Think you know what a nurse practitioner is? Think again.

I called to schedule a checkup at my doctor’s office recently. They asked if I’d like to see the nurse practitioner. I agreed, but I didn’t know what to expect.

I called to schedule a checkup at my doctor’s office recently. They asked if I’d like to see the nurse practitioner. I agreed, but I didn’t know what to expect. Would it be different from seeing the physician? And would the nurse practitioner be able to answer all of my questions?

The nurse practitioner profession has been around for 50 years, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. Similar to other health care professionals, nurse practitioners can specialize in different areas of medicine and can see patients in an office or hospital setting. And with the future challenges of an aging population and the growing burden of chronic disease, many health care organizations employ nurse practitioners as a vital part of providing patient care.

Kim Tharp-Barrie, DNP, R.N., SANE, system vice president, Norton Healthcare Institute for Nursing, explained that advanced practice nurses are in a unique position because they work often in teams with physicians to provide direct patient care.  Generally they assess, diagnose, treat and manage patients with acute and chronic illnesses. They may order perform and interpret laboratory and imaging studies. Their goal is to initiate health promotion, prevent disease, educate and prescribe medications within their scope of practice.

According to Amanda Newman, DNP(c), R.N., NE-BE, advanced practice registered nurses have earned at least a master’s degree in nursing. The next step in education would be a doctor of nursing, or DNP. All nurse practitioners are prepared with advanced training and clinical education, knowledge, skills and scope of practice in nursing.

Heather Mason, APRN, is a nurse practitioner with Norton Community Medical Associates – Bullitt County. Mason says she likes to focus on being an educational resource for patients so that they can improve their daily health and overall quality of life.

“I believe that being a resource to my patients is one of my core responsibilities as a health care provider,” she said. “Also, I am excited that patients can communicate with me via MyChart, Norton Healthcare’s patient health management portal. I see this as a great resource right at their fingertips.”

Mason explained that no two days are alike for a nurse practitioner and that she has a great working relationship with her four physician colleagues in her office.

“I feel like the physicians are a great resource to me when needed,” Mason said. “We frequently discuss patient cases together to find the best, medically sound solution for our patients.”

George Mikos, M.D., cardiothoracic surgeon with Norton Healthcare, works closely with cardiothoracic surgery nurse practitioner Katie Rogers, APRN, on a daily basis. Dr. Mikos cites that having worked together for the past 15 years, they have built a practice for their patients together and are both colleagues as well as good friends.

“Katie participates in every aspect of our practice, including assisting me in the operating room, performing procedures independently, making hospital rounds and seeing patients in the office,” he said. “She and I have clinical responsibilities at four different Norton Healthcare hospitals, and I have complete trust in her abilities. Without her it would be impossible to provide the coverage we accomplish together as a team.

Dr. Mikos also commented on the excellent patient outcomes and high patient satisfaction scores his office sees.

“I am convinced that patient outcomes are better and our patients are happier with the care they are receiving due to Katie’s clinical input and bedside manner,” he said.

Monica Key, APRN, AOCNP nurse practitioner with Norton Cancer Institute, cares for cancer patients at area hospitals when they have been admitted.

“I review tests results, evaluate patients’ progress and make care recommendations in order to prepare patients for the next steps in their care,” Key said. “My communication is proactive and constant with the patient’s physician, ultimately providing the best care possible for our patients.”

As far as clinical education and experience, both Mason and Key started their careers as registered nurses (R.N.s) working in the hospital. They went on to earn their nurse practitioner degrees and are certified by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. Advanced practitioners can further their studies in specific areas such as oncology or neurology. Key for example obtained a specialty national certification in oncology as an Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner, or AOCNP.

“For me, I really enjoyed nursing in the hospital setting but felt I had more to offer to my patients. I wanted to move to a family practice setting,” Mason said. “In the family practice setting I can develop a long-term relationship with patients and help them make positive changes in their overall health. I also enjoy seeing patients of all ages and have the opportunity to care for newborns all the way to elderly.”

“Nurse practitioners will continue to be a vital part of a medical team to help close the gap in health care with compassionate care,” Key said.

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