Growing Demand for Nurse Practitioners

Article excerpt

"Do you want to see the doctor or the nurse practitioner?" That is a question more and more Americans are hearing when they call their primary health care provider's office. Advanced practice nurses--individuals who have education and clinical practice experience beyond that required of a registered nurse--are taking on new roles that put them on the front line of primary and preventive health care.

The reason goes directly to the bottom line. "The skyrocketing cost of health care has changed the focus of medical practice to that of health promotion and wellness," explains Sharon Wilkerson, assistant head for graduate studies at Purdue University's School of Nursing, West Lafayette, Ind. "That's where the advanced practice nurse can really make a difference as a provider--and the numbers we see indicate that the nation needs an additional 100,000 primary care providers to meet desired levels of care."

The American Nursing Association estimates that between 60 and 80% of the primary and preventive care traditionally done by doctors can be handled by a nurse less expensively. "It's not because the quality of care is different, but because of the basic economic factors involved," Wilkerson points out. "Doctors have much higher overhead in terms of equipment and facilities, liability insurance, and the cost of their education."

Nurse practitioners are qualified to handle a wide range of health-related issues, including the diagnosis and treatment of common minor illnesses and injuries. They can prescribe medications, order and interpret lab tests and X-rays, and counsel and educate their patients. …