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The Nurse Practitioner: a new health care role

by Jamie Steel

An appointment at the Morton Community Healthcare Centre might not mean an appointment with your family doctor anymore, but that certainly doesn’t mean a drop in service.

“People were used to just seeing their physician,” says Bethann Handley, the Coordinator of the Chemong Family Health Team. “With the Family Health Team, the Nurse Practitioner collaborates with the doctor.”

Mary Walsh joined the Family Health Team at the Morton Community Healthcare Centre last fall as the Nurse Practitioner. Despite her decade of related education and the countless hours she has put towards obtaining the title, Walsh says most people are still unsure of what a Nurse Practitioner actually is.

“People were so used to seeing their doctor, I do spend a lot of time explaining my role,” says Walsh. “We’re trying to position ourselves as different from physicians, rather than mini doctors.”

Nurse Practitioners, according to Walsh, are more focused on health promotion and illness prevention. That being said, they can still order most diagnostic tests and prescribe medicine with few exceptions.

Walsh says she also does a lot of well-women tests and pre-natal work, something some women may not feel as comfortable with seeing their physician about.

Although Walsh is still relatively new to the Morton Family Healthcare Centre, the Nurse Practitioner role has been around for quite a while. Since 2005, according to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, 185 Family Health Teams have been operationalized.

The Ministry states that Family Health Teams consist of “family physicians, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, social workers, dietitians, and other professionals who work together to provide primary health care for their community.”

Furthermore, there are over 3 million Ontarians enrolled in Family Health Teams across the province, according the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.

“The role (of Nurse Practitioner) has become much more prominent, I think,” Walsh says. “The scope has really opened up.”

Handley says having Walsh as part of the team has helped the centre because she is able to work with all of the physicians.

“I think that I’ve helped to close some gaps,” Walsh says.

“It essentially increases access or improves access by having Mary work with the physicians,” Handley adds.

Walsh received her undergrad in Nursing in 2005 followed by her Masters in Counselling Psychology. She then proceeded to become a Nurse Practitioner after at least two years of nursing hours.

One of the best parts of her job, Walsh says is, “I have the luxury of being able to get to know the patients a little better.”

National Nursing Week is May 12-18, 2014.

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