The number of nurse practitioners is increasing in Mississippi. Their role in health care is also increasing as these highly trained nursing professionals are specializing and giving patients a higher level of care.
According to Gayle Harrell, president of the Mississippi Nurses Association, there are 3,300 advanced practicing nurses and approximately 2,800 to 2,900 of those are nurse practitioners. “Most of our nurse practitioners are family care providers, but many work in different areas of health care,” she said. “The newest specialty that’s been given legislative approval is clinical nurse specialist.”
Harrell, who has been a nurse practitioner since 2003 and is a wound care specialist, lists the nurse practitioner practice areas as family, acute care, midwifery and certified nurse anesthetist,. All types of nurse practitioners require training at the Master’s degree level or above.
By Mississippi law, nurse practitioners must have a collaborating physician. Harrell feels this law is a barrier that keeps some nurse practitioners from practicing in rural areas where they are greatly needed. “There are not enough physicians in rural areas, and there is absolutely more need in these areas,” she said. “However, every county in Mississippi has been designated as underserved for health care; a lot of that is due to the highly concentrated diseases such as diabetes that we have.”
The state has five nursing schools with nurse practitioner programs, graduating about 150 nurse practitioners each year. Compare that to only 20 medical students graduating in family practice specialties each year.
Higher-level trained medical specialists are not as likely to act as collaborating physicians for nurse practitioners.
Harrell says the acceptance of nurse practitioners as valuable health care professionals is growing. “Hospitals are open to accepting them as are young doctors just entering practice,” she said.
“New doctors coming into the state often ask if they will have nurse practitioner support. As in many Southern states, change is slow.”
The Nurses Association did not present a bill to the state legislature this year, but Harrell is hopeful that a bill will be presented next year that will allow more nurse practitioners to work in rural areas. “We’re trying to work with the State Medical Association,” she said.
“We’re all trying to move forward.”
She lists the positives that nurse practitioners bring to the state’s health care. “They’re very holistic in their care; they keep up with continuing education; and they give good economic value to communities because they buy buildings, employ others and pay taxes,” she said.
George Murphy and his wife, Rebecca, are both nurse practitioners. He works on a rotating schedule in two rural hospitals – the Edwin Ozua Hospital and Jagannath Sherigar Hospital – that are part of Northwest Regional in Clarksdale. He’s been a family nurse practitioner for 16 years, worked in a private clinic in Rosedale and has been a hospitalist the past seven years. He gets a lot of satisfaction by helping people in their time of need.
“I was born in Clarksdale, lived away and came back because there is such a need here,” he said.
“A lot of health care professionals won’t come here, but I find it rewarding. I spend time with patients and approach them like they’re my family members.”
Lamenting the need for more physicians in rural areas, Murphy said, “Everybody deserves health care, but who will come set up a medical practice in Clarksdale and Rosedale? We have trouble recruiting doctors. All the ones we have, except two, come on visas and don’t stay.”
Murphy believes nurse practitioners are filling the void in health care but would like to see the state’s collaborating-physician law changed. “It should be changed,” he said. “Nurse practitioners will send patients to specialists as needed so they don’t have to have a collaborating doctor.”
Mary Smith is a Starkville-based nurse practitioner who makes geriatric house calls. “It started from a need I saw, beginning with my own grandparents,” she said. “I began the program on my own but recently had an opportunity to collaborate with the Golden Triangle Planning District.”
Smith is now an employ of this economic development organization and covers seven counties as she serves the elderly with house calls. “I can draw on the Planning District’s resources and programs, and we can bill Medicaid and Medicare,” she said. “Patients are extremely happy with the service we provide. They like the amount of time we spend with them.”
She points out that her service does not compete with home health care, which does not provide skilled nursing care as she does. Her service has a collaborating physician as required by law, but is different in that it refers patients to their own physicians as needed.
“The doctors in the area have been very positive and supportive,” she said. “Sometimes we realize patients need hospice care, or we may see hazards in the home that we can point out.”
Smith, who’s been a nurse practitioner since 1999, sees this specialized nursing as making a big contribution to health care in the state by providing access that many patients have never had before. “And it’s quality care,” she added.
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