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Who Are Nurse Practitioners and What Can They Do?

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Over the years, as the role of nurse practitioners in modern healthcare has been debated in the media, the facts about who nurse practitioners are and what they are able to do in treating patients has at times been diminished or misunderstood. A few months ago, I remember hearing commentator Glenn Beck demean the quality of care an NP could provide as a way of decrying Obamacare.

As we mentioned yesterday, regardless of where readers of this blog may fall on expanding the responsibilities of NPs in primary care, it helps to make sure the discussion is based on correct information. To that end, over at Physicians Practice, Angela Golden, DNP, FNP-C, FAANP, shares “Ten Things Physicians Should Know about Nurse Practitioners.” We focused on education yesterday. Today, we tackle four other facts she shares.

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1. Nurse practitioners are able to diagnose, treat, and prescribe medication.

Truth be told, nurse practitioners are currently able to do a great deal in caring for patients. According to Golden, “Nurse practitioners evaluate patients, make diagnoses, order and interpret diagnostic tests, and manage acute and chronic conditions. Additionally, NPs offer a distinct, holistic approach to healthcare that considers the whole patient and all his needs: physical, psychological, social, and others.”

This is very much in tune with what healthcare reform is trying to accomplish. Their prescriptive authority has also expanded over the course of 40 years, Golden adds, having been legalized “in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. Independent research has confirmed the safety and efficacy of this care.”

2. “NPs can practice autonomously in 19 states and in the District of Columbia.”

Like other issues being debated today, expanding the role of NPs is being decided on a state-by-state basis. So far, NPs need no physician oversight in 19 states and D.C.

As Golden points out, “This is the model recommended by the Institute of Medicine and National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Many nationally recognized policy organizations and government bodies — the Federal Trade Commission, AARP, Institute of Medicine, National Governors Association, and National Conference of State Legislatures — call for more independence for nurse practitioners across the country.”

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Our first two points covered what NPs can do. Now, who are NPs?

1. NPs are NPs, and in most cases, they don’t want to be anything else, including physicians.

Golden writes that becoming an NP is “a personal choice” made deliberately and with tremendous commitment. “In fact, a U.S. News and World Report list of the top 100 jobs for 2014, ranked nurse practitioners as #4.”

2. Nurse practitioners often choose to practice primary care “in underserved areas.”

As we’ve mentioned several times in the past, rural, underserved areas are desperately in need of quality healthcare. This is the gap that many NPs are filling, primarily in primary care.

According to Golden, “While nurse practitioners pursue advanced degrees and specialties in many areas, including acute care, neonatal, oncology, and psych/mental health, the vast majority (88 percent) are prepared in primary care. Almost 50 percent choose family health; 20 percent pursue adult care; 9 percent women’s health; almost 9 percent pediatrics; and 3 percent gerontological.”

And they often choose to practice this care among the least-served in the U.S. healthcare system.

Tomorrow, we’ll wrap up our look at nurse practitioners by examining the impact NPs are having on healthcare and how their presence in healthcare is rapidly expanding.

In the meantime, as advanced practitioners looking for jobs, what else would you like physicians to know about you and your vision of healthcare? Physicians, what would you like to communicate to NPs about their role in modern healthcare?

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