Why Going to the Doctor isn’t Always Your Best Option

Deciphering Which Medical Professionals Provide What Services

Cough, cough, sniffle, cough. UGH!!! Being sick is the WORST!! It seems like my husband and I spent the entire month of January passing the same cold back and forth to each other and it was awful!! Fortunately, I think that we are both starting to get back to our normal, healthy selves and neither of us ended up needing to see a doctor for this particular round of ick. Still…being sick sucks and it sucks even more when you know that you should go see a doctor but dread the thought of appointment scheduling hassles, crowded, germ infested waiting rooms, sitting (nearly naked) in a cold examining room, having to make a separate trip to go pick up a prescription…etc. etc. etc..

The last time I was sick enough to drag myself to a doctor, I thought to myself, “there has got to be something better than waiting an hour and a half to see a doctor for seven minutes before getting shuffled out the door and on my way to a pharmacy”–and guess what…there is! 

Of course, there are times when you absolutely must see a doctor (ummm…brain surgery for example) but did you know that there are many, many services that can be performed by others in the medical field? Now, when I am sick, instead of hassling for an appointment with my primary care doctor (who is always so busy!) I head in to see my friend Lisa who is a Nurse Practitioner at a small clinic in my town. She is always able to get me scheduled much more quickly and I have yet to have a health issue that she hasn’t been able to help me out with.

If you are curious about what services are offered by other medical professionals besides a doctor, here’s a quick rundown for you to use as a reference…

A Healthy Dose of Help–Who Does What in the Medical Community

1.) Nurse Practitioner: I’ve already talked about my experience with a Nurse Practitioner so let’s start here. N.P.’s can basically be viewed as doctors in nurses’ garb. They really are that advanced and good news–they are soon to be everywhere because primary care N.P. students are now graduating at three times the rate of Medical Doctors.

If you’re worried about qualifications–don’t be. NP.’s are required to have a Master’s or Doctorate degree in nursing and up to 700 hours of supervised, on-the-job training, and there are so, so many services that they can offer. Have a dislocated shoulder? Yep, they can fix that. Pink eye? Yep, that too. N.P.’s can perform physical exams (including Pap/Pelvic for the gals or Prostate for the guys), order (and interpret) X-rays, run blood work (and check the results) and order medications for injuries or infections (and in most states, N.P.’s can prescribe nearly every other kind of drug). N.P.’s are also able to treat chronic conditions like diabetes and asthma and can carry out (and interpret) complex diagnostic tests which may even include biopsies.

Best of all, in many states, N.P.’s are able to run their own clinics or practices without a doctor’s oversight which means greater accessibility to care. It is also interesting to note that surveys show that patients feel as though N.P.’s spend more time asking questions and offering advice than Medical Doctors. Additionally, patients who see N.P.’s regularly have fewer expensive Emergency Room visits, shorter hospital stays and spend less on medications.

If you are sick and think that you need a doctor, seeing an N.P. instead is likely a very viable option.

2.) Physician’s Assistant: Your M.D.’s “go-to guy (or gal)”, a P.A. is able to take care of a number of routine care issues so that their doctor counterparts can focus on more complicated cases.

With a Master’s Degree and 2000 hours of on-the job training, P.A.’s are able to perform medical examinations (much like an N.P.), interpret X-rays and blood lab results, and order prescription medications for injuries and infections. Unlike an N.P. however; P.A.’s cannot have their own practices and they must operate under the supervision of an M.D.

Though a P.A. receives less training than an N.P. or M.D., studies show that the incidences of mistakes are no higher when a P.A. reads test results than when a physician makes the reading. When in a clinic setting, a P.A.’s white jacket is typically shorter than a doctor’s but it’s probably best to look at their ID badge for clarification.

Think you might have Strep Throat? A P.A. can likely help you out.

3.) Registered Nurse: Since we are talking about nurses, let’s not forget these angels of mercy. Though not as extensively trained as an N.P. or P.A., there are still plenty of things that your R.N. can do for you. With two to four years of nursing school and state & national licensing exams, R.N.’s are able to perform standard wellness checks (heart rate reading for example) and diagnostic tests like allergy scans. They can also clean and bandage wounds and administer meds, vaccines, other shots, and IV fluids. Though R.N.’s aren’t able to provide a complete physical (they aren’t allowed to order blood work on their own or write prescriptions), people  typically rank them as one of the most honest and ethical professionals according to recent Gallup polls and they are trained to spend extra time with patients, providing advice, support and important information regarding the doctor’s orders.

4.) Medical Assistant: So…what if you’re feeling fine but not super confident about removing the four stitches that you received when you sliced your finger while opening a can of tuna? Don’t hassle with trying to get an appointment with your doctor, instead, just schedule a few minutes with your clinic’s medical assistant. These nimble administrative/medical team members can’t examine, diagnose or treat you but they can take your temperature, weight and blood pressure and remove stitches while also helping you to navigate insurance, billing or scheduling issues.

5.) Pharmacist: While most medical professionals require an appointment, that is usually not the case with your local pharmacist. With a four year doctorate of pharmacy degree and two licensing exams, your local pharmacist can do a lot more than just fill prescriptions and give advice on OTC medications. They can also administer flu shots and a range of other important vaccinations (including pneumonia, shingles etc.) There are several states including California, Washington and New Mexico that have extended a pharmacist’s authority to allow them to dispense other medications without the oversight of a M.D. and this is a trend that is likely to catch on in more states as time goes on and demand increases.

The bottom line is that while you never what to take chances with your health, there are many instances when a trip to an M.D. simply is not necessary. Surveys show that a full seventy-five percent of people would gladly skip the M.D. in favor of another medical professional for services like physicals, prescriptions and minor injuries and more than a third of doctors say that over half of their appointments could easily be handled by other medical service providers. With this being the case, there is no reason not to look into alternative solutions for your health needs so that you can get back to feeling FabYOUlous as quickly as possible.



Rockin' a FabYOUlous life as an author, speaker, blogger, coach and consumer of way too much caffeine. Let me help you to ditch the drab and find your FAB--it's possible and it's FUN!

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