When Your Doctor Is Booked, Try an N.P. or P.A.

Katherine Cork's picture
By Katherine Cork on August 9, 2019

When you go to your doctor’s office, do you sometimes see a provider with N.P. or P.A. after their name?

In 2010, the Affordable Care Act recognized both nurse practitioners (N.P.) and physician assistants (P.A.) as primary care providers. As demand for health care grows in the U.S., these advanced care practitioners (ACPs) will become more and more important.

N.P.s and P.A.s are an integral part of the care team at Carilion Clinic, where primary care offices use the "medical home" model to coordinate patient care.

The first physician assistants were actually Navy Corpsmen. According to the American Academy of P.A.s, the profession began in 1965 as a solution for the shortage of primary care physicians. P.A.s are trained in generalist medicine and can transfer between environments and specialties; there are more than 115,000 P.A.s nationwide.

The first program for N.P.s also began in 1965 to bring patient-centered, accessible health care to communities across the country. According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, there are currently more than 234,000 nurse practitioners in the U.S. They are trained in the nursing model and usually specialize in one main area of health care.

ACPs are licensed and certified. Both N.P.s and P.A.s diagnose, treat and prescribe medications. And both are valuable members of your care team.

As a teaching organization, Carilion Clinic offers ACP fellowships in primary care and many specialties, such as orthopaedics, urgent care, rural health and surgery.

"For a long time, ACPs fought for inclusion and recognition as providers," said Randy Howell, a P.A. with Carilion Clinic Emergency Medicine. “Now that recognition is growing, the way that ACPs improve health care is much more appreciated than it used to be—and rightfully so."

Joel Bashore, a P.A. in Carilion Clinic Emergency Medicine, adds: "ACPs make it possible for us to see more patients and optimize the quality of care we give, and there is a lot of data and research that shows patients are very satisfied with the care they get from a P.A. or an N.P.”

The number of ACPs in health care is growing, and the likelihood is that you will visit one—or many. So if your doctor's calendar is full, ask if an N.P. or P.A. is available.

For more information about these important health care providers, visit the American Association of Nurse Practitioners and American Academy of Physician Assistants.