Primary Care Shortage: Whose problem to solve anyway?

I’ll preface this opinion by saying that I was a Registered Nurse (RN) for 15 years followed by 8 years of being a Nurse Practitioner (NP). I love bedside RNs and thoroughly enjoyed my time as an NP on Physician led teams on inpatient units. In reference to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) position statement titled “Nurse Practitioners in Primary Care, ”the question must be asked as to if the primary care dilemma outlined in the statement is a NP problem to solve or a Physician/Primary Care Physician’s (PCP)? I do agree with where the position statement states “NPs are a vital part of the U.S. primary care workforce.” Where I disagree with the position statement is in the premise that it is the discipline of nursing’s responsibility to solve the PCP shortage: 

“Evidence supports the high quality and cost effectiveness of NP care and the continued interest of the discipline to contribute to solving the primary care dilemma.”

When did it become ok for one discipline (NPs) to hijack a role of another discipline (MDs) and (1) claim this role to be their own, (2) rename PCP to primary care provider, and (3) claim responsibility to solve the other discipline’s problem. My assertion is that the PCP shortage is a problem for physicians to solve and not a nursing problem to solve. I would further profess that perhaps nursing efforts would be better served if it focused on the bedside RN shortage rooted in quality of life issues for RN’s and a mass exodus of RN’s to NP programs. These programs often of low quality and accepting RN’s with little to no nursing experience. There’s a few old idiom’s that come to mind to illustrate my point: (1) get your own house in order before attempting to clean mine, (2) stay in your own lane, and (3) clean your own side of the street. 

I’m a runner. I love to run. Suppose I started calling myself a marathoner without ever running one. Do I have the right to do so? Does this give me the credibility to give marathon-running advice? I don’t believe so. I have the utmost reverence for nursing both RNs and NPs, but I think the position statement is missing key factors in purporting that:

“The NP scope of practice includes blending nursing and medical services for individuals, families and groups. NPs diagnose and manage acute and chronic conditions and emphasize health promotion and disease prevention.”

The key factors are that as physicians, we were never asked by nursing (1) how we would solve this problem or (2) how we would feel if they took on solving the primary care physician shortage, or (3) how would we feel if NPs came into the MDs lane and started practicing medicine (an MD role). We were never asked and now there is much angst and animosity as MDs are waking up and starting to push back. Not only must MDs now take on powerful nursing lobbies, we must reclaim the primary care/physician shortage problem as our own problem. Owning our own problem will be a key in lessening the impact of other disciplines believing they have to intervene. Let’s get our own house in order and clean our side of the street. 

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Robert Duprey was an NP and will be an official MD in weeks.

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