My first experience with a Nurse Practitioner (NP) was years ago, when I was just a new kid on the block. I was doing my fellowship in Movement Disorders and the NPs took me under their wing, kindly sharing their knowledge and expertise without judging me in moments when I didn’t know what to do. That humbled me and made me realize that neurologists don’t necessarily have the corner on the market of how to provide quality care.
Today, having Advanced Practice Providers (APPs) like NPs in my clinic has been invaluable. Nurses have always been more in tune to the day-to-day needs of our patients and to the resources necessary for them to feel safe at home and to fulfill their dreams and goals. As nurses step into a healthcare provider role as NPs, they bring that patient-first sensibility with them.
I don’t want to minimize the advances we’ve made in care, such as deep brain stimulation and pharmaceuticals, but there’s a lot we’ve learned that isn’t in that realm regarding the importance of connectedness. People want to feel like they’re part of a community and they have purpose in life even if they can’t do what they did before. Nurse Practitioners understand this, that care is a lot more than the science. They structure their patient visits with those questions front and center: “What is your biggest struggle?” they ask patients. “How are your days?” “How can we better educate you?” There’s hardly a neurologic disease where that’s not helpful.
Another reason I believe wholeheartedly in the importance of APPs being on any neurologic team is because they can increase access to care. We have an epidemic of Parkinson disease and it’s not the kind of disease where a doctor can be hands-off; it’s progressive and so we, as healthcare providers, need to see patients more frequently. When people with PD are struggling and need access to care, they can’t put off appointments. Nurse Practitioners can help us broaden access to care by meeting with patients and offering them the support they need.
As we celebrate Nurse Practitioner Week, I want to uplift their place on my team and in our larger network of care. Sometimes, doctors feel threatened by having APPs play a greater role in neurologic care or they underutilize them and their gifts. I believe, without a doubt, that NPs deserve space in our care system and, rather than threatening my role as a neurologist, they make me stronger. We are better together.