Is an apple the same as an orange? That is what it sounds like when I am asked if a nurse practitioner is a physician or the same as a physician? Though the apple and the orange are both fruits, the paths to becoming a particular fruit are different. The same goes for nurse practitioners and physicians. The paths are different as one is achieved via a nursing continuum, usually a continuation of the nursing continuum. The other a medical continuum. It is important to note that most nurse practitioners worked as a registered nurse prior to pursuing additional education. Most physicians do not initially have any medical experience but get extensive training once accepted into medical school. They obtain a bachelor’s degree first and then go to medical school upon doing well on an admission exam. This is followed by a 3-year residency.
Can a nurse practitioner do many of the things a physician can do? Yes, a lot of the scope of practice overlaps especially when it comes to diagnosing, treating, and managing chronic illnesses in primary care. It varies more within subspecialties. For example, in my practice, I diagnose and treat symptoms of cancer and blood conditions and side effects of cancer treatment. I also treat acute and chronic health conditions aside from cancer or blood diseases such as high blood pressure and depression. The physicians I work with are hematologists/oncologists. They also do all of the aforementioned but in addition, they are the ultimate experts in hematology and oncology. They determine the cancer treatment (chemotherapy/immunotherapy etc.) for the patient. To become a hematologist/oncologist they completed medical school (4 years) followed by an internal medicine residency (3 years). After this, they then completed a hematology and oncology fellowship (2-4 years) and certification exams.
Can a nurse practitioner perform surgery? No, only surgeons (physicians with surgical training and expertise) perform surgery. However, nurse practitioners may assist the surgeon in surgery depending on their training. There are other non-surgical procedures that nurse practitioners can be trained to do. For example, I can perform bone marrow biopsies and aspirations. There are other nurse practitioners who can perform everything from Botox injections to intrauterine device placement (IUD). Nurse practitioners do not deliver babies. Nurse practitioners can provide prenatal care but the advanced practice nurse that can deliver babies is the Certified Nurse Midwife. Otherwise, delivering babies is done by a physician specialist called an obstetrician. Nurse practitioners do not provide anesthesia for surgical procedures or epidurals for the birth of a baby. However, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists do this and of course the physician specialist, anesthesiologists.
Nurse practitioners are advanced practice nurses who have been changing the face of healthcare. There are more than 290,000 of us in the United States. We are filling in the gap in primary care, especially with the shortage of primary care physicians, and adding to specialty care. Nurse practitioners also provide cost-effective care which overall reduces health care costs which have been a burgeoning problem. Furthermore, physicians and institutions such as hospitals that employ nurse practitioners do so because of the benefit to their practices and the added value they provide.
Finally, if you are wondering if the care you receive from a nurse practitioner is as quality as the care provided by a physician? The simple answer is yes. Studies have shown that not only is the quality of care provided by nurse practitioners superb but also patient satisfaction rates are higher. It is no doubt that nurse practitioners are a major asset to the healthcare team. So salute your favorite nurse practitioner! Happy Nurse Practitioner Week 2020!
This is post number four, the final post in the Nurse Practitioner Week series. Be sure to catch up on the three prior, Nurse Practitioner Who?, Nurse Practitioner, What An Adventure! and Nurse Practitioner, Which Way Will You Go? Let me know how you liked the series and or which was your favorite post!