Nurse practitioners helping with access to care, health education

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Published: December 15,2008

Nurse practitioners are playing an increasing role in access to healthcare in Mississippi. With their ranks growing, they want the public to understand what they do.

The organization’s official job description states that nurse practitioners are high-quality healthcare providers who practice in primary care, ambulatory, acute care, specialty care and long-term care. They are registered nurses with specialized advanced education and clinical competency to provide health and medical care for diverse populations in a variety of settings. A graduate degree is required for entry-level practice for this role that was created in 1965.

In Mississippi, nurse practitioners are licensed to diagnose and treat diseases, order lab tests and write prescriptions for non-controlled and controlled pharmaceuticals, according to Jackie Williams, director of advanced placement on the board of the Mississippi Nurses Association. She is also a nurse practitioner who works with a woman’s specialty clinic in Jackson.

“In many states, nurse practitioners work under different guidelines and can have autonomous practices, referring patients to physicians as needed. The need for access to healthcare has allowed that, and that access to care is what we’re interested in for Mississippi,” she said. “We’re not working to change the law in Mississippi at this time, but we are trying to educate the public about what we can do. We are trained to work on our own, but most people don’t know that.”

Not finding a collaborating physician can be a big obstacle, causing a nurse practitioner to not open a clinic, close one or limit its hours.

“We work in rural areas where there are not enough physicians. In urban areas, we can spend more time with patients and we work in specialty areas,” Williams said. “I love my patients. I get to see them again and again and really get to know them.”

She says nurse practitioners have not lost the attention to education that is so helpful to patients.

These days, some nurse practitioners are specializing, such as K.C. Arnold of Ocean Springs. With a string of degrees after her name and experience as an Air Force nurse, she opened The Diabetes Center as an adult and acute care nurse practitioner after Hurricane Katrina blew away the clinic where she had worked.

“It was a time I was down on my knees wondering what to do,” she recalls. “The satellite clinic where I worked closed and my house was damaged. I was offered a job in Biloxi, but the bridge was out and I was in Ocean Springs.”

Arnold took a huge risk and went out on her own with several local physicians as collaborators. They knew of her work and expertise, especially in the area of diabetes and the education these patients need. One of these physicians is always available to confer as needed.

“I worked with diabetes patients in the Air Force. It’s my calling, and education is the best thing I bring to the practice,” she says. “It’s an area where a nurse practitioner can really help. I treat and manage diabetes. I believe in giving the total picture to patients.”

Arnold’s clinic started with one nurse and now has a staff of five, and she does her own billing. In 2007, she was named Nurse Practitioner of the Year for Mississippi and Nurse Practitioner Entrepreneur of the Year by a national professional magazine. She lectures nationally, too, on the role of nurse practitioners and diabetes education.

Most of her referrals come from patient-to-patient word of mouth. “When people have had exposure to nurse practitioners, they understand our role. It started at the grass roots level, and that’s where we’re filling the biggest role,” she says. “I would like to see better cooperation and collaboration with physicians for the treatment of patients. Let’s take care of these patients.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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