Medical 'Masters' Find a Role Practitioners Fill Gap between Nurse, Doctor

Article excerpt

TORRINGTON, Conn. -- Three years ago, Mary Poll's blood pressure was dangerously high -- 180 over 104 -- but she was living on a fixed income and without health insurance and couldn't go for checkups as often as needed.

Besides, she says, the doctor never listened to her concerns.

Now, Poll keeps regular tabs on her hypertension and gets the advice she needs to keep her blood pressure down. The care comes from Kathy Grimaud, a nurse practitioner who offers the 62-year-old Poll and other seniors medical attention they can afford.

Nurse practitioners fill gaps between the more traditional roles of nurse and physician. Over the last decade, the number of nurse practitioners has doubled nationwide, and more people are seeking them out for the extra time and compassion they offer.

"A lot of patients choose nurse practitioners because they get more time," said Cheryl Zwingman-Begley, president of the Connecticut Nursing Association. "I think people see it as a plus and they get more attention."

During a recent appointment with Grimaud at the Sullivan Senior Center, Poll's blood pressure was 146 over 82. Lower than three years ago but higher than at more recent visits.

Poll told Grimaud she was probably upset because of the cost of getting her car worked on.

Grimaud instructed Poll on a breathing exercise.

"When the mechanic gives you the bill, I want you to do this," she told Poll.

Nationally, the number of nurse practitioners has increased over the last 10 years from about 30,000 to about 65,000, said Jan Towers, director of health policy for the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.

Twenty-two states allow nurse practitioners to practice independently of doctors, while 19 have systems like Connecticut's, in which nurse practitioners work in collaboration with physicians rather than under their supervision. …