By Kathy Hubbard
Before we start our conversation about nurse practitioners and their role in your healthcare, it might be a good idea to start with a little history of nursing. The word “nurse” comes from the Latin word “nutrire” which means to suckle or nourish.
The definition of a nurse as “a person who takes care of the sick” was first recorded in English in the 1580s. But, nursing (as in caring for the ill) as a vocation started long before that. Wet nurses go back even further.
Wikipedia says that a Hindu text circa 100 B.C. states that a “good medical practice requires a patient, physician, nurse, and medicines, with the nurse required to be knowledgeable, skilled at preparing formulations and dosage, sympathetic towards everyone, and clean.”
As Christianity flourished, so did nurses. In 1700 France, the Daughters of the Holy Spirit played a central role in healthcare. “The nuns provided comprehensive care for the sick poor on their patrons’ estates, acting not only as nurses, but took on expanded roles as physicians, surgeons, and apothecaries,” Wikipedia says.
Flash forward past Florence Nightingale (we all know her and how she changed nursing during the Crimean War) to 1965. That’s when Dr. Loretta Ford and Dr. Henry Silver developed the first nurse practitioner program at the University of Colorado.
“On March 23, 2004, Governor Dirk Kempthorne signed HB 659 into law eliminating the requirement for physician supervision of the advanced practice nurse thirty two years after the first licensing law for nurse practitioners in Idaho,” Nurse Practitioners of Idaho’s website says.
So, why am I telling you this? I recently met with Cynthia Dalsing, MSN/NP who during the course of our conversation said that she thought there was some confusion about the role of nurse practitioners and what they can and cannot do for their patients.
The simple description of a nurse practitioner is a registered nurse who has extended his or her education by obtaining either a master’s or doctorate degree in nursing. Classwork for a nurse’s field of specialization will also include courses in pharmacology and physiology.
It’s important to note there are other types of advanced practice nursing degrees, including certified nurse midwife (CNM), certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) and clinical nurse specialist.
Dalsing specializes in women’s health and adds Certified Nurse Midwife to the alphabet soup after her name. With her partner, Tabitha Barron, MS/NP, Dalsing manages a heavy patient load.
The American Association of Nurse Practitioners explains that “a nurse practitioner can provide a full range of primary, acute and specialty health care services including ordering and performing and interpreting diagnostic tests such as lab work and x-rays.”
They diagnose and treat acute and chronic conditions, can prescribe medications and other treatments, provide counseling and education on disease prevention and healthy lifestyle choices.
Nurse practitioners in Sandpoint practice in a wide range of specialties either in private practice or in a clinical setting.
“Bonner General Health sets an example in this community. Bonner General Immediate Care team is led by two nurse practitioners,” Dalsing said. “There is a lot of diversity in the nurse practitioner community as we have those who focus on oncology, psyche and mental health, cardiology, orthopedics, pediatrics, asthma and allergy as well as OB/GYN.
“NPs help staff our volunteer free clinic and serve in a number of volunteer community roles to promote health in the community. They’re everywhere!” she said.
We’ve talked about the past, what’s in store for the future of nursing? There are currently close to 250,000 nurse practitioners licensed in the U.S. The National Institutes of Health predicts that number will double by 2020 with close to 85 percent of them specializing in primary care.
The future will include recruiting more nurses, maximizing resources and utilizing technology to facilitate “seamless care that is centered on the patient.” NIH envisions teams that include “patients and their families, and healthcare providers including nurses, physicians, pharmacists, physical and occupational therapists, medical assistants and social workers.”
It looks to me like the future has already arrived in Bonner County thanks to all of our excellent healthcare providers.
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.