Elderly Patients: Nurse Practitioner? Physician’s Assistant?

Last night, April 13, 2010, the Associated Press article, Doctor Shortage? 28 States May Expand Nurses’ Role, by Carla K Johnson, appeared online, discussing the changing roles of nurse practitioners in the delivery of today’s health care.

The article reminds me that my parents and others their age can be confused about the roles and the differences between the nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants in their doctors’ offices. The confusion of these elderly patients seems to be based on that they have lived so long with a doctor-patient model. Adult children can help aging parents understand the roles of these highly trained, but different medical professionals. Medical offices can also assist by posting written explanations on their websites and written explanation on paper that can be given to patients who interact with non-physician medical professionals.

  • A nurse practitioner (NP) first earns an R.N. degree and then continues on to a multi-year graduate NP program. A licensed nurse practitioner can work under the supervision of a physician or independently. Different states have different regulations regarding tasks such as prescribing medication. Sometimes the initials FNP are used, standing for family nurse practitioner.
  • A physician’s assistant (PA) may not necessarily come from a health background when he or she begins training. Once licensed, a PA can do many of the tasks that a physician does, including prescribing medications, as long as it is done in the context of the doctor’s office.
To Learn More About the Differences

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