Advanced Practice Providers Increase Access to Care

Nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and physician assistants comprise a growing group of health care providers known as advanced practice providers. With advanced training in highly specialized areas, they expand access to health care especially in underserved communities.

The aging population, combined with a growing primary care physician shortage, has created the rise in advanced practice providers in the health care setting. The umbrella term, “advanced practice providers,” describes nurse practitioners or NPs and physician assistants or PAs who increase patients’ access to care.

Advanced practice providers are highly qualified individuals who are specially trained in many areas of health care including emergency medicine, orthopedics, obstetrics/gynecology, hospital medicine and primary care to name just a few.

What is a NP?

Nurse practitioners are registered nurses who provide preventative care and acute health services to patients. They must hold a bachelor’s degree in nursing and receive a master’s or doctoral degree after completing intensive education involving classroom and clinical training. NPs conduct physical examinations; diagnose and treat medical conditions; manage health problems and develop a plan of care; perform procedures; provide patient education and prescribe medications. NPs can function independently of physicians and even operate their own offices. You’ll see NPs in physician offices, urgent cares, emergency departments and nursing homes.

What is a PA?

Physician assistants are medical professionals who work as part of a team with a doctor. Their education is modeled on the medical school curriculum, a combination of classroom and clinical instruction. A physician assistant education involves an undergraduate degree, some health care experience and two to three years of additional education. Most PA programs award master’s degrees upon completion.

PAs can perform physical examinations, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret lab tests, perform procedures, provide patient education and prescribe some medications. They can be found in physician offices, operating rooms, emergency departments or rounding on patients in a hospital.

Both NPs and PAs are accredited by national organizations and licensed by the state. The difference between the two providers comes down to training and background. PAs follow a medical type model for training, while NPs pursue a bio-psycho-social-based education—an emphasis on the well-being of the whole person. Both professions date back to the early sixties.

How NPs and PAs add value

“A physician can’t be in more than one place at one time. PAs offer patients greater medical access,” says Jennifer Nunnelee, PA-C of Meritus Medical Group’s Smithsburg Family Medical Center.“PAs work in close communication with a supervising physician and practice in a way that the doctor would practice himself.” Jennifer knows her medical boundaries and understands when to seek physician advice.

A personal connection is what Teresa Dumpe, CRNP of Meritus Medical Group’s Robinwood Internal Medicine, brings to the patient experience. “While I work closely with the physicians in the practice, I’m trained to have an independent relationship with each of my patients,” says Teresa. “They know I can be their primary provider to help them with long-term treatment plans, as well as with day-to-day health care needs. I really enjoy getting to know my patients and working alongside them so that each one can be their best ‘self!’”

According to the American Medical Association, 49 percent of physicians employ PAs, NPs, or certified nurse midwives.