Advanced Practice Providers Have an Important Role in Health Care

David Curry, NP

Advanced Practice Providers (APPs) are an important link in the chain of modern health care, though understanding who they are and what they do can be confusing.  Most APPs are either Nurse Practitioners (NPs) or Physician Assistants (PAs), but those are the easy names!  Every state licenses them separately and determines what their ‘title’ will be.  In some states NPs are called Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioners (ARNPs) or Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs), since all are Registered Nurses before earning their Masters or Doctorate to become NPs.  PAs may be required to use the title Registered Physician Assistant – Certified (RPA-C) again, depending on the state in which they practice. This title shows they successfully passed the national certification examination, and while a PA may have been a nurse first, most are not – this is one of the differences in their education and training. 

Whether PA or NP, the APP always understands their role in the health care hierarchy.  While their education and training prepares them to order and interpret tests, prescribe medications and educate their patients on their illness, they work closely with the physicians and nurses in their team regardless of their specialty.  Teamwork is critical to successful outcomes!

Because I was a nurse first, I could choose whether to become an NP or a PA.  The NP required earning a Master’s degree, while the PA would have been another Bachelors degree program (I already had a bachelors in nursing).  In the end I chose NP because in Florida, where I planned to work, a PA required “direct supervision” by a physician, in other words, a doctor had to be in the building when I worked, while the NP would practice independently with just phone consultation as needed.  Just like the title, supervision of APPs can vary significantly by state, as can their authority to prescribe medications.

But what can APPs do?  We do many of the common health care tasks that physicians can do – ‘common’ being the operative word.  Over my career, I’ve regulated the medications of many hypertensive and diabetic patients, done cardiac stress tests, done medical admission history and physicals for psychiatric patients, sutured many wounds in the Emergency Room, ordered and interpreted X-rays and most recently worked at the CVPH Wound Care Center caring for chronic wounds.

However I’m most satisfied by the other half of my career. Because I earned a Masters in Nursing, I was able to teach Nursing at the college level, and did so for over 25 years at SUNY Plattsburgh.  This mixing of my NP practice and Nursing education gave me a work/life balance that fulfilled all my ambitions.

So, if you are going to be a patient of an APP or considering becoming one, rest assured they are well educated, experienced and ready to provide you with the information you need to make informed decisions about your health care or your career.  Ask them questions!  We are all happy to fill in the blanks.

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