With fewer primary care physicians in the nation’s countryside, rural healthcare in America is beginning to look a lot less like the standard doctor-patient interaction and much more like a roundtable conversation involving the patient, social workers, public health professionals, nurses, occupational and physical therapists, physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners, and pharmacists.
In athletic parlance, to Cathy Phillips, APRN, it’s a little like a relay race.
“You do what you can, you run your part, and you pass the baton, but you still keep a very close eye on what’s happening,” said Phillips, a psychiatric nurse practitioner in Hastings, Nebraska. “In rural areas, we see less delineation of roles, simply out of necessity. In rural communities, it’s so ingrained to work together, anyway. Things need to get done and everyone pitches in. It’s not unheard of in small local facilities to see the director of nursing doing bedside care. Out here, you live the model more than anything else.”
As a nurse practitioner with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing from Creighton University, Phillips often sees herself and her nurse practitioner colleagues as running anchor in that race.
Nurse practitioners are often the first line of healthcare for patients in rural America and, with the interdisciplinary approach evolving, nurses and nurse practitioners have seen and done a little (or a lot) of just about everything within their scopes of practice. According to the Nebraska Rural Health Advisory Commission, 65 counties in the state have primary care shortages, a statistic that has led to legislation passed this year to provide greater freedom of practice for nurse practitioners.
“There’s a major shortage of healthcare providers nationwide, generally,” Phillips said. “Changing the law for nurse practitioners is going to help immensely, because we’re not projected to improve provider numbers unless we do something. The need is huge.”
This article was adapted from information provided by Creighton University.