Opinion: Nurse practitioners a solution hidden in plain sight
Nurse practitioners are an important solution to challenges with primary care, writes Athabasca University president
Solutions to complex problems can sometimes be simple. Albertans know all too well that doing more and better with what you have already is a great response to adversity.
Permitting nurse practitioners to more fully provide the health care Albertans need, as the provincial government announced earlier this month, is necessary in a system still reeling from the challenges of the unpredicted and unpredictable global pandemic.
But while this move by the province complements other far more complex changes, such as health care re-organization, as changes go it’s a no-brainer.
Nurse practitioners have advanced clinical knowledge
Nurse practitioners are qualified registered nurses with additional high levels of post-registration education to take their skills to the next level.
Established for over 20 years, the credential “nurse practitioner” (NP) is a protected hallmark of advanced clinical knowledge and decision-making in assessments, diagnoses, prescribing, and disease management.
Why should patients care about this move to nurse practitioners? The province’s recent push bodes well for Albertans of all ages. Nursing is consistently identified internationally as the most trusted profession.
With some of Canada’s top providers of education for nurse practitioners, Alberta has an under-utilized but ready supply of over 850 of these most qualified nurses.
“Why should governments care about nurse practitioners? Fully harnessing the holistic care that Alberta’s nurse practitioners provide will mean better access to the highest quality care—especially for those most pinched by our health-care crisis, such as rural and Indigenous communities.”– Dr. Alex Clark, Athabasca University president
Research shows nurses provide quality care
In my own research area of heart health, there’s been rock-solid evidence for over 30 years that highly qualified nurses provide care as well or even better than physicians.
But while health care was and should remain a team sport, too often disciplinary protectionism from a staunch physician lobby eclipses patient need. It’s time to focus on what benefits patients most. We can’t afford not to.
Why should governments care about nurse practitioners? Fully harnessing the holistic care that Alberta’s nurse practitioners provide will mean better access to the highest quality care—especially for those most pinched by our health-care crisis, such as rural and Indigenous communities.
It will provide new and effective specialist support for neglected need, such as women challenged by menopause or children or adults with chronic disease.
Patients and communities are more likely to receive the support they need sooner, closer, and more conveniently.
Increasing access to health care
Sustainable health-care systems depend far less on more access to hospital care than accessible and effective specialist care provided in our homes and communities.
Nurse practitioners are an investment that increases access to specialist care for those in most need when and where they need it most.
Research shows this not only addresses patents needs better and sooner but also reduces the likelihood of avoidable and expensive hospitalizations. A massive win for sustainability is also a massive win for patients.
What should we all care about? We urgently need more nurse practitioners. Canada’s supply is aging fast and facing increased competition for their services.
“Athabasca University is Canada’s largest provider of nurse practitioners—one-third of the country’s nurse practitioners are our graduates. Every day we support the education of over 1,500 nurse practitioners nationwide using our unique online digital accessibility to provide each nurse with the opportunity work and live in their community while also studying at home.”
Funding needed to support more nurse practitioners
Funding is needed to support more registered nurses to become nurse practitioners with better pathways and incentives to make education quicker and easier.
Incentives will be vital to ensure that nurse practitioners continue to come from and reflect the communities they will care for in terms of ethnicity, affluence, and heritage. Special incentives are needed to support more nurses from rural and Indigenous communities become nurse practitioners.
We all must work together, including health providers and professionals, to ensure adequate and prompt availability of clinical practicum experiences for the increasing demand for nurse practitioners courses.
Educational models, such as those of Athabasca University, that can support students to study and then return to practice in their own communities are vital.
This column originally appeared in the Edmonton Journal. Read the original.