LAS VEGAS -- The shortage of doctors in southern Nevada has meant long waits to get an appointment and overcrowded waiting rooms once patients get to the appointment.
In June, Nevada lawmakers made it legal for nurse practitioners to administer care on their own.
A similar law passed in Arizona and five years later, the state saw a 52 percent jump in the number of new nurse practitioners or NP's as they are commonly called.
Nurse practitioners in Nevada hope to see the same jump.
Zack Kordi says when his family is sick he has no problem seeing a NP.
"If we can go there and they can help us that would be perfect. If we need to see specialists, then we can do that after that point," Kordi said.
Nurse practitioners are high-level nurses with masters and doctorate degrees.
Susan Vanbeuge is a NP and professor at UNLV. She says they have always worked alongside physicians.
"We treat people the same way. We use the same practice guidelines, the same standards of care," Vanbeuge said.
Now, Nevada lawmakers say NPs can operate on their own, easing crowding in doctors offices.
"It really just increases access to care to patients in this state," Vanbeuge said.
Nurse practitioners can prescribe medications, order lab tests and make diagnoses.
Dr. Bard Coats with Healthcare Partners Nevada says his physicians use NP's to help with all aspects of medicine. Coats believes their popularity will only grow.
"It gives some options that weren't available before," Dr. Coats said. "I think nurse practitioners, as they get more experience and more visibility, they continue to grow in their knowledge and comfort level with handling care."
Nurse practitioners could be especially helpful in some of the state's rural areas where doctors can be even more difficult to find than in urban areas.
For people struggling to see a physician, the option of a practitioner is a welcome relief.
"As long as they are licensed, and they went to school for that. There should be limitations to what they can do, but overall I don't have a problem with that," Craig Browning of Henderson said.
Vanbeuge says they are seeing more nursing students opting to become NP's, and they could soon be a driving force in healthcare throughout the valley.
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