Nurse Practitioners No Threat To Doctors


Posted to Nursing, Nursing Jobs, Nursing News, Nursing Specialties

History has shown that physicians don’t always appreciate sharing with nurses.

The field of obstetrics, which was once dominated by midwives and lay midwives, has been a battleground for years, with physicians laying claim to the right to attend all deliveries. Physician’s groups in the past went so far as to say that women who were attended by midwives were putting themselves and their babies at risk, although statistically this notion was never proven to be a reality. Midwives fought long and hard and are only now attaining the respect they deserve as non-interventionists who are fully capable of handling low-risk deliveries. Ceding to midwives has been a hard pill to swallow for many physicians.

Some physicians are now uneasy with the expanding role of nurse practitioners. The Institute of Medicine recommended in 2010 that barriers to practicing to their full scope be removed so that nurse practitioners could help to ease the shortage of primary care physicians. To date, 16 states (plus the District of Columbia) have embraced more liberal laws to allow nurse practitioners to practice fully what they have studied and trained for. Other states, such as Nebraska, are currently considering such laws.

vgstudio -

One would think that easing the shortage of primary care physicians would be embraced wholeheartedly by physicians, but this has not been the case. What has been the major concern voiced by primary care physicians? It seems that some physicians are worried that nurse practitioners moving in on their turf will result in lowering of physicians’ incomes. Granted, many primary care physicians earn far below what physician specialists earn, so there may be some justification for their concern.

In the first study to assess the impact of nurse practitioners in states with liberal policies versus states with more restrictive policies, researchers from the George Washington School of Public Health and Health Services found no evidence that using nurse practitioners to their full scope of practice had an adverse effect on earnings of family physicians.

This is good news on two fronts: easing the physician shortage and expanding the roles of nurse practitioners. As of May 30th of this year, the Health Resources and Services Administration stated that there are 5,902 HPSAs (health professional shortage areas) serving 59.9 million people. At a ratio of 2000 patients for every one physician, this means that 16,349 practitioners are needed to meet the primary care needs of the population. Such a vast shortage seems to indicate that there is plenty of room for all, and that nurse practitioners can fill a rather large gap in healthcare services that is not currently being filled.

As with the obstetric field, it will take time before nurse practitioners are recognized for what they alone can offer, a unique set of skills and knowledge that can complement and enhance the skills and knowledge that physicians offer. As health care policy changes in the United States, nurse practitioners are entering into a new era, one in which they will be permitted to practice to the fullest extent possible.