Jessica Estes: Nurse Practitioners are a vital resource for quality, essential health care

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Imagine, for a moment, that where you lived dictated the quality of health care you received. Could you reside in an area devoid of primary care options, with health issues and no way to treat them? This imaginary scenario would be the reality for far more Kentuckians without the work of nurse practitioners.

November 12-18th marks National Nurse Practitioner Week. It is a time to showcase and appreciate the role of nurse practitioners and to discuss the reasons why they deserve this recognition, in Kentucky especially. Healthcare in our state is built on a foundation of unsung heroes, whose tireless work and expertise often go unnoticed. These heroes are nurse practitioners.

Nurse practitioners offer vital care, upon which a significant portion of the state relies. In a time when the din of questions about health care and health insurance have clouded the conversation, nurse practitioners provide consistent, reliable care.

In Kentucky, and particularly in regions with a deficit of health care access, nurse practitioners have emerged as an indispensable source of primary care. Kentucky has a significant number of Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs), which are geographical areas and populations where the number of primary care providers relative to the population is below the federal standards. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than 1 million Kentuckians reside in 87 HPSAs. In short, a vast portion of Kentucky’s population – nearly 25% – does not have the necessary access to primary care providers, creating a void of needed care.

Nurse practitioners are essential to quality care in Kentucky because of their willingness to practice across the Commonwealth, while emphasizing well-rounded, personalized treatment with education at its core. Research shows that nurse practitioners are far more likely to practice in rural areas and to provide care in a wider range of community settings. In Kentucky, nurse practitioners deliver care in all 120 Kentucky counties and practice in each of the HPSAs. As a result, Kentuckians who live in HPSAs rely on primary care nurse practitioners to deliver treatment. This expansive care, which covers urban, rural and suburban communities, is part of the reason why the American College of Physicians has recognized the need for nurse practitioners.

Nurse practitioners are extensively educated. All nurse practitioners obtain graduate degrees, advanced education, and clinical training. All licensed nurse practitioners earn at least a master’s degree, and Kentucky nurse practitioners are required to pass and maintain national certification as part of their licensure. Nurse practitioners earn every ounce of their excellent reputations, a fact that is demonstrated by the quality of their care and the opinions of their patients.

Decades of research demonstrate that nurse practitioners provide primary care within their scope of practice that is equivalent to that provided by physicians. In fact, research has shown time and time again that nurse practitioners spend more time with their patients and are more likely to follow-up with them.

Numerous studies convey that patient satisfaction soars with nurse practitioners, as they are more likely to offer education as part of treatment, provide more information and assure continuity of care. All of this research presents a clear picture of nurse practitioners providing essential primary care. Nurse practitioners consistently step up to the plate to build trusting relationships with patients and to deliver high-quality care with education and counseling, to ensure that patients not only receive the best possible treatment but also that they understand the nature of their conditions and how to maintain their health in the future.

Nurse practitioners have long acted as excellent partners in health for Kentuckians. With the role of nurse practitioners becoming increasingly important in all areas of our state, we are fortunate to have National Nurse Practitioner Week as a reminder of the contributions these unsung heroes make.

Jessica L. Estes, DNP, APRN is president of the Kentucky Coalition of Nurse Practitioners and Nurse-Midwives

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