There are approximately 200,000 licensed Nurse Practitioners (“NP”) in the United States, making it likely that you will run into one at some point. Contrary to popular belief, for the average person’s normal needs, NPs may be just as helpful as regular doctors, and are often easier to schedule an appointment with.
Are Nurse Practitioners Trustworthy?
Like medical doctors, Nurse Practitioners are trained in all areas of primary care, including diagnosis, treatment, prevention, health education, medication prescription, and medication management. They have completed registered nursing school as well as graduate-level or doctoral-level educations that include didactic and clinical coursework, and are licensed to diagnose and treat patients without supervision from a medical physician. Their Master’s programs may take up to three years while their Doctorate programs can take up to six years. You may find them working in a private practice, a school, a nursing home, in the emergency room, or in public health departments. Over 50% work in family or adult practices, but others also specialize in gerontology, neonatology, oncology, pediatrics, psychiatric-mental health, women’s health, and acute care. Every two years they are required to show proof of continuing medical education to renew their license to practice in all 50 states. They also work collaboratively with medical physicians, especially if faced with a new or unfamiliar situation.
The American Association of Nurse Practitioners recently published a study summarizing evidence that compared patients under NP care with those under the care of regular physicians. The study found that patients under NPs had higher satisfaction, fewer readmissions to the hospital or visits to the emergency room, and higher rates of avoiding unnecessary hospitalizations. Additionally, they may also be a more cost-effective alternative to doctors, due in large part to lower educational costs – approximately 25% that of medical school.
What Are The Benefits Of Seeing A Nurse Practitioner Instead Of A Doctor?
NPs provide almost all of the services that doctors provide, such as:
- Examining and diagnosing patients
- Treating short-term issues and prescribing medications or other treatments
- Treating long-term issues like diabetes or high blood pressure
- Providing healthy lifestyle counseling and education on disease prevention
- Managing consistent, overall care for patients (like primary care physicians)
In addition, NPs tend to focus more on preventative care, as they may often be less busy with appointments than regular physicians and have more time to listen and discuss preventative issues such as quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy diet, and keeping regular exercise habits. Depending on where you live, they may also be more readily available than a primary care physician, especially if you are not located in an urban metropolis. The United States has a shortage of primary care providers, so the convenience of scheduling with a Nurse Practitioner may be crucial if you have a pressing need to be seen by a healthcare professional.
Of course, whether you choose an NP or a medical physician, you should be mindful of their communication style and the natural rapport you develop with them. Always follow your intuition about whether or not you trust that person with your healthcare.