Expanding the Role of RNs and Advanced Practice Nurses

By Vance Hobbes

With the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in March 2012, some 30 million new patients have been able to access healthcare of which they were previously unable to. With health professionals already squeezed for time and unable to fit any more patients on their schedules, there must be some way of absorbing these additional patients into hospitals and clinics.

How will this be possible then? An immediate solution to this problem is to open the opportunity for registered nurses and advanced practice nurses to take on some of the responsibilities previously exclusive to doctors. Now I am certainly not suggesting these nurses should take over or even share the responsibilities of physicians, especially nothing in regards to serious medical operations or like procedures. But let’s delve a little deeper into this controversial issue of expanding the role of RNs and APNs, and find out where nurses could foot a few of those burdens.

RNs have the training to provide many high-quality primary care responsibilities that parallel the care a patient would receive from a physician. Although this is the case, state laws prevent many RNs from legally undertaking these tasks. Obviously the training of an RN and MD are considerably differentiated, but because of ACA and the flood of new patients into hospitals and other healthcare facilities, doctors must be open to the idea of expanding the role of the nurse to assume a bit of the their burden. Clearly there is a shortage of registered nurses already in the United States, but by allowing nurses a little more flexibility will maximize the utility of each nurse.

A master’s degree in nursing, as long as the nurse’s training has provided the education to write prescriptions and order tests, is sufficient to provide fillers for the primary care shortage we face today. I find it difficult to believe that many advanced practice nurses (APNs) utilize the full scope of their education. By under-utilizing highly-educated nurses, we as a society are simply asking to have a primary healthcare shortage. Nurses are a very cost-effective and quality resource at a healthcare institution’s disposal, and must be used accordingly to offset the high number of patients now entering our healthcare facilities.

It is a common fallacy that registered nurses don’t provide the leadership qualities of a seasoned physician, but this is simply not the case. Some of the most authoritative, innovative ideas I’ve come across have developed from the minds of APNs or RNs. Just because a nurse trains to be under the wing of a doctor does not mean a nurse is in any way somehow inferior. In fact, the minds and abilities of the nurse may often trump that of the doctor. But this must be exposed. We must be open to the idea of nurses being in the conversation of improving current systems. Institutional boards and committees must include nurses as well as doctors to produce the most comprehensive and well-developed solutions to complex systematic problems.

The roles of nursing professionals must change to adapt to the healthcare system we live under today. Obviously our national policy has changed regarding which people are offered care and insurance, and this is largely due to an absolutely archaic healthcare system this nation used to stand by. Adapting RNs and APNs to take on a greater responsibility is a must as well. As we have already seen a stagnant and unchanged healthcare system will never be able to adapt or conform to an ever-changing and dynamic American society.

Vance Hobbes is a freelance writer and former medical researcher. Hobbes writes about many facets of the medical field, and works with CompHealth. When he’s not writing the day away, he spends his free time tending to his prizewinning garden and attending any basketball game he can find.