You walk into the exam room or emergency department, or you are making the rounds for a physician. A patient utters the words you dread hearing: “I want to see a doctor, not an NP?”
There are any number of reasons a patient may make the request, and it’s ultimately up to you to determine if you want to engage with the conversation further. Here are some of the strategies and talking points we’ve found to be effective.
Nurse Practitioner (NP) Qualifications
All nurse practitioners were registered nurses before receiving either a master’s or doctoral degree. So, when a patient questions a NP’s medical expertise, the conversation can begin with the education involved to become one:
“I was a registered nurse once, and still am one at heart, but I furthered my education and received an advanced degree to learn the practice and administration of medicine. My education was very similar to that of a physician.”
Nurse practitioners undergo at least 500 hours of clinical training while working toward their advanced degree, and many programs require a minimum of three years of bedside work experience prior to entering graduate school.
After graduation, NPs then must be certified by one of the national certification bodies, similar to physicians sitting for boards before beginning practice. In addition to receiving a board certification, NPs undergo peer review of their skills, and, like physicians, are required to continuously complete education and training to stay up-to-date on shifting trends in medicine.
Like physicians, to continue practicing, NPs must maintain their certification by documenting patient hours (at least 1,000 pertinent to their field) and 100 education hours, 25 of which must be credited to pharmacology training as new drugs are always hitting the market.
Make sure that your patient knows that because NPs hold many of the same responsibilities as physicians, they must maintain a similar wealth of knowledge and training to continue practicing medicine.
Are Nurse Practitioners Doctors?
Many nurse practitioners hold a DNP (doctor of nursing practice) or a PHD. While in most fields, any professional with a PHD or other doctorate would not get any scrutiny in calling themselves “doctor,” the issue is much more complicated in medical practice.
In some states, like Georgia, there are laws in place that legally prohibit non-physicians from calling themselves “doctor.” While the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) officially supports the use of the title doctor, physician advocacy groups like the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) lobby against it, arguing that NPs with doctorates who call themselves “doctor” creates confusion among the public on what counts as a qualified physician.
So while it may be tempting to respond to a patient’s dismissive claim of “I want to see a real doctor” with “I am a doctor,” the present practice environment doesn’t make this the best course of action.
What Can a Nurse Practitioners Do?
Many NPs report that their roles often questioned out of a misunderstanding of their responsibilities. Many patients may not know that (depending on the state), nurse practitioners are recognized as primary care providers, or that they can diagnose, treat, and prescribe medicine.
While the scope of practice for NPs depends on the state, NPs in most states can do much more than the average patient might suspect. Drawing attention to the fact that you are a trust medical professional with many of the same privileges and responsibilities as a physician can be one route for patients who mistakenly think they won’t be able to get the treatment they need from an NP.
In fact, in 28 states, nurse practitioners now have full scope of practice, meaning there’s very little difference in what they can do and a physician can do.
For a full rundown of NP practice privileges by state, check out this guide, which covers NP practice questions like signing death certificates, parking permits, and prescription authority.