Nurse practitioner tending to family for primary medical needs
Health Topics

The benefits of seeing a nurse practitioner


December 19, 2018

What does a nurse practitioner do, and what are the possible advantages of seeing one?


Patients have more options than ever before when selecting a healthcare professional. One option? A nurse practitioner, who is an advanced practice registered nurse. Both primary care and specialty nurse practitioners are board-certified in their specialties. Nurse practitioners are licensed to treat and diagnose patients, order testing and write prescriptions. They can be a benefit to your healthcare needs by being available for consultation, evaluation, treatment and follow-up; seeing you for sick visits and well visits, and even being your family’s primary care provider.

We asked Melissa G. Davis, DNP, CNM, FNP, clinical director of Vanderbilt Nurse-Midwives and Primary Care Melrose and West End Women’s Health Center, as well as Nicole Mercer, CNM, FNP, to give us the details on what nurse practitioners do and how they can enhance the healthcare process for patients.


Can I see a nurse practitioner for primary care needs?

Nurse practitioners are an excellent resource for primary care, and are available throughout the Vanderbilt system, Mercer said. A nurse practitioner works with you on answering questions, organizing necessary screenings or tests, and facilitating care or appointments that go beyond the scope of primary care.

Nurse practitioners are also great at providing holistic care, and emphasizing prevention and overall health management, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. In that respect, they can become your go-to provider for whole-body health.

“The primary care nurse practitioner is someone who oversees your needs,” Davis explained. “As primary care providers in the Vanderbilt system, NPs can manage illness like the flu and chronic disease and help patients navigate getting into specialists or accessing different referrals when needed.”

Of course, Vanderbilt nurse practitioners can also help patients navigate healthcare outside the Vanderbilt system. However, Davis said having a “medical home,” where all your providers have access to your info at the touch of a button, benefits everyone involved.

“If someone has seen a specialist,” she explained, “we can pull it up and see the plan of care. Sometimes patients are more comfortable asking us questions than they were asking the specialist. We have access to all those notes and can go through it with them.”

Nurse practitioners often have the availability to schedule longer appointments with patients, Davis added, allowing for more time for patient education and building a valuable provider-patient relationship. You might find that you have more flexible appointment availability with a nurse practitioner, as well.


Can I see a nurse practitioner for a specialized healthcare need?

“Nurse practitioners can work as both general care providers and specialists, depending on their education and training,” Davis said. So you might encounter an NP in a specialty setting, like pediatrics or women’s health, for example.

The benefits of seeing a nurse practitioner in a specialty setting will be similar to that of the primary care world. You might have easier access to appointments, along with extended appointment timeframes, as well as benefit from having a care coordinator within that specialty.


How do nurse practitioners increase healthcare accessibility?

The United States is experiencing an increasing shortage in both primary care providers and specialists, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Nurse practitioners are poised to step in to fill gaps, as well as bolster care.

“I think nurse practitioners are going to be key for the healthcare shortage coming up because they can be trained and educated in a quicker fashion,” Davis said. For every four years of medical school, at least two rounds of nurse practitioners graduate, she explained.

Plus, nurse practitioners working within a healthcare system have access to physicians when questions or complications arise. Physicians are available to answer nurse practitioners’ questions or to help when a patient has a high-risk issue. “We have a pretty seamless route to escalate their care within Vanderbilt,” Davis said.

The healthcare world needs both nurse practitioners and physicians to serve patients. “Having an NP at Vanderbilt can increase general accessibility of care by way of care with them, as well as efficient routing to specialists, physical therapy, behavioral health, etc.,” Mercer said. She calls this cohesiveness “allied health.”

It’s important to have a primary care provider to oversee all of your healthcare needs. Click here to see the locations and options available for Vanderbilt Primary Care.