The provider has received “advanced-level education in pharmacology, pathophysiology, and physical assessment, diagnosis, and management” and provides patient care in a medical home “in a holistic fashion including physical care, therapeutic treatments, education, and coordination of services.”

This quote comes from a recent story in Pediatric News about collaborative practice. Was the author offering a job description of a) a chiropractor, b) a nurse practitioner, c) a pediatric oncologist, or d) a primary care physician?

I think the description could easily be applied to a nurse practitioner or a physician. However, the author Cathy Haut, DNP, CPNP-PC, a nurse practitioner herself, was describing the qualifications of a nurse practitioner in primary care practice ( “Nurse practitioner/pediatrician collaboration: Try a pediatric health care/medical home model,” Pediatric News, November 2017). A major theme in Dr. Haut’s column is that the skills and training of a nurse practitioner can be complementary to those of a physician. She provides several examples of how such a complementary relationship can result in a collaboration that advances patient care, particularly in a medical home setting.

Based on my personal experience working with nurse practitioners, both in hospital and office settings, I wholeheartedly concur with Dr. Haut’s list of their qualifications and capabilities. My problem is that she doesn’t list, nor can I comfortably imagine, the additional skills that a physician should have in his or her toolbox to complete the complementary relationships in a primary care practice that Dr. Haut envisions.

From my perspective, nurse practitioners and primary care physicians share the same job description, the one I listed in the first paragraph of this column. They both provide face-to-face, usually hands-on, medical care. At that critical interface between patient and provider, how do their roles differ? What other skills does a physician need to complement those of a competent and already experienced nurse practitioner?

Does being a physician guarantee that he or she has more experience than a nurse practitioner? You know as well as I do that you finished your training pretty wet behind the ears, and the first 5 years or more of your practice career were when you really began to feel like a competent provider. If my child has an earache, I would probably be more comfortable, or at least as comfortable, with her seeing a nurse practitioner with 5 years of experience in a busy practice than a newly minted, board-eligible pediatrician.

Is the breadth of a physician’s training in medical school an asset? Does the 2-month rotation he or she did on the adult neurology service taking care of stroke victims give the physician an advantage when it comes to taking care of pediatric patients with asthma?

Actually, I can imagine a suite of skills that a physician might bring to a collaborative practice that a nurse practitioner may not have, or more likely may have chosen not to pursue. Those skills have little to do with direct patient care, but can be critical for survival in today’s medical care environment. Here I am thinking of things such as negotiating with third-party payers, and leading and/or administering the complexities of a medium-sized or larger medical group. Does having a degree from a medical school automatically mean that the graduate is a skilled leader or administrator?

I can envision that over time a physician and a nurse practitioner might create an arrangement in which one of them focuses on the patients with asthma and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and the other develops an expertise in breastfeeding management and picky eating. That kind of relationship fits my definition of complementary. However, a relationship in which the doctor is the boss and the nurse practitioner is not doesn’t feel complementary or collaborative to me.

Dr. Wilkoff practiced primary care pediatrics in Brunswick, Maine, for nearly 40 years. He has authored several books on behavioral pediatrics, including “How to Say No to Your Toddler.”

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