A vanguard of practitioners has emerged in an environment where there are too few physicians to meet growing demand.
Divided into two broad categories: nurse practitioners and physicians assistants, these up-and-coming practitioners trace their modern lineage to the 1960s and to theories of how to adequately serve more patients without the 10 or more years of training required of physicians before they can begin practice.
Nurse practitioners, or NPs for short, are nurses earning bachelors and master’s degrees in nursing and sitting for nurse practitioner and certified nurse specialist licenses. Some states allow these highly educated “mid-level” practitioners to see patients, write prescriptions, offer medical advice and otherwise practice medicine both under the supervision of a doctor and independently.
According to the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, these clinicians:
- Order, perform and interpret diagnostic tests such as lab work and x-rays
- Diagnose and treat acute and chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, infections and injuries
- Prescribe medications and other treatments
- Manage patients’ overall care
- Spend time counseling patients
- Help patients learn how their actions affect their health and well-being
Physician assistants or PAs are medical students specifically trained in medicine, but not to degree that physicians are. PAs are often not nurses or healthcare professionals before licensure, as many nurse practitioners are. According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants, these mid-levels can trace their education to the expedited physician training programs during World War II.
PAs deliver a broad range of medical and surgical services, including:
- Conducting physical exams
- Obtaining medical histories
- Diagnosing and treating illnesses
- Ordering and interpreting tests
- Counseling on preventive health care
- Assisting in surgery
- Prescribing medications