Recently, I came across a local medical group's newest tagline, advertising that patients will only be seen by a physician and never by a nurse practitioner, physician assistant or medical assistant.
As a nurse practitioner who is actively engaged in our community and committed to high-quality patient care, this deeply upsets me. Unfortunately, though, it no longer surprises me.
I have been working in the health care system as a nurse and nurse practitioner for more than a decade. Sadly, there have been far too many instances in which the physician profession has diminished or outright excluded the contribution other health care professionals have on the health and well-being of patients.
While completing my doctoral degree, I read a Pulitzer Prize-winning history book titled “The Social Transformation of American Medicine” by Paul Starr. This highlighted the strong history of this physician culture, far exceeding my decade of witness.
Patients have historically seen pediatricians and primary-care physicians for their families' health care. In today's world, though, people are just as likely to see nurse practitioners who have specialized in these same areas through a master's or doctoral program. While these caregivers are trained in different models of care, both diagnose, prescribe and treat patients in an autonomous and independent manner.
Fifty years of research captures the high-quality care provided by nurse practitioners in primary care, including improved health outcomes for patients under their care.
Nurse practitioners increase access to care, especially for vulnerable patient populations; they are far more likely than their physician counterparts to work in underserved and rural communities. Moreover, they decrease health care costs, which is essential in our expensive system today.
So why do physicians and their professional organizations continue to belittle the nursing profession and claim they are a superior option for every patient? Historically, much of this stemmed from gender roles, but in the wake of the women's movement, this behavior should no longer be tolerated.
Perhaps this is an act of control over patients and the health care system for non-clinical reasons.
Whatever the reason, patients come first. They are the leaders of their health care team and can decide whom they want to see for their care. With this, more and more patients now prefer the care provided by nurse practitioners. Perhaps this is because nurse practitioners are nurses first and, proudly, the founding principles of this profession have always been patient-centered, recognizing that every person is unique and deserves treated with compassion, respect, and dignity.
Nurses, in all roles and settings, advocate for patients, protect human rights, work to reduce health disparities and integrate social justice into their practice. Medical groups that do not offer an array of health care providers to meet the needs of patients, like the one described above, are unfortunately missing out on this care.
Caitlin Krouse is assistant professor at the University of Saint Francis and a family nurse practitioner at Matthew 25 Health and Dental Clinic.