Nurse Practitioners Are Not ‘Physician Extenders’November 11, 2011
“Physician extender.” It’s way past time to kill that term.
A study published in the October issue of Surgery found that adding an NP to the surgical team decreased the number of unnecessary ED visits by 50% and increased the use of visiting nurse, physical therapy, and occupational therapy services. A Medscape article (registration required) on the study explained the importance of the findings in this way: “According to the researchers, physician ‘extenders,’ such as NPs, help maintain continuity of care while resident work hours are kept at a maximum of 80 per week. . . .”
Sure enough, the stated purpose of the study was to determine if “integrating this physician extender into the surgery team” would improve outcomes and resource allocation. Ouch.
Experts in our own right. Nurse practitioners are not physician extenders. We are highly skilled and educated nurses who provide evidence-based care grounded in the nursing model. We are not “extensions” of anyone. We are colleagues and collaborators, independent clinicians and experts in our own right. Our purpose is to provide comprehensive care, promote health, educate, and advocate. It is not to relieve interns, supplement physician education, or be the low-cost alternative when physicians have to “do more with less,” as Medscape quoted one of the study authors. Yes, we should be integrated into health care teams, surgical and otherwise—because nurses provide a distinctive aspect of care that research has repeatedly shown to be essential to good patient outcomes.
The results of this study are certainly more good news about the effectiveness of NPs, though not surprising. As the authors noted, “Patients are no longer being discharged without support.” This is what nurses do and what distinguishes us from other health care providers: we look past curing the disease to see what optimal wellness means to each patient and do what needs to be done to help the patient get there. The positive results in this study didn’t come about because someone “extended” the physician’s role; it came about because a nurse was doing what a nurse does best.