A close friend of mine recently returned from a two-week vacation in Japan. Hearing her stories of traveling in a country with a drastically different culture was amusing to say the least. Horse carpaccio and chicken sashimi (both raw), for example, frequently make their way onto restaurant menus in the country. While most American’s dietary preferences would cause them to stray from these culinary aspects of Japanese culture, one thing is making the two countries more similar- nurse practitioners.

Faced with the healthcare burden of being home to the world’s oldest population (by 2020 over 31% of the Japanese population will be over the age of 60), Japan is increasingly recognizing the importance of the role nurses will play in caring for its aging citizens. One part of this process involves nurse practitioners.

In 2008, Japan implemented its first ever nurse practitioner program. The Oita University of Nursing and Health Sciences developed an advanced educational program for nurses including training in diagnosis and management of common medical conditions. In its first year, the program admitted just three students (can you imagine being one of the first three NPs in your country?!). Working with U.S. nursing programs to help hone their curriculum, Oita University created tracks for nurse practitioners in pediatrics, women’s health, and family medicine.

The first three Japanese nurse practitioners graduated from their NP program in 2011. Since then, Otia University has continued to enroll and graduate nurse practitioners, training them similarly to U.S. educated advanced practice nurses. Aspiring NPs in Japan complete courses in physical assessment, pharmacology, and pathophysiology. Like U.S.-based nurse practitioner students, Japanese students complete upwards of 500 clinical hours.

Nurse practitioners forging their way in this new field face similar scope of practice issues to those of us practicing in the United States. As their numbers grow, Japanese NPs are fighting to make their mark and formally establish their role in healthcare. Healthcare policy changes are necessary to both recognize and allow these burgeoning NPs to practice to their full ability. This year, legislative discussions begin to guarantee the position and performance of nurse practitioners in Japan. The government must decide the scope of practice nurse practitioners are allowed under law, the extent to which nurse practitioners must be supervised by physicians, and formalize the education and training required to enter the profession.

It will be interesting to see how the role of nurse practitioners practicing in Japan develops!


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