African American female nurse practitioner speaking to older caucasian woman

How Nurse Practitioners Are Reinventing Primary Care

As North Texas continues to grow, so does the need for quality, convenient access to health care, especially primary care. Nurse practitioners (NPs) are helping to fill an important gap, with many leading their own primary care practices, but many people are unfamiliar with the services NPs can provide.

According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, a nurse practitioner is a licensed, independent clinician focused on managing people’s health conditions and disease prevention. As advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), NPs often specialize by patient population, including pediatrics, geriatrics, and women’s health or family medicine, but they can also subspecialize in areas such as dermatology and cardiovascular health.

Just like physicians, NPs can see a wide range of patients based on their specialty, and can also perform many in-office procedures, but Sherrie Pierce, registered nurse and family nurse practitioner at Texas Health Family Care–Grand Prairie, says the main difference that sets her practice apart from a physician-led practice is her holistic take when caring for a patient.

“As a nurse who has been a nurse for a while, you don’t just know the medicine from that one perspective, you know it from all the different parts,” she says. “You’ve got nurse practitioners who have started as medical assistants so they know that part, and they’ve been in the hospital so they know what it feels like [for a patient] to be in a hospital; they just know so many parts of the process of health versus just that one ‘medicine’ part. You can walk [patients] through a whole lot more.”

According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, there are more than 234,000 nurse practitioners licensed in the United States. Nurse practitioners have over six years of academic and clinical preparation before they are eligible to open their own practice. Before then, they must earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing, obtain their registered nurse’s license, earn a master’s degree, receive national board certification, and then must receive state licensure and registration.

Nurse practitioners can provide many of the same services and procedures that traditional physician-led practices offer, including:

  • Diagnosis and treatment of acute infections, injuries and illnesses.
  • Diagnostic tests, such as X-rays and electrocardiograms.
  • Annual exams, health screenings and risk assessments.
  • Sports and school physicals.
  • Administer and manage prescriptions.
  • Diagnosis and management of chronic issues, like arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Nurse practitioners can also talk to patients about effectively managing their health, as well as curating an appropriate treatment plan or action plan for further care. They can also address any side effects of certain treatments and/or medications or any interactions that may take place with current medications.   

By law, nurse practitioner–led practices in Texas have to have a supervising physician on the medical staff to collaborate on care for a patient when needed, but Pierce says beyond that, she likes to be involved in every aspect of her practice.

“I’m a very hands-on person. I like to do the intake, and I also like to do the discharge. Sometimes I tend to take over for my medical assistant and do their part as well, because I like the whole process,” she says. “I’m willing to pitch in and do whatever part of it, because I’m more likely to be the one who calls you when there’s a problem with a lab rather than shunting it to someone else. I’m more personally involved.”

A 2013 study published in The Journal for Nurse Practitioners shows evidence that the quality and effectiveness of care provided by nurse practitioners is similar to that administered by physicians.

“A lot of people will say that we spend more time with them, but I will say I don’t think we actually spend more time, it just feels like we spend more time,” Pierce says. “We have the same constraints that any provider has, but I think it just feels like [we spend more time] because it’s a little more personal.”

Pierce, who has been practicing for 18 years, admits that her background leading up to becoming a family nurse practitioner didn’t follow the traditional path that most nurse practitioners lead, but it makes her a well-rounded health care provider.

“I just wanted to be more involved with the total family, and as a family nurse practitioner, that’s really what you are. You’re involved with the newborns and their mothers and grandmothers and so on. I love it. I love it,” she says with emphasis. “My favorite part of the job is taking care of families—I really do like seeing the scope of a family. I’m being really sentimental, but I love the geriatric population and I love seeing through the lifespan of people.”

Although skeptics are far and few between, Pierce says she does come across some traditional patients who want to be seen by a physician rather than a nurse practitioner, but when it comes to the quality of care a patient can expect to receive, she says nurse practitioner–led practices are no different than conventional practices.

“I want them to know that I am going to provide them the best care I can here and if I can’t provide it here, then I know how to get them to the right place. I feel like I’m just an ordinary family practice in a way, other than I am a nurse practitioner.”

If you’re looking for the quality care you need for your heart, mind and body at any age, there’s a qualified Texas Health Physicians Group practice in your neighborhood. Visit Texas Health Physician’s Group website to find the closest practice to you.

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