When you contact your doctor’s office—whether by phone or online—to make an appointment for yourself or a family member, do you get the option of scheduling with a Nurse Practitioner (NP) instead?
If not, this alternative will likely present itself in the near future since the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that NP roles are expected to increase 31 percent by the year 2026, a rate that is “much faster” than all other occupational roles combined.
On the flip side, if you’re currently given this option, you might be wondering why you would want to see an NP instead of the physician him or herself. Actually, there are quite a few reasons, and here are just five to consider.
No Long Waits for an Appointment
On average, it takes 24 days for a new patient to get a doctor’s appointment in the United States according to a survey conducted by Merritt Hawkins. Sadly, this is the longest the wait has ever been, and it may be getting worse.
One way to avoid this extended time between when you develop an issue and when you can be seen is to make your appointment with an NP. You can typically get in much quicker, which leads us to the next point…
Faster Follow-Up, If Necessary
The faster you can catch a medical condition after it first begins, the better the outcome. This is especially true with diseases that once they progress to a certain stage become untreatable or, at a minimum, extremely difficult to control.
Therefore, by getting in to see an NP sooner than you normally would your primary care provider, you also have faster access to follow-up testing (and care) should it be deemed necessary.
NPs Tend to Spend More Time with Patients
Have you ever left your doctor’s office dissatisfied because you barely had any time with him or her, or like you still had so many questions and concerns left unanswered?
This is another benefit of seeing an NP because this category of medical practitioners often spend more time one-on-one with patients than others in the medical field.
In fact, in one piece of research I conducted which was recently published in The Journal for Nurse Practitioners, one NP shared that, while working for a corporation, she would see approximately 55 patients per day, but it was “never enough” for them.
Yet, once she went into private practice, she was able to reduce this number, giving her more time to spend with her patients. This gave her the ability to better address all of their concerns and really listen to what they had to say.
(On a side note, my research also found that NPs in private practice also typically have a higher sense of job-related satisfaction. Knowing this, who would you rather have treat you: a medical professional who feels completely fulfilled or a doctor that is merely “going through the motions”?)
NPs Are More Focused on Patient Education
Another benefit of seeing an NP is that they tend to be more education-focused that general practitioners. What does this mean for you, the patient?
By choosing a healthcare provider who is willing to educate you about your particular health concerns and conditions, you become a more active player in your own healthcare regimen. No more taking tests you don’t understand or engaging in treatments that you are unclear how they will help.
Plus, by being an educated patient, you also gain a greater understanding of how all of your lifestyle choices can positively and negatively impact your overall health. This enables you to make better decisions when it comes to your total wellness.
NPs Prefer to Treat the Whole Person (Not Just the Symptoms)
Because NPs spend more time with patients and are more education focused, they also naturally want to treat the whole person versus only resolving the symptoms.
This is crucial since focusing solely on the symptoms means that you may not be actively addressing the cause. When this happens, treatment can become more ineffective because they’re not attacking the right thing.
Additionally, health issues aren’t always just a physical problem. Research is consistently showing that mental health, environment, and a host of other factors play a role as well. That’s why all of these factors need to be taken into consideration before deciding an appropriate healthcare action plan.
But Aren’t NPs Less Trained?
Though it may seem like NPs would have less training than a general practitioner (GP), the truth is that these medical professionals are educated to serve as primary care providers.
The Nurse Journal explains that this means that they must have either a master of science or doctor of nursing practice degree, in addition to national certification and state licensure.
In fact, many NPs actually have private practices. States that currently allow for this include Arizona, Connecticut, Maryland, Colorado, Nevada, Washington, and Oregon, just to name a few.
There are 22 in total as of this writing. To learn whether your state is one of them, the American Association of Nurse Practitioners offers an updated list.
In the end, why wait to see a physician when you can get equal, if not better care from an NP? Maybe now you won’t.