Why Nurse Practitioner

Why choose an NP as your health care provider?

Patients often ask about the difference between nurse practitioners (NPs) and other health care providers. Sometimes they think that NPs are “junior MDs” – in other words, that they are practitioners that are on their way to becoming a physician or wish that they were one!

Nothing could be further from the truth. NPs are a distinctly different type of practitioner than MDs and rather than seeing themselves as inferior or superior to their medical colleagues, they see themselves as one of the players on a heath care team. Each player has a unique and important function in your health care.

All NPs had careers as Registered Nurses (RNs) before going back to school to train for 3 years in advanced pathophysiology, diagnostic skills and pharmacology. In the extensive Master’s program that prepares RNs to become NPs, they are trained to do physicals, order and interpret lab, x-ray and other diagnostic tests, prescribe medications, diagnose and treat acute and chronic illnesses and do health teaching. They also perform simple, in-office surgical procedures.

So, then what is the difference between NPs and PAs or MDs? The difference lies not so much in what they do minute to minute, hour to hour in their daily work as it is in their philosophical approach to wellness and illness. MDs and PAs follow the medical model which is to identify and treat illness – an” illness-focused” approach.

NPs, on the other hand, follow a more holistic model which recognizes the multi-faceted nature of both illness and wellness. The NP’s approach is health maintenance and prevention-oriented. NPs diagnose and treat illness but they don’t stop there. They want to know “why did this problem happen and how can we keep it from happening again?”

NPs usually spend more time with the patient than their medical colleagues, gathering a more detailed patient history and learning psycho-social aspects of the patient’s life. Their approach to treatment is more “team focused”. NPs see themselves as their patient’s health care partner, a person who is a consultant who helps the patient help himself.

The MD-patient relationship is more of a hierarchical one – the doctor tells the patient what to do because he is the one with all of the medical knowledge. The NP, on the other hand, sees the patient as the expert when it comes to his own body and the NP as his wellness “coach”.

Some people prefer MDs because they want the hierarchical approach. They want a trained expert to tell them what to do to get better and be done with it. However, increasingly people are becoming proactive when it comes to their health care. They are consulting the internet and self-educating about symptoms and diseases before they even see a health care provider. Many patients want to take a more active role in their health care and appreciate the “team approach” offered by the NP.

MDs spend years learning intricate details of many types of illnesses. So, in certain cases, an MD is exactly what you may want, for example if you need to be treated for cancer or AIDS. NPs excel when it comes to chronic diseases where patients must learn lifestyle changes because health teaching is the NP’s forte. Patients with diseases like Fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, MS, diabetes, and high blood pressure, often prefer to be under the care of an NP. The treatment of patients with Lyme and other tick-borne diseases is also a perfect arena for NPs as these patients require a lot of reassurance, counseling and teaching.

Please see the other links in this section that go into more detail in comparing NPs with PAs and NPs with MDs.