Prescribers – who are they?

Key points about prescribers

  • A prescriber is a healthcare professional who can prescribe (write an order for) medicines.
  • Prescribers are healthcare professionals trained and licenced to prescribe medicines.
  • In Aotearoa New Zealand there are several different types of prescriber.
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The most well known type of prescriber is a doctor. However, there are other health professionals who can also prescribe certain medicines once they have completed the necessary post-graduate qualifications and training, and have been registered by their professional council. These include:

  • nurse practitioners
  • midwifes
  • some nurse prescribers
  • dentists
  • pharmacists
  • optometrists
  • dietitians.
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Image credit: Canva

No, the medicines health care professionals can prescribe depends on their registration as a prescriber, and their scope or area of practice. 

There are 2 categories of prescriber in Aotearoa New Zealand:

  • Authorised prescribers can independently prescribe any medicine that relates to their area of practice. This group includes nurse practitioners, optometrists, dentists, medical practitioners and registered midwives. 
  • Designated prescribers can only prescribe from a list of medicines published by the Director-General of Health. They are expected to prescribe in consultation with, and supervised by, an authorised prescriber. This group includes pharmacist, dietitian and registered nurse prescribers. 

After becoming a prescriber, ongoing training is compulsory so prescribers can continue to work safely. Employers also have a responsibility to ensure prescribers undertake the relevant training and development, so their knowledge and skills remain up to date.

The New Zealand population is growing, and it's also aging, so there is increasing demand for health services. There aren't enough doctors in the country for everyone to be able to access medical care and medicines when needed. Enabling non-medical healthcare providers to prescribe medicines is one way of meeting this need and making access to medicines easier. 

While medical doctors still provide most prescriptions, the number of prescriptions provided by non-medical prescribers is gradually increasing. After doctors, nurse practitioners provide the next largest number of prescriptions followed by dentists, midwives and pharmacists. Optometrists and dietitians provide the lowest number of prescriptions.  

Medical Council of New Zealand(external link) NZ
Dental practitioners(external link) Dental Council of New Zealand, NZ
Nurse prescribing(external link) Nursing Council, NZ
Optometrist prescribers(external link) Optometrists and Dispensing Opticians Board, NZ
Pharmacist Prescribers(external link) Pharmacy Council, NZ
Dietitian prescribers(external link) Dietitians Board, NZ


  1. Use of Unapproved Medicines and Unapproved Use of Medicines(external link) Medsafe, N, 2020
  2. Medicines Regulations 1984(external link) New Zealand Legislation, NZ
  3. Medicines Act 1981(external link) New Zealand Legislation, NZ
  4. Health Practitioner Competence Assurance Act(external link) New Zealand Legislation, NZ, 2003
  5. Key J, Hoare, K. Nurse prescribing in New Zealand – the difference in levels of prescribing explained(external link) NZ Med J. 2020;133(1524):111-118
  6. Raghunandan, R., Marra, C.A., Tordoff, J. et al. Examining non-medical prescribing trends in New Zealand: 2016–2020(external link) BMC Health Serv Res, 2021;21:418

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Credits: Healthify Editorial Team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

Reviewed by: Dr Janine Bycroft, GP

Last reviewed:

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