanced practice registered nurses (APRN). This means they have more clinical knowledge and skills than registered nurses and are trained to do some tasks that were traditionally the responsibility of physicians.

This is largely why this nurse practitioner niche was created in healthcare. FNPs are particularly in demand in locations where doctors are sparse, such as rural areas, and in busy community clinics and medical centers with high patient numbers.

The role was also developed to meet the changing needs of modern communities. FNPs carry out functions such as championing the upkeep of patient records, performing physical exams, ordering or performing diagnostic tests, and prescribing and delivering treatment plans in a diverse range of healthcare settings.

Naturally, to qualify as a family nurse practitioner you need both specific qualifications and the right caliber of experience. Online nursing programs available through reputable institutions such as Texas Woman’s University (TWU) provide students with the skills and knowledge they need to become nurse practitioners in a variety of settings. A central element of its successful program is its reputable nurse practitioner clinical placement and time spent working with preceptors to gain vital practical experience. Students can complete the TWU Master of Science in Nursing – Family Practitioner program and graduate with good knowledge of implementing evidence-based practice to encourage patients to eat well and transform their health.

Also very central to nurse practitioner qualifications are opportunities to enhance personal, as well as professional, skills. To be successful in their role, nursing professionals such as family nurse practitioners need to be confident and competent in communicating, as well as being empathetic and compassionate. They also need leadership abilities, as they are often required to head up clinical teams and seek out collaborative opportunities with other health and social care professionals.

These soft skills support an FNP’s ability to establish a relationship of trust with patients of all ages, and their acumen in working long-term with individuals and families to secure the best health outcomes.

Some family nurse practitioners take their role in prevention a step further and acquire additional qualifications in areas such as diabetes, pain or obesity management. They can progress to becoming specialists in these vital healthcare areas, working to both prevent and treat specific diseases and issues in their local community.

In conclusion, it is worth summing up some of the things you can do to manage your risk of developing potentially fatal diseases. These are all the sorts of measures and tasks that a family nurse practitioner can advise you on:

  • Eat healthily, including purposeful nutrition year-round.
  • Exercise regularly and appropriately for your age and health status.
  • Avoid alcohol, smoking and the sorts of diets known to increase health risks.
  • Consider age-appropriate vaccines that can guard against preventable diseases.
  • Attend healthcare check-ups regularly.
  • Stay alert to early warning signs of health issues, such as weight gain and high blood pressure.
  • Utilize the services of a family nurse practitioner for routine examinations and tests, especially those strategically timed according to your age.

Partnership between you and your primary health care provider

Preventative healthcare support is clearly available in local communities, as well as within many workplaces, universities and other organizations. This often includes long-term help from professionals such as family nurse practitioners, who are invested in reducing preventable illnesses and deaths.

Something as simple as maintaining a healthy sleep pattern can be important to managing the risks of chronic illness. In addition, it is just the sort of issue you can discuss with a responsive local family nurse practitioner, as part of your commitment to protecting your own health.