How Nurse Practitioners Close Gaps in Healthcare Access

Nurse Practitioner
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Happy Nurse Practitioner Week! An NP’s job certainly is challenging, there’s no disputing that. In honor of you and the impact you make every day (even when it isn’t easy!), let’s revisit some of the ways NPs are uniquely making a difference in the healthcare community.

In the 51 years since the nurse practitioner occupation was first established in the United States, there have been numerous monumental changes to the structure and function of the American healthcare system, including the advent of the locum tenens industry. In the midst of such upheavals, however, nurse practitioners have provided a constant in the form of versatile, high-quality, person-centered care across healthcare settings. Due to the existing physician shortage—which will likely grow to more than 130,000 by the year 2025, per the Association of American Medical Colleges —nurse practitioners will soon take on an even larger role in meeting healthcare needs. In celebration of NP Week, here’s a look at how nurse practitioners are already working to fill existing gaps in quality healthcare access…and why contract work might be a better fit than you think.

Providing Quality Care Across the Board

In many ways, NPs could be considered healthcare’s proverbial Jills (and Jacks) of All Trades. Nurse practitioners consistently remain some of the most requested locum tenens professionals, and for good reason: NPs do it all! Though an exhaustive list of nurse practitioners’ contributions and accolades is beyond the scope of this—or any—blog, some of NPs’ most valued capabilities include the ability to:

  • Prescribe medicine, including controlled substances, in all 50 states and Washington D.C.
  • Provide primary, acute, and specialty care services.
  • Deliver important health education: NPs provide information geared toward health promotion and disease prevention, encouraging patients to proactively take charge of their health.
  • Provide counseling services.
  • Order, interpret, and explain diagnostic tests.
  • Help patients fill out sensitive end-of-life directives: Out of the 19 states that utilize Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST) forms, 16 now allow nurse practitioners to oversee the process. [1]

Not only do NPs embrace a variety of medical responsibilities in diverse settings, they also tend to do so quite well: research demonstrates that employing nurse practitioners in emergency service settings has a positive impact on quality of care, wait times, and patient satisfaction. [2]

Person-Centered Care: Treating Patients as Individuals

Often, patients can expect that a visit to the doctor will involve a focus on treating their specific presenting maladies. While this is valuable and necessary, a disease-focused approach on its own can neglect key causal factors. Because nurse practitioners subscribe to a person-centered model of healthcare that emphasizes the overall well-being of each individual, they treat medical complaints while also helping patients determine steps they can take to improve their physical and emotional health. Healthcare professionals who embrace person-centered models of care often take special care to:

  • Consider patients’ wants, preferences, and expressed values when recommending treatment.
  • Provide culturally-competent services for each individual by taking into account factors like patient age, race, sex, sexual orientation, religion, and socioeconomic situation.
  • Incorporate a patient’s support network, such as family and friends, when appropriate.
  • Ensure that patients feel safe, comfortable, heard, respected, and empowered.

Helping Those Who Need it Most: Serving Underprivileged Communities

Nurse practitioners provide care for underserved populations at very high rates: 72% of nurse practitioners accept Medicare, 78% accept Medicaid, and 77% treat uninsured patients (2016 AANP National Nurse Practitioner Sample Survey).  The provision of culturally-appropriate health education, while important for everyone, can be especially impactful for patients from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds and other traditionally underserved communities. Person-centered approaches to medical care can be especially life-changing for these patients, who often have less access to health information, fewer available medical resources, and less interaction with providers who understand their unique challenges and appreciate the significant impact of patient identity on health, wellness, and appropriate treatment approaches.

How Does Locum Tenens Work for Nurse Practitioners?

The increasing need for medical professionals across the country creates opportunities for nurse practitioners to provide valuable healthcare services in a wider variety of settings than would be available in traditional practice settings. Additionally, working on a locums basis allows more flexibility for NPs to construct a schedule consistent with their ideal work-life balance. Contract work may be a welcome change for nurse practitioners in all career stages who are experiencing any number of personal situations, such as:

  • NPs who recently finished school and are not yet sure where or in what practice setting they would like to work long-term—Locums allows NPs to “test-drive” different geographic locations and types of facilities, so you can be sure you have found the best fit.
  • NPs later in their careers who want to work less but are unready to fully retire —Locum tenens positions can provide a smooth transition into semi-retirement, allowing you to continue working with patients while leaving time to go on long-awaited trips, prioritize family time, or take up a hobby (like that one you‘ve been neglecting since second semester of nursing school).
  • NPs at any career stage who would like to travel but do not want to stop practicing medicine.
  • NPs facing burnout due to the high-stress nature of the job—Making even a temporary switch to locum tenens work can provide a much-needed reprieve for nurse practitioners experiencing burnout symptoms.

Locum tenens also can be a logical choice for nurse practitioners who:

  • Just moved to a different region of the country and are unfamiliar with facilities in the area.
  • Recently started a family (or plan to) and want to achieve a certain balance of time at work and time at home.
  • Share or alternate childcare duties or caretaking responsibilities for a family member with a long-term illness or disability.
  • Want to build savings for a specific goal—such as a new house, a large investment or business endeavor, or retirement—and want to pick up extra shifts for an understaffed local facility.

Thank you to all of our compassionate, hard-working locum tenens nurse practitioners, on behalf of everyone here at Consilium. We appreciate your dedication and recognize the impact you make in patients’ lives every day. Happy NP Week!

[1] Hayes Sophia A., Zive Dana, Ferrell Betty, and Tolle Susan W., Journal of Palliative Medicine. October 2016, ahead of print. doi:10.1089/jpm.2016.0228.

[2] Jennings, N., Clifford, S., Fox, A. R., O’Connell, J., & Gardner, G. (2015). The impact of nurse practitioner services on cost, quality of care, satisfaction and waiting times in the emergency department: A systematic review. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 52(1), 421-435. doi:10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2014.07.006

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