Henry Ford once said, “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” In today’s healthcare, collaboration between physicians and midlevel practitioners improves patient care, especially in busy primary care physician offices. Under the umbrella term of midlevel practitioners, nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs) expand physician care at a time when primary care physicians can be in short supply, and help meet the growing medical demands of an aging population.
What is a NP?
Nurse practitioners are registered nurses (RNs) who provide preventative care and acute health services to patients. They must hold a bachelor’s degree in nursing and receive a master’s or doctoral degree after completing intensive education involving classroom and clinical training. NPs conduct physical examinations, diagnose and treat medical conditions, manage health problems, develop a plan of care, perform procedures, provide patient education, and prescribe medications. NPs can function independently of physicians and even operate their own offices. You’ll see NPs in physician offices, urgent cares, emergency departments, and nursing homes.
What is a PA?
Physician assistants are medical professionals who work as part of a team with a doctor. Their education is modeled on the medical school curriculum, a combination of classroom and clinical instruction. A physician assistant’s education involves an undergraduate degree and approximately two additional years of education. Most PA programs award master’s degrees upon completion.
PAs can perform physical examinations, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret lab tests, perform procedures, provide patient education, and prescribe some medications. They can be found in physician offices, operating rooms, emergency departments, or rounding on patients in a hospital.
Both NPs and PAs are accredited by national organizations and licensed by the state. The difference between the two providers comes down to training and background. PAs follow a medical-type model for training, while NPs pursue a bio-psycho-social based education—an emphasis on the well-being of the whole person. Both professions date back to the early sixties.
How NPs and PAs add value
“A physician can’t be in more than one place at one time. PAs offer patients greater medical access,” says Jennifer Nunnelee, PAC with Smithsburg Family Medical Center. “PAs work in close communication with a supervising physician and practice in a way that the doctor would practice himself.” Jennifer knows her medical boundaries, and understands when to seek physician advice.
Time is what Sharon Reese, CRNP of WillowWood Adult Medicine brings to the healthcare table. Sharon spends time listening to her patients—not only hearing their medical concerns, but understanding their family and work environment. “Nurses tend to listen and educate. It’s part of their nurse training,” explains Reese.
According to the American Medical Association, 49 percent of physicians employ PAs, NPs, or certified nurse midwives. It’s a medical profession that’s on the rise due to population need. Speaking from experience, once you meet midlevel practitioners and see what they can do, you come back to their care.
By: Anne Gill