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Dish soap. Paper towels. Dog food.
A quick strep test and antibiotic prescription from a health care professional. Heather Aycock sees it every day at her Mercy Hospital-sponsored clinic inside Walmart at Memorial Road and Pennsylvania Avenue in Edmond.
The advanced-practice registered nurse handles everything from the routine coughs and sore throats to chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. And she handles it all from the checkout line to the front door. With no doctor on site, it’s just her and a medical assistant.
Mercy opened the Edmond clinic in June 2010, and Aycock says she’s been busy.
“We really are serving that immediatecare need for people when they’re not able to get in with their primary provider,” she says. “I see a broad spectrum of patients, but a lot of working women 30 to 50. With their obligations, they’re the last ones to take care of their health.”
Aycock received her advance practice license in January 2009, as nurse practitioners are becoming more common in today’s health care setting.
“It really was just a natural progression for me,” she says. “I wanted to teach nursing, as well, and that required going back to school and getting my master’s degree. But I didn’t want to lose touch with my patients.”
That hasn’t been a problem. More and more facilities are utilizing nurse practitioners for multiple reasons. For starters, they are cheaper on the budget than physicians. Second, with prescriptive authority, there’s little nurse practitioners can’t do in a clinic setting. And third, there just aren’t enough doctors to go around.
Best-guess estimates by the Association of American Medical Colleges is that the U.S. will be short 150,000 doctors in the next 15 years.
Sherry Davis has been a nurse practitioner for 13 years and is an instructor at the University of Oklahoma College of Nursing. A nurse for 10 years, she went back to school to pursue a job that gave her more autonomy.
She says schools can’t turn out nurse practitioners fast enough, noting OU recently had nearly 200 applicants for its nurse practitioner programs, which include tracks in family practice, pediatrics and adult care.
Less than 50 slots were open. “I think because of the changes in health care that are coming and have already taken place, not only nurses see the value of nurse practitioners, but other health care providers and people in the industry see the value of nurse practitioners,” she says.
Linda Fanning, chief nursing officer for Mercy Health System and president of Oklahoma Nurses Association, says she couldn’t agree more.
“The medical profession is becoming creative in trying to offer health care with convenience and ease. Nurse practitioners are a big part of the health care team,” Fanning says. “They are just now starting to extend into territories that are different.
“The most exciting aspect I’ve seen lately is the use of nurse practitioners in tele-medicine. I think we have just started to explore various ways of tapping into the talent, expertise and professionalism of a nurse practitioner. They are in physician clinics, emergency rooms, hospital settings, retail clinics, schools, rural care management and private businesses, just to name a few.”
Davis works in a physician’s clinic in Norman. She says her opportunities now are limitless.
“I think there are going to be more and more opportunities for nurse practitioners to practice both collaboratively in health care teams, as well as independently in rural areas because of the shortage of primary care physicians,” she says. “That’s a perfect opportunity for nurse practitioners to be utilized.”