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Dear Dr. Gott: I have a question I believe many people, especially women, have. I was scheduled for my yearly physical by my physician recently, but, when I arrived at his office, the receptionist told me he was way behind on his appointments and that I would be seeing his nurse practitioner.

Dr. Gott

I went into her office, where she did the physical, read my lab reports and made a few suggestions regarding my health. I liked her very much. She seemed thorough and took time with me. I never saw the doctor.

I would choose to continue with the nurse practitioner as my regular health care person but don’t know if this is appropriate and would like your opinion. I want to know how educated these individuals are and if they are qualified to diagnose and prescribe medications and remedies.

Dear Reader: A nurse practitioner (NP, APN or APRN) is a registered nurse (RN) who has completed advanced education and training in specialty areas (often family practice, pediatrics or obstetrics/gynecology as midwives) and diagnosis and management of most common (including chronic) disorders. She has at minimum a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BS or BSN), but most professionals, employers and some states require a master’s degree (MS or MSN) and board certification in the chosen specialty. Nurse practitioners can also be accredited through a national board exam similar to some doctors. This changes the letters after their names according to the specialty, such as CPNP for Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner or CFNP for Certified Family Nurse Practitioner.

Nurse practitioners must follow the regulations of the Nurse Practice Act for the state in which they work. They can be licensed in all 50 states and have the ability to dispense most medications. Some states require a physician to co-sign the prescription as an extra safety precaution.

Most of what doctors can do, nurse practitioners can do. They can diagnose, treat and monitor most illnesses, injuries, infections and chronic diseases (hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol and more). NPs can also take medical histories; perform physicals; order, interpret and report lab results, X-rays and EKGs, and much more. They can even work without the aid of a physician; however, most work in conjunction with one or have an affiliation. Nurse practitioners can also serve as primary health-care providers.

I urge anyone interested in learning more about nurse practitioners to visit the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners’ Web site at www.aanp.org or the American College of Nurse Practitioners’ Web site at www.acnpweb.org.

Dr. Peter H. Gott is a retired physician and the author of the book, Dr. Gott’s No Flour, No Sugar Diet, available at most chain and independent bookstores, and the recently published “Dr. Gott’s No Flour, No Sugar Cookbook.”

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