Role Refinement

John Nelson, MD, FHM, FACP

Physician assistants (PAs) and nurse practitioners (NPs), which I will refer to as non-physician providers (NPPs), are popular members of hospitalist practices and have a lot to offer. I think HM groups without NPPs should think about whether adding them would be valuable.

My experience suggests there are many different ways NPPs can contribute to an effective practice. But the optimal NPP role, one that is good for patient care, economically sound for the practice, and satisfying for both the NPP and the MD hospitalists, varies significantly from one practice to the next. I’ve worked with a number of practices that fail to achieve all these goals for a variety of reasons, but a common theme is that the MD hospitalists seem to think the NPPs have been provided for free. As a result, the MDs, and perhaps to some degree the NPPs, feel little or no obligation to develop the optimal NPP job description.

This team approach to rounding works well for our group. The hospitalists and NPPs work together to care for a set group of patients. The hospitalist and the NPP meet in the morning to divide the workload based on acuity, geographic location, and urgency. Sharing a common patient load helps with the common hospitalist dilemma of having to be in two places at the same time.

A popular role for NPPs is one very similar to that of the MD hospitalist (e.g., the NPP has a team of patients and rounds and admits daily). That might work well, but for reasons I’ve discussed previously (see “The 411 on NPPs,” September 2008, p. 61), many practices should at least consider other roles for NPPs. One alternative would be to have the NPP work an afternoon-to-night shift (e.g., 3 to 11 p.m.) to handle admissions and “crosscover.” Another option is for the NPP to essentially “own” a component of the practice, such as medical consults for orthopedic patients.

Whatever role is chosen, it must be one that provides the NPP career satisfaction. Over the last few years, I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with Ryan Genzink, PA-C, at various SHM meetings. He essentially is a career hospitalist, and I’ve found him to be a thoughtful guy. At HM09 in Chicago, he and I spoke for a while about NPP roles that provide value and career satisfaction. So I’ve invited him to share his thoughts here.

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