Few things make my heart beam with pride more than a satisfied patient. As a nurse practitioner, I am faced with patients who sometimes feel out of sorts when it comes to understanding my role. The extremes go from “Oh great, I saw a nurse practitioner at my family doctor’s office before! She was so nice and spent so much time with me. She is the only one I want to see now when I go to the office!” to “Uh oh, the nurse practitioner, I don’t want to see the nurse practitioner. Where’s the doctor?” The confusion seems to lie in the fact that many patients are not familiar with nurse practitioners or have had very limited interaction. Many patients also do not understand the role and are not sure that a nurse practitioner can meet their needs. This is understandable. Since the early days of health care, you had the doctor and the nurse. That is what most people have understood all of their lives. After all, it wasn’t until 1965 when Dr. Loretta Ford (a nurse) and Dr. Henry Silver (a pediatrician) developed the first nurse practitioner program at the University of Colorado.
The program was developed after both recognized the deficit in care available in certain communities, especially rural communities. The role of nurse practitioner integrated the traditional role of the nurse with advanced medical training and increased autonomy. Since 1965, the profession has grown tremendously, especially with the physician shortage. As a result, nurse practitioners have become more recognized and in increased demand. With education and awareness, I am hoping to help patients feel more at ease when the opportunity to see the nurse practitioner presents. I also hope that patients will feel empowered in their decision or option to see a nurse practitioner.
Early in my nurse practitioner career, it was not uncommon for patients to ask what I do or to stare at me in confusion when I introduced myself. I knew that as the first nurse practitioner in my practice that I had my work cut out for me. This would mainly include the patients but even the physicians and staff that I worked with had to adjust and learn. I learned early on that the best way to tell people who I am, what I am, and what I do is to show them. I had to say it with my actions. As a nurse at heart, this was not hard because of my compassionate yet driven nature. So when, Ms. Jackson (made up name), came in with a chip on her shoulder because she had to see me for her visit that day, I was sure to kill her with kindness, answer all her questions, provide a thorough exam and create the appropriate treatment plan. By the time she left the chip was in the trash and she was asking to be on my schedule for her next visit. And that’s my goal every time, to take such good care of the patient that they know nurse practitioners are more than capable, qualified, and able to meet their needs too. It often happens with a hefty dose of compassion and a bonus of more patient interaction. Who doesn’t want that?
It is National Nurse Practitioner Week so salute your favorite NPs! Happy Nurse Practitioner to all the wonderful NPs out there making a difference!