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Nurse Practitioner as a Primary Care Provider?
It is important for every individual to establish a primary care provider for routine medical examinations. For many people, that provider is a medical doctor in a family care practice. However, a report by the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts a shortage of up to 120,000 primary care physicians within the next decade. Fortunately, most patients have the option of seeing a nurse practitioner for their primary care needs. These medical clinicians are qualified to perform many of the same tasks as medical doctors and can be an advantageous choice in some situations.
The qualifications and roles of a nurse practitioner
In order to earn the title of a nurse practitioner or NP, a medical student must earn a degree in a chosen nursing field and attain a license from a nursing board. In addition, the nurse practitioner candidate must complete several thousand hours of training before certification is achieved. While this training is less than that of a medical doctor, many of the same tasks are still performed by a nurse practitioner:
- Acting as a primary care provider
- Performing diagnostic procedures and evaluations
- Prescribing medications or treatment plans
- Ordering lab work or blood tests for diagnostic purposes
Nurse practitioners may also earn board certification to practice in some medical specialty areas, such as women's health. In general, an NP can meet the most common needs of a typical patient.
The right time to choose a nurse practitioner
Individuals suffering from certain chronic conditions, genetic disorders or diseases should seek evaluation and treatment from a licensed and qualified medical physician. However, there are many patients for whom a nurse practitioner is a practical and appropriate choice.
Typical sick visits
Patients who need treatment promptly for common illnesses may find it advantageous to schedule an appointment with a nurse practitioner. In many practices, doctor's schedules are too full to allow for a same-day or next-day appointment. However, nurse practitioners are often available and can evaluate current symptoms, provide a proper diagnosis and write a prescription with a shorter wait time.
Annual wellness checkups
Nurse practitioners are qualified to serve as primary care providers. This means NPs can perform annual checkups, prescribe necessary medications and conduct follow-up visits for routine evaluation. It is prudent to see the same medical professional for typical wellness needs so the person can maintain familiarity with the patient's medical history and updates. Choosing a nurse practitioner as the primary care provider may result in a more readily available caregiver for sick visits.
Average health concerns
If a patient develops new symptoms or a minor condition that requires a medical evaluation, a nurse practitioner can perform an examination. In addition, the NP can order blood work or x-rays to help provide a diagnosis.
While there are some situations that require the training and experience of a medical doctor, most routine medical evaluations can be performed by a licensed nurse practitioner. Due to increased availability, it may be prudent to select an NP as a primary care provider. Regardless of which medical professional is chosen, regular preventative care should be a top priority for overall health and wellness.
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