One of the biggest challenges I’ve encountered since moving to Portland and starting a practice here has been one that I never would have expected. I’ve been shocked at how many people here don’t know what a Nurse Practitioner (NP) is.
In Indiana, this never came up, not once.
When I tell someone here that I’m a NP, there’s the (now familiar) blank stare. They don’t want to tell me they have no idea what I am and what I do, so they sort of nod awkwardly. I then ask, “Do you know what a Nurse Practitioner is?” and they admit to not really knowing.
Explaining what a Nurse Practitioner is and does is complicated.
Yes, we are licensed to make diagnoses, order labs and radiology testing, and prescribe medications. We can manage a patient’s overall care and serve in the role as primary care provider (PCP).
This might cause some people to compare us to medical doctors. While we do share similar licensing privileges, it’s not the best comparison.
First, it undermines the level of education of medical doctors (MD)s. These professionals spend countless hours in education. They earn a 4-year undergraduate degree, followed by 4 years in medical school, followed by several years in residency, generally averaging around 12 years of advanced education.
Nurse Practitioners become Registered Nurses first and then go on to get a graduate degree as a Master of Science in Nursing. NPs usually spend 6-7 years in advanced education.
Next, there’s a difference in approach. MDs are taught to be scientists. They focus on lab and other test results and treat with a scientific approach in all that they do.
Nurses are groomed to be caregivers, treating not just the physical aspects, but also the emotional, mental, spiritual, and social parts of people’s lives.
Of course, nurses use science and critical thinking every day as well, but are more likely to look outside the box for an emotional or spiritual “root cause” of a symptom.
Evidenced-based practice is extremely important for NPs. It’s just not the only factor in our care.
At FLOURISH, I look at all causes of symptoms: physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, and social.
Another other big difference between NPs and MDs is specialization. Many MDs become a specialist, such as a Gastroenterologist, Pulmonologist, Cardiologist, or surgeon. They receive rigorous training in the specialty area.
There are NPs who specialize also but with less and less MDs training in family practice or primary care, NPs are often filling the shortage as family practice and primary care providers.
So then, you might ask why would you want to see a NP over a MD?
First, as stated above, we are caregivers. We listen fully to our patients and we believe what they tell us. We trust that our patients know their bodies better than we do and we give them time to tell us what they know to be true about themselves.
We are trained in empathy and compassionate care. We know you’re not just a test result, but a complicated system and that many factors are affecting your level of wellness.
We’ve spent time at the bedside with the sickest of people, held the hands of terrified patients, comforted loved ones facing the worst moments of their lives, and cleaned up body fluids with deep respect for dignity.
We know what’s it like for our patients to lie in a hospital bed feeling helpless and hopeless in the middle of the night.
We get it, and we bring a personal touch to healthcare that’s often lacking in today’s systems.
My patients appreciate that I deeply care about them. They become like family to me.
Next, we are teachers. We want you to completely understand what’s happening with you and we take the time to explain everything in detail. We focus on disease prevention, health education, and wellness counseling.
We see ourselves as a guide to help you navigate your path to feeling your best. We don’t see ourselves (or medications or surgery) as the solution.
We believe that each person has the innate power inside themselves to heal and we will support you fully to get where you want to go.
At FLOURISH, I take the time to explain every result and every treatment, so you know what you’re doing and why!
Last, and perhaps most important is that we have ruthless determination. We will go the extra mile for our patients every time.
We know that we will never know everything, so we spend our free time researching and educating ourselves to be the best we can be.
When we don’t know the answer for someone, we won’t stop until we find it, and we will fight for you.
We are a brave and stubborn group of people. If you want help, ask a NP and you will get it!
I’ve been called a “medical detective”. I love working with people who’ve been to see a bunch of different people and no one can figure out what’s wrong with them.
Sometimes MDs are frustrated that NPs are being compared to them and I respect this. I will be the first one to refer a patient to a MD if I feel their situation is out of my scope.
The other side of this is that I rarely need to refer. I can handle almost every situation that shows up in my office and because my care is thorough, holistic and compassionate, patients often prefer working with me over a MD.
I hope this helps to explain the differences between a MD and a NP a little better for you. I’d love to keep this discussion going.
What questions do you have about the role of a Nurse Practitioner?
Have you seen a NP? I’d love to hear your feedback about the care you received.
Please comment below and be sure to share this post with anyone else who might be feeling confused or with anyone who’s looking for a different healthcare experience.
And, if you know you’re ready for a Nurse Practitioner experience for yourself, learn more about FLOURISH here.