The United States faces a projected shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians in the next 12 years, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). That is a staggering situation that we find ourselves in. For many communities, those shortages have already begun, with patients facing wait times of months, or simply failing to find a doctor at all. The crisis is now. Nurse practitioners have stepped up to the plate, and offer a valuable alternative to a general practitioner. Those who have completed a nursing program but did not practice nursing for a few years may take an RN refresher course.
What is a Nurse Practitioner?
A nurse practitioner, or NP, is an advanced practice registered nurse. Among practitioners, an NP is mid-level. They are trained to determine what a patient’s needs are, order as well as interpret diagnostic and laboratory tests, perform diagnosis, formulate treatment plans and prescribe medications. They are an important front in disease prevention, coordinating care, and promoting health. Despite facing biases from many people who typically prefer GPs to NPs, NPs are as good as the very best family doctor you can find. They are not, however, trained to deal with more complex conditions, but they are able to refer you to someone who can treat that complex condition.
An NP’s practice scope depends on the jurisdiction: 26 states in the United States give NPs full authority, while other states oblige NPs to be supervised by a physician, as you can see from the map below.
With so many people without access to a family doctor, NPs are a valuable resource, especially in those states that grant them full practice authority. In a full practice state, NPs are allowed to perform all the tasks we described above, under the exclusive licensing authority of the state board of nursing.
In a reduced practice state, NPs engage in at least one practice element, and NPs have to have a collaborative agreement with another healthcare provider so that they can offer patient care. Other reduced practice states limit the setting of some NP practice elements.
In a restricted practice state, NPs must engage in at least one NP practice element and work under supervision, delegation or team management by another healthcare provider so that they can offer patient care.
The practice scope shows that NPs are a qualified alternative to general practitioners.
In a sense, NPs are an underused resource, because many people seeking general practitioners are unaware that they can visit an NP who, except perhaps for more complex problems, can treat them as well as any general practitioner. If your NP feels that you need to see a specialist, they are empowered to refer you as long as they have undertaken the LPC reciprocity program.
How Can I Get a Nurse Practitioner?
Unfortunately, there are only 355,000 NPs in the United States, practicing across a range of primary certifications.
Source: NP Fact Sheet
If you want to find an NP, you can consult the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), which keeps a database of NPs in the country. Through their search tool, you will be able to find an NP near you. Your Health Magazine also recommends AANP as a good research tool.