When I called Linda Pellico, associate professor at the Yale School of Nursing and director of the Graduate Entry Prespecialty in Nursing program, she didn't mince words. "Lifting the barriers on the scope of practice will solve the health care dilemma," she said, pointing me to the nearly 700-page 2010 report by the Institute of Medicine called "The Future of Nursing." The document, co-authored by Donna Shalala, former Health and Human Services secretary under President Clinton, recommends that nurse practitioners practice independently, without restrictions, to the "full extent of their education and training."
The nurse practitioners I've worked with as colleagues (I'm a primary care doctor, and I've practiced in clinics in Baltimore, New York and Connecticut), and those who have taken care of me have been pretty awesome. When I was pregnant, I saw a middle-aged lanky nurse midwife who had a wry and down-to-earth sense of humor. He didn't exude that sense of impatience that you get with so many doctors, that feeling that you're holding him up from something more important. When I have questions about my very old patients, many of whom have dementia complicated by agitation or insomnia and who are not responsive to my usual bag of tricks, my go-to person is not a psychiatrist — she's a gerontological nurse practitioner.
For some doctors, a larger number of independent nurse practitioners would be great news: John Schumann, a general internist who runs the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa internal medicine residency program, told me that he welcomes all hands on deck: "We should be happy when people from other career lines want to work in primary care. Primary care is hard and undervalued, and doctors should not have a monopoly on it."