By: Sterling Medical Staff
As the Affordable Health Care Act kicks into gear, millions more Americans find themselves with health insurance, and health care providers are faced with the difficult task of accommodating an unprecedented influx of new patients. In the midst of this struggle to meet the needs of our nation’s ill and infirm, Nurse Practitioners may prove to be the single greatest asset in managing this monumental change.
Although Nurse Practitioners have operated in the United States for over 40 years, many people don’t know about them or what kind of services they offer. For this reason, Tay Kopanos, vice president of state government affairs for the American Association of Nurse Practitioners calls them “the best-kept secret in health care.”
Nurse Practitioners hold master’s degrees and perform many of the duties commonly associated with primary care or family practice physicians. The road to becoming a nurse practitioner begins in the field of nursing, where most candidates first obtain a bachelor of science in nursing. Experienced nurses who wish to move to the next step must then achieve a master’s of science in nursing, and finally pass a board certification test before officially becoming a nurse practitioner.
Though nurse practitioners are not a complete substitute for physicians—and laws in nearly every state require they practice under the supervision of an MD—there are areas in which a nurse practitioner may be better suited for care. Studies have shown high satisfaction rates among patients treated by nurse practitioners, perhaps in part because of the bedside manner they develop during their time as nurses. “Local nurse practitioner said their training as nurses follows a different philosophy from a doctor’s medical training, focusing more on the total patient than just the disease,” says Diane D’Amico, a staff writer for The Press of Atlantic City. Similarly Jettie Deden-Castillo, an obstetrics/gynecology nurse practitioner and contributor to the San Diego Union-Tribune, relates: “An NP can function much like a primary-care physician, but with the heart of a nurse.”
The need for highly trained physicians will not diminish with further implementation of nurse practitioners. If anything, their workloads should be lightened by the additional coverage provided by nurse practitioners, as many serious health concerns can be avoided if patients receive necessary preventive care and education. “In 1979, the vision was for nurse practitioners to manage the care of routine, healthy patients and free up physicians to take more complicated cases,” Deden-Castillo remarks. This teamed approach may be the best method we have for facing the country’s growing healthcare needs.