You may have noticed that when you go to your doctor’s office you often see an advanced practitioner instead of a doctor. That’s because advanced practitioners are becoming increasingly important in the day-to-day health care of millions of Americans. One reason advanced practitioners have become so popular is that they can successfully handle many of the tasks that doctors normally do, freeing up physicians to concentrate on more complex diagnoses and treatments.
Advanced practitioners first became popular in the mid-1960s, when there a shortage of primary care physicians in many areas of the country. To help address the problem, forward-thinking physician Dr. Eugene Stead, Jr. of Duke University started a unique program to train physician assistants (PA). Dr. Henry Silver along with Loretta Ford, RN of the University of Colorado started a program for similar reasons to train nurse practitioners (NP).
The early PA program consisted of corpsmen from the Navy, while the NP program enrolled skilled nurses who were willing and able to take on the challenges of diagnosing and managing illness. Over the years, each profession has flourished, and it’s now common to see NPs and PAs practicing in virtually every area of medicine.
In 2010, approximately 56,000 NPs and 30,000 PAs were practicing in primary care in the United States, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Due to the advanced training these health care professionals receive, they have collectively become known as advanced practitioners (AP).
Although many people now have experience receiving care from an AP, they may not understand the level of education and training an AP has. APs are required to have at minimum a master’s level degree. They undergo rigorous clinical training and continue to attend seminars to remain up-to-date on current medical concerns. Like physicians, many APs train in specialized programs after graduation called residency programs; but most are trained and grow in the practices they join. Under the supervision of physicians, APs utilize their training, life and professional experiences, and the resources around them to provide high-quality, affordable health care. Most APs work in team settings and function as valuable resources in ensuring that patients get the care they need when they need it.
National studies have demonstrated high quality and patient satisfaction with APs. My personal experience has confirmed this – patients like, respect and feel their health care needs are addressed by the AP. Patients often wonder, however, what happens when a medical case becomes more complicated.
Like any health care professional, APs must know their boundaries. When a case is beyond their scope, APs are required to consult with a physician or refer the patient to the appropriate provider. Some APs have their own patients, while others support physicians in managing their patient panels.
APs are a common and essential facet of health care today. It’s important for patients to understand that when they see an AP, they are in the good hands of a highly trained health care professional who works in close partnership with physicians and other health care professionals to provide the best, most timely care possible.
By Karen Fleming, M.S., NP-C, an Advanced Practitioner at Reliant Medical Group’s Auburn location.
About Karen Fleming, NP
A graduate of Framingham State College and the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Karen Fleming has been involved in medicine for over 24 years and has been a Nurse Practitioner since 1995. Practicing in the department of Internal Medicine in Auburn, she works with a team of doctors and nurses helping patients with their urgent and chronic healthcare needs. She has enjoyed working in this role for over 12 years. One of the things Karen...View profile View posts by this doctor