You have a fever and a cough that’s getting much worse, keeping you from getting a decent night’s sleep, but your doctor’s schedule is packed for a week. At one time you might have filled up the vaporizer and waited it out. But today, physician practices often include mid-level practitioners — one or more physician assistants or nurse practitioners who might be able to see you on shorter notice.
“Mid-level practitioners (also known as providers) work under the supervision and license of the doctor,” says Christi Bartz, a certified physician assistant with Edward Medical Group in Naperville. “The most common types are physician assistants (PAs) and nurse practitioners (NPs). We have both in our practice: Sandy Davis, a nurse practitioner, and myself.”
The role of these practitioners can differ from one medical practice to another.
“In our practice, Sandy and I both examine patients, order diagnostic tests, provide wellness education, and develop and carry out treatment plans,” Bartz says.
“If needed, we always have a doctor available to consult.”
While a more extensive education is required to become a physician, becoming a physician assistant or nurse practitioner requires advanced training, hands-on experience and a commitment to lifelong learning.
Nurse practitioners are registered nurses with additional clinical training and usually, a master’s degree in nursing. To become certified in Illinois, nurse practitioner candidates must choose a specialty and pass an exam in that field. Among commonly chosen specialties are adult or family care, pediatrics, gerontology, psychiatric care and women’s health.
Like nurse practitioners, physician assistants usually have master’s degrees, but unlike NPs, they are generalists. Their training requires completion of an accredited Physician Assistant Program, typically a 27-month course. They also put in about 2,000 hours of clinical rotations, which include family medicine, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, general surgery, emergency medicine and psychiatry.
Both PAs and NPs are required to take regular continuing education courses to remain certified.
“Our team approach extends the physician’s ability to care for patients,” Bartz says. “Sometimes a doctor’s busy schedule makes it difficult to fit in the frequent follow-ups recommended for patients with diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol. We can step in to absorb some of those appointments.
“In other cases, the patients come directly to Sandy or me. We’ve had some patients who prefer to have their annual physical done by a woman, for example.”
Use of mid-level practitioners means greater efficiency, not just for the individual physician practice but for the industry in general. The National Center for Health Workforce Analysis says a shortage of 20,400 physicians projected for 2020 might well be reduced to 6,400 if physician assistants and nurse practitioners are used effectively.
“Teaming mid-level providers with physicians will positively affect cost of care and help us make sure people get the care they need,” Bartz says.
For more information, call 630-527-EMG1 or visit www.edward.org/EMGNursePractitioners or www.edward.org/EMGPhysicianAssistants.
Health Aware is a weekly column courtesy of Edward Hospital.