When it comes to respected nurse practitioners, you would be hard pressed to find someone with more experience – or more passion- than Phyllis Zimmer, MN, FNP, FAANP, FAAN. As one of the early pioneers of the NP role, she has been engaged in practice, education, research, organizational activities, and policy and has witnessed the profound growth of the NP profession over the years. Today, Zimmer is President of the Nurse Practitioner Healthcare Foundation and teaches part time in the DNP-FNP Program at the University of Washington School of Nursing.

Though Zimmer has been prestigiously honored as a Nursing Fellow by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners and the American Academy of Nursing, her most esteemed credentials have been earned through her day-to-day experience with her patients.

Today, she let us in on the secret of her success, gave us a glimpse into the evolution of the profession, and shared the number one lesson she’s learned in her career thus far.

The Most Important Lesson You’ll Ever Learn

Whether you’re an aspiring NP just finishing school or a respected veteran in the field, successful NPs seem to have one thing in common: an unwavering dedication to their patients. According to Zimmer, the most important lesson you’ll ever learn as an NP is “to let your passion for people guide you.”

Every time you see a patient, you’re faced with an opportunity to sharpen your problem solving skill set…and, depending on your mindset, make a difference in someone’s life. You could easily get sidetracked with all of the peripheral activity taking place around you, or you could elect to completely zero in on your patients; Zimmer strongly suggests that you always choose the latter.

Focusing on patient education and the prevention of illness and disease, NPs can have a tremendous impact on a person’s overall health and wellness. The best decisions investigate all 360 degrees of any issue including social aspects that may potentially interfere with patient care.

Relating patient focus to a navigational GPS, Zimmer urges NPs to keep quality patient care as the focus of their career decisions. With a patient-centric GPS, you’ll never get lost, you’ll make good decisions, and you’ll get to where you need to go in the very best way. For Zimmer, that means keeping in mind what is best for patients while looking at all challenges through a wide and comprehensive lens.

The Evolution of NP Patient Care

A student during the very early days of the profession, Zimmer was a spunky undergraduate who convinced the faculty at the University of Rochester to let her do things differently. (This wouldn’t be the first time Zimmer would take matters into her own hands over the course of her career.) During her senior year, she pursued an untraditional rotation working at an inner city clinic that had just started utilizing NPs.

In the early days, NPs were just establishing the role. “We did well child checks, annual exams, saw colds and sore throats, and managed stable, chronic conditions.” Today, NPs are leaders in healthcare respected for their clinical decision-making skills and autonomous ability to treat patients from a holistic perspective.

Modern-day NPs face a complex field where expectations are higher than ever before. The good news according to Zimmer? NPs are excitedly stepping up to the challenge! As NPs continue to stay on the cutting edge of evidence-based care, pharmaceuticals and technology, they must concurrently remain focused on building the patient relationship while taking on broader, more advanced roles.

Oh, The Places You’ll Go

If you’re an aspiring NP or if you’re currently working in the field, don’t limit yourself! Keep your mind open to possibilities outside of your traditional trajectory.

Zimmer believes that a genuine passion for your patients will lead you to many opportunities to make a difference in people’s lives, to grow, and to be challenged intellectually.

Zimmer has witnessed, firsthand, the “amazing evolution of the profession.” In her lifetime, her career has taken her from patients’ homes to board rooms and government offices; her consulting work has taken her as far as Canada, France, Switzerland, Singapore, Japan, and the Netherlands!

If you allow your practice to reflect your values and always focus on your patients needs before all else, you will enjoy a richly rewarding career as an NP. As for Zimmer, she says becoming an NP is the “best decision she’s ever made.”