Q: My family doctor suggested I see a nurse practitioner for the treatment of my depression. What does a nurse practitioner do?

A: The role of the nurse practitioner (NP) has evolved tremendously over the last several years. In many family practices today, it is not uncommon to see NPs serving as an integral part of the health-care model.

Studies show that NPs are very effective in managing various health conditions and achieving positive patient outcomes. As an NP myself, I know the significant amounts of time we spend at patients' bedsides during some of their most vulnerable health moments. Our extensive education has prepared us to deliver safe and efficient care, and our personal experiences have instilled in us the qualities of an understanding, caring, and nurturing provider. With advanced training, we are now able to transition from the singular role of carrying out a treatment plan to also helping to develop it.

When managing delicate health issues, such as depression, it is not just about effectively treating the symptoms but doing so free of bias or judgment and in a way that sympathizes with the patient.

NPs focus on providing care that is patient-centered, which helps to empower patients to take an active role in their care and results in better adherence to treatment.

Also, NPs often tend to approach treatment plans in a holistic fashion. Although medication is always an option, we try to focus on external factors – such as stressors at work or a bad relationship – that may be exacerbating depressive symptoms. We then work with the patient on developing a plan to help remedy those factors.

So, if you are meeting with an NP for the treatment of depression or any other mental-health condition, know you are in good hands.

Angelique Mason, CRNP, is a family nurse practitioner at Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia.