When it comes to fixing Nevada’s well-documented doctor shortage, much of the attention has focused on the opening of UNLV’s medical school and the expansion of physician residency options in Southern Nevada. But there is another, often-overlooked piece of the state’s healthcare puzzle.
More specifically, advanced practice registered nurses, or APRNs. These medical professionals, who have at least a master’s degree and have worked as registered nurses, are formally trained to provide much of the same care that a standard doctor does. Over the past six years, the number of APRNs in Nevada has more than doubled and the rate of growth continues to be strong, offering hope for the future of healthcare access across the state.
Prior to 2013, APRNs were required to work under the supervision of a physician. That meant any nurse practitioner who wanted to operate her own practice had to sign a contract with a physician who would often sign off on charts despite not being an actual part of the practice. Such contracts were often costly. Furthermore, nurse practitioners couldn’t sign off on certain forms — from death certificates to paperwork approving a handicap placard. That lead to patients dealing with delays or duplication of service by having to schedule appointments with a physician.
Despite some pushback, which included a touch of wild speculation that it would lead to nurses attempting neurosurgery, state lawmakers removed the supervisory provision during the 2013 Legislative Session, essentially granting them full autonomy as health care professionals. The prevailing assumption was that APRNS — especially nurse practitioners — could help fill health care gaps across the state, particularly in rural areas that have the most difficult time recruiting doctors.