Nurse practitioners are highly skilled medical professionals who perform many of the same functions as doctors. Most can write prescriptions, treat illnesses, and administer exams depending on the state in which they practice. Their years of experience and their holistic approach to medicine enable them to provide quality care for patients. However, the role of nurse practitioners continually shifts as the healthcare system evolves and the population ages. What factors contribute to the changes, and what does the future hold?
A Shortage of Doctors
You contract a nasty case of the flu, your child gets an ear infection, or that rash just won’t go away. What do you do? Of course, you visit the doctor. You may have a difficult time scheduling an appointment, though, and that is because family care physicians are becoming harder and harder to find.
As the LDI Health Economist points out, “The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) estimates that the country can expect a shortage of 90,000 doctors by 2020. Many of those shortages will be in the primary care field, in part because primary care physicians are typically paid significantly less than specialists.”
Who will step up to fill the void? Nurse practitioners. In some doctors’ offices, some patients may not even see the doctor. Instead, they receive care from the nurse practitioner who works in the office.
The Affordable Care Act
Starting in 2014, the Affordable Care Act opened up health coverage to millions of people who could not previously afford it. This enormous influx into the healthcare system, combined with overwhelmed and overworked doctors, leads to the simple conclusion that nurse practitioners are more important than ever.
The training that nurse practitioners receive, like the programs and courses offered at Maryville University, is particularly valuable when you consider the broadening scope of healthcare. Although they may specialize in one area of medicine, they often try to treat the entire patient rather than just the symptoms. By treating the entire patient, nurse practitioners can focus on both treating the current health problem and the things that may be unknowingly contributing to that illness/problem as well. Thus, resulting in more of an emphasis on good health maintenance and preventing future health problems for each patient.
Image via Flickr by Army Medicine
Traditionally, nurse practitioners work under the supervision of a physician or another doctor. However, this has been proven to be unnecessary. After all, nurse practitioners can provide most of the same services as doctors, and they have ample training and experience.
More and more states are understanding the value of allowing nurse practitioners to work autonomously. Modern Healthcare reported that New York recently passed a law stating that, in the beginning of 2015, nurse practitioners with more than 3,600 hours of experience no longer need a written contract that connects them to a physician. Nebraska recently approved legislation along those same lines. Almost half the states in the U.S. allow nurse practitioners to work independently, and it seems likely that more states will follow.
Although many people are concerned that nurse practitioners may not be as qualified as doctors, this is not the case. According to Health Beat Blog, primary care doctors need to have four years of medical school and three years of residency. Nurse practitioners are in nursing school for four years and then they have two or three years of graduate school that include clinical practicums. Thus, the years of training that each type of professional receives are relatively equivalent, which showcases the competency of nurse practitioners to be able to successfully treat patients without the need or consent of a doctor.
The healthcare landscape is ever-changing, as is the role of nurse practitioners. As states continue to pass new laws and the doctor shortage increases, there is little doubt that nurse practitioners will become even more prominent in upcoming years.