Why your nurse practitioner is your friend

A recent editorial in the New York Times about non-physician health care providers or NPPs, has drawn more than 260 comments.  Who are these NPPs and why do so many people care about them?

Historically, nurses have a long history of stepping in when there are gaps.  For example, in the early 1900s anesthesia was given by med students and interns and everybody was unhappy, until nurses started doing it full-time, and then the surgeons were much happier.  When surgeons are happy, everyone is happy, I’ll tell you that for free.

Most of my readers don’t know this, but I was an advanced practice nurse before I went to medical school.  I was one of these NPPs.  The thing about nurse practitioners is that they are trained under a nursing model, not a medical one.  The information is the same, but presented in a much different way.  I can tell you that the training I got in the arts of physical exam and interviewing were at least as good in nursing school as they were in medical school.

Medical school gives you the science background, which is awesome if you are going to study gene therapy or find a cure for cancer.  It doesn’t teach you much about how to take care of patients, which is why you have to do a residency.  Residency teaches you how to take care of diseases and sicknesses, but it’s brutal schedule and the medical milieu take away some of the “taking care of people” part.

Enter the nurses.  I was one.  I can tell you their training.  They have RNs plus usually some years of ICU experience and another 2 years in NP school.  They’re smart.  They know their limits.  They are good a what they do.  They will ask if they don’t know something.

You don’t need neuroscience to take care of people, especially healthy people or people with chronic conditions.  You don’t need a medical degree to take blood pressures, manage medication, give vaccinations, talk to someone about their depression or how sick their mom is.  You don’t need a 5 year residency to diagnose an ear infection or treat a cold.  You just don’t.  And nurse practitioners, by their training in nursing, are much more likely to deal successfully with chronic conditions because they will talk to you and listen to you.  They don’t have the same time-pressures and paperwork blizzards that the doctors have.  They’ve been trained by  nurses, so they think like nurses, not like doctors.  They want to take care of you, not just fix your illness.

If you have a brain tumor that’s not so helpful, but for the vast majority of every-day health concerns, your nurse practitioner is your friend.

Shirie Leng is an anesthesiologist who blogs at medicine for real.

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