Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A REAL doctor!

I had one of those experiences last week that I know is not specific to military medicine. I am sure it happens to our civilian counterparts, to other NPs and PAs. And I know it happens on a near daily basis at military treatment facilities worldwide. As I walked into the exam room and introduced myself as a nurse practitioner, the patient announced she was “forced” to come to our clinic and “wasn't allowed to see a real doctor” downtown. I was slightly taken aback. Here I was, running on time, in a pretty good mood and ready to assess and treat to the best of my abilities, and then WHAM. I took a deep breath and realized she wasn’t slamming NPs; she had a grudge against military providers, regardless of education background.

Some people think we are on active duty because we can’t cut it in the “real world,” that we are somehow subpar when compared to our civilian peers. And, people do sense a lack of control, since they have to enroll with a provider at a military clinic, requirements put in place by TRICARE (basically, our military HMO/PPO/insurance provider, depending on current terminology). In reality, we are all credentialed and/or certified in our specialty and really have two specialties to maintain, our civilian requirements and our military ones. I honestly believe military medicine should be it’s own specialty, since we have to know how various military-specific careers affect disease processes. And don’t even get me started on deployment medicine—who needs malaria prophylaxis, who is more resilient and able to tolerate the stress of deployment, etc. I could go on and on!

So, what did I say to that patient that day? Basically, a toned-down version of the above. That she is actually lucky, that we are a unified practice of providers all credentialed in our fields, who “get” the difficulties of being a military family. Then I asked, “What can I do for you today?” and we progressed on with the visit. I hope it was a positive experience for her and she won’t be so opposed to military providers in the future. Time will tell.

As NPs, that is all we can do; try to show the world—a patient at a time—what we bring to the table and what we have to offer. And, to hope that, over time, the response won’t be, “I wasn’t able to see a real doctor” but that patients become more accepting and some will even prefer to see us for what we have to offer!

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.


  1. Sorry you had to deal with that! I am lucky in some respects because I work in a small rural health office. My patients are happy just to have someone there at all! We do have a doctor that has been with us for the last year and he is getting busier but most still chose to see me (the NP!). Love it!

  2. I think once patients see what we bring to the table they are fine. We struggle in the military with the belief that "downtown" is better... Many find it isn't better - just different (the grass isn't always greener...).