Will advanced practice nurses (APRNs) replace doctors?

Can Masters Degree Prepared Nurses Fill the Gap in Doctor Shortage?

Slide14I still vividly remember the look of confusion when I told people that I chose to go to nursing school instead of pursuing a medical degree because I believed (and still do) that nurses play just as vital a role in the healthcare system as doctors.

“But, if you’re smart enough to be a doctor, why settle for being just a nurse?” they often asked. I know these neighbors, acquaintances, and family members didn’t intend any ill will by asking the questions, but they certainly highlighted a societal issue where nurses are still perceived as distinctly less than doctors.

The days of exclusively female nurses in starched white uniforms changing bedpans in an open ward may be largely behind us, but the old stereotypes surrounding the nursing role are certainly alive and well.

The truth is that in 2016 nurses are highly trained clinicians with more autonomy and a larger scope of practice than ever before. While an associates degree or certificate program is the minimum educational requirement to begin working as a registered nurse, many nurses are going back to school to obtain degrees at the masters or even doctorate level. This increase in demand for highly specialized, educated nurses is the strongest indicator of how the nursing role is progressing to encompass much more than medication administration, bathing, and toileting.

Nurses who earn an MSN degree fall into several categories, perhaps the most well known of which is the nurse practitioner (NP). NPs choose a specialty such as pediatrics, family, psychiatric, or women’s health and enroll in either an acute or primary track in graduate school.

Nurse anesthetists are highly sought after, very well compensated masters prepared nurses who manage sedation and anesthesia in a surgical setting. Other available masters degree options include education, administration, clinical nurse specialist, case management or informatics. Doctorate options are either the research heavy PhD or the clinically focused DNP. Many schools offer hybrid programs that incorporate multiple specialties into one course of study.

Will advanced practice nurses (APRNs) replace doctors?

The short version of the answer to this complicated question is NO. Earning a graduate degree does not mean that nurses are able to replace the depth of knowledge and expertise that specialist doctors possess after 7 or more years of residency and fellowship training. One area APRNs are able to help alleviate the pressure of the increasing doctors shortage is by managing the various issues that pop up over the patient’s entire course of illness and recovery.

More Free Market Healthcare Delivery Options are providing physicians with better career options. Concierge Medicine, DPC, Ideal Medical Practice Models, to name three ... INFOGRAPHIC ... Source: The DPC Journal (C) 2015

More Free Market Healthcare Delivery Options are providing physicians with better career options. Concierge Medicine, DPC, Ideal Medical Practice Models, to name three … INFOGRAPHIC … Source: The DPC Journal (C) 2015

For example, while a NP would not replace a surgeon in the operating room, they are more than qualified to assess wound healing and tweak management plans accordingly. This frees doctors’ valuable time to see more patients while NPs are able to go in depth to find solutions.

The 2010 Institute of Medicine report ‘The Future of Nursing’ contains the following 4 key messages that lay the groundwork for how nursing roles should continue to evolve to adapt to the needs of a growing and aging population:

  1. Nurses should practice to the full extent of their education and training.

  2. Nurses should achieve higher levels of education and training through an improved education system that promotes seamless academic progression.

  3. Nurses should be full partners, with physicians and other health care professionals, in redesigning health care in the United States.
  4. Effective workforce planning and policy making require better data collection and an improved information infrastructure.

While doctors continue to focus on diagnosis and interventions, nurses at every level are there to coordinate the daily-lived experience of their patients. As the healthcare system continues to grow and change, nurses will play an integral role in implementing creative solutions to tricky problems.

Nurses will never completely replace the existing role of doctors, because they’re meant for so much more. Nurses hold the key to changing the world, one bedside at a time.


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