Annie Vallejos, RN
Second-year nurse practioner student Annie Vallejos, currently an ICU nurse at UNM Hospital, looks forward to developing longer-term releationships with her patients as a primary care provider.
Credit: John Arnold

New Mexico’s nurse practitioners this week will mark 20 years of being able to independently treat patients and prescribe drugs as they observe National Nurse Practitioner Week, Nov. 11-17.

What started as advanced practice nursing in the 1960s to boost the number of health care providers and improve the distribution of health resources is fulfilling an increasingly important role in New Mexico, according to Carolyn Montoya, PhD, CPNP, a lecturer and Interim Practice chair in the University of New Mexico College of Nursing. 

Carolyn Montoya, PhD, CPNP

“National Nurse Practitioner Week is a time to celebrate how we’re changing healthcare by providing important clinical care to rural or underserved areas,” proclaims Montoya.Many patients, particularly in women’s health, prefer a nurse practitioner. We should celebrate that.”

Montoya isn’t the only one making proclamations. In recognition of the profession’s importance, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has issued a proclamation declaring National Nurse Practitioner Week statewide.

Nurse practitioners are licensed, expert clinicians with advanced graduate degrees who provide primary, acute and specialty healthcare. They are trained to collaborate with their patients and other practitioners, helping to guide informed healthcare decisions and healthy lifestyle choices.

There are more than 171,000 nurse practitioners in the U.S. who take more than 916 million patient visits every year. New Mexico has nearly 1,000 nurse practitioners scattered across its 33 counties.

“We don’t present ourselves as substitutes for medical doctors, rather we represent another avenue for patients to receive quality health care,” Montoya says. “We help fill important health system access gaps, add a layer of specialty expertise and provide needed frontline patient care for common viruses and ailments.”

At UNM, the College of Nursing enables registered nurses to enroll in acute-care, family and pediatric nurse practitioner programs. The college graduates about 25 nurse practitioners a year, which over time has helped improve healthcare access in the state’s rural areas.

“About 80 percent of our students, all of whom practice in very diverse New Mexico communities as part of the curriculum, are New Mexicans,” Montoya says. “And about 80 percent of our graduates stay in New Mexico to practice.”

Second-year student Annie Vallejos is an intensive-care nurse at UNM Hospital who wants to go to the next level as a family nurse practitioner. “By the time patients get to me, they’re pretty complicated cases,” she says. “I love my current work in intensive care, but I see an opportunity to have a greater patient-care impact in primary care as a nurse practitioner.”

Many of her ICU patients are there due to pre-existing medical conditions, Vallejos says. “Family nurse practitioners are given the chance to help people who suffer from diabetes, hypertension, obesity – so many conditions that affect health and recovery from a serious illness or procedure,” she says.

“I’m looking forward to the longer-term relationships I’ll form with my patients and their families, and feeling like I’m making a high-impact, more enduring difference in their quality of life.”

That holistic commitment to promoting patient well-being is shared by many of the students who enroll in the nurse practitioner program, Montoya says.

“We’re all in the business of helping people,” she says. “Collectively, we need to approach patient care as an integrated team. We all should be working together – focusing on the patient – doing what each of us does best.”

Nurse Practitioners at a Glance

  • Nurse practitioners provide a full range of services, such as ordering, performing and interpreting diagnostic tests; diagnosing and treating acute and chronic conditions; prescribing medications and treatments; and managing overall patient care.
  • Nurse practitioners have master’s degrees, and many have doctorate degrees, as well as advanced education and clinical training.
  • Nurse practitioners are licensed and can prescribe medicine in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
  • Patients whose primary care providers are nurse practitioners have fewer emergency room visits and shorter hospital stays, resulting in lower out-of-pocket costs.
  • Nurse practitioners emphasize the health and well-being of the whole person in their approach, including helping patients make educated health care decisions and healthy lifestyle choices.
  • Nearly 20 percent of Nurse practioners practice in rural or frontier settings.
  • More than 85 percent of nurse practitioners see patients covered by Medicare, and 84 percent by Medicaid.
  • Approximately 60 percent of nurse practitioners see three to four patients per hour; seven percent see more than five patients per hour
  • The average nurse practitioner is female (96 percent) and 48 years old; she has been in practice for 12.8 years as a family nurse practitioner (49 percent)