While spending a summer taking care of her mother-in-law, who was ill with colon cancer, Lynne Allen, MN, ARNP, heard her calling loud and clear. “I thought, ‘Wow, I can do this,’ ” she says. “A lot of people can’t do this.”
Allen had completed a year of nursing school right after high school but never finished. So she decided to go back to school and earn a nursing degree. She graduated from the University of Washington’s Adult Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Program in 2001 and later landed a job at Columbia Basin Hematology and Oncology, a private practice in Kennewick, Wash.
At the time, a then-burgeoning hospitalist group based in Brentwood, Tenn., was looking to recruit nurses. Cogent Healthcare made Allen an offer. The idea of working in a hospital where doctors would be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, intrigued Allen. “I was a house supervisor in grad school and always remember thinking, ‘If only I had a physician in here, I could take care of this problem in two minutes,’ ” she says.
Allen accepted the offer and went to work in Cogent’s nonphysician clinical development program. Last year, she returned to Columbia Basin, where she makes hospitalist rounds four times a week at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland, Wash. Allen, the newest member of Team Hospitalist, recently spoke with The Hospitalist about the unique perspective nurse practitioners (NPs) offer HM.
Question: What do you like about working with hospitalists?
Answer: I like the teamwork involved. I really like going in the morning and seeing that the nurses cared for the patients all night and know what is going on. I like knowing that they can feel comfortable calling me about what they need and making a difference. In terms of hospital medicine, just because [a patient] stays a long time doesn’t mean they are getting the quality of care they need. There are other issues involved with that, especially in cancer patients. They are afraid to go home, afraid of dying. If you have a patient with cancer or COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease] and they are probably not going to live as long as they would normally, you begin to talk to them about their goals for themselves, in terms of quality of life.
Q: How do you initiate that conversation?
A: Medicare has made it very easy, because every patient that comes in should be asked if they have a living will, so you bring that subject up. Most people, when they are dying, they know it. The rest of the family is surprised, but the patient knows it. Sometimes you just bring it up point-blank.
Q: Why does HM present an opportunity for NPs?
A: I think workforce is one of the issues. I think there are a lot of nurses out there who have worked in a hospital and love that acute-care environment. It is very different than working in a clinic. I do both right now, and there is such a difference in what you need to know about your patients and how you treat them.
Q: How is it different?
A: When you are in an outpatient center, [patients] are there and you are probably giving them meds if they are getting chemotherapy and need some support. In an inpatient setting, they are there all the time. It’s a 24/7 need for support. I see this as another special area NPs can take. It’s in the stage of infancy, and it will grow.
Q: Do you think your background in nursing has helped you interact better with patients?
A: Yes. It is part of “who” nurses are. I really enjoy being able to take care of the patients that need the open communication, because it does help them.
Q: What unique perspective do NPs bring to HM?
A: I think nurses are taught to look at the whole patient. We are not taught to specifically say, “This patient has these symptoms, this disease process, this treatment.” … They have family. They have social issues. They have spiritual issues. [It all plays] into their disease process and their treatment process.
Q: What’s the one thing about NPs that most hospitalists don’t get?
A: We are trained to practice independently. In my state, Washington, I can be a completely independent practitioner. We are also taught to know when to consult or collaborate with a physician. I think sometimes physicians don’t recognize that or understand that. They think that we just want to be more independent. HM is a team effort, and we are willing to be part of the team with an equal partnership.
Q: What are some of the issues that come up between NPs and hospitalists?
A: Physicians are not trained to delegate. They are trained that you are in control, you are the one in charge of this patient’s care, you will dictate what goes on with this patient. Medicare and Medicaid require an attending physician, so for a physician to put [his or her] name on there and trust someone else to assess and develop a care plan is hard for them. And I can’t blame them.
Give it a chance, work together, and develop that relationship. Don’t expect it to be there right at day one. And it might not even be six months, but you need to be open-minded and willing to work with someone who is willing to work with you, and not just think it is about giving orders.
Q: What qualities should hospitalists look for in hiring NPs?
A: They should look for someone who has actually worked in a hospital, who is interested in working on a team, who is interested in developing their own capacity or intellectual ability to take care of patients—and recognize that there is going to be a learning curve there. They should also look for someone who is pleasant and who seems to fit in with the team. TH
Stephanie Cajigal is associate editor of The Hospitalist.