News / USA

Nurse Practitioners Expand Role in US Health Care

Multimedia

Deborah Block

The new health care reform law in the United States will require everyone to have health insurance.  People who avoided going to the doctor because they had no insurance will be more likely to visit primary care physicians for minor illnesses.  But there's a shortage of primary care doctors, and nurse practitioners, who have advanced nursing training, are hoping to fill the gap.

Leslie Henry and Maura Constance are nurse practitioners at the Arlington Free Clinic in Arlington, Virginia.   

Henry is examining a woman who has allergies. "Well, you definitely look like you have allergies," she says.

A nurse practitioner is a registered nurse who has completed advanced nursing education. "Nurse practitioners have a lot of the same functions as doctors.  We take classes that look at different systems in the body.  The same thing a doctor would take," says Constance.

They learn how to diagnose and manage common illnesses like colds, or chronic problems such as diabetes and heart disease.  "We assess their medical problems and we come up with a treatment plan. We write prescriptions," says Henry.

For years, nurse practitioners have been playing a larger role in the nation's health care, especially in regions with few doctors.  

Jan Towers is Director of Policy for the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. "There are also shortages in terms of having providers who will work with the elderly.  Nurse practitioners are particularly prepared to work with those kinds of people and in those kinds of settings because of community health preparation that we get in our nursing programs," she says.

States regulate nurse practitioners and laws vary on what they are permitted to do. Most nurse practitioners are overseen by a physician.

With the shortage of primary care physicians, 28 states are considering expanding the authority of nurse practitioners.  This includes practicing without a doctor's supervision and prescribing narcotics such as morphine for pain. "Given that there is going to be a need for primary care providers, and nurse practitioners are highly qualified primary providers who have been underutilized to date.  And they will be able to be part of what we think is a solution to getting primary care providers to everybody," she says.

The American Medical Association (the largest association of U.S. physicians) argues that the shortage of doctors is no reason to put nurses in charge. The group says the quality of medical care will drop if nurse practitioners are given more authority.  Instead, it says, more primary care doctors should be trained.  

But that may be hard to do since primary care physicians earn much less than specialists.  

Dr. Winston Liaw, is a primary care physician in Fairfax, Virginia. He says studies on the effectiveness of nurse practitioners have been too small to be conclusive.  "I think we still need to do more evaluation. It's obviously a very important skill, but I think it doesn't really encompass what primary care physicians do," he says.

Studies have shown nurse practitioners are better at listening to patients than doctors, and they make good decisions about when to refer patients for specialized care.  

Leslie Henry says she'd like to see nurse practitioners have more independence. "Nurse practitioners provide good care and certainly the studies have supported that.  Also, nurse practitioners get paid a lot less than a medical doctor and that means maybe we can provide affordable care," she says.

She says she enjoys helping people.  Her frustration is that -- like for doctors -- there are too many patients and not enough time to spend with them.

You May Like

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Analysis: Occupy Central Not Exactly Hong Kong’s Tiananmen

VOA's former Hong Kong, Beijing correspondent compares and contrasts 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with what is now happening in Hong Kong More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid