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'Patients value empathetic care rather than ethnicity of health professionals'

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American student nurse Saténik discusses her Capstone project on the general public’s awareness about the role of nurse practitioners

As a student nurse, you always hear how important it is to further your degree. Many of the recent graduates I’ve spoken to in clinical settings have enrolled in classes to become nurse practitioners (NPs).  

Although, as student nurses we are familiar with the scope of practice and education needed to become a NP, many people who are not in the medical field may be confused by the role. 

In my senior year of nursing school, as part of my Capstone project, I decided to explore the role further to examine whether the public is aware about this field of nursing and what they think about the care they have received from NPs versus care received from doctors. 

The clinical portion of my Capstone project took place in an inner city clinic in northern New Jersey. The clinic serves the vulnerable population around the area. Low socio-economic status, gang activity, high crime rates and lack of access to healthcare are common among this population. 

Two nurse practitioners and a doctor work there, since the state of New Jersey does not allow NPs to work without a doctor’s supervision. On an average day, the clinic sees roughly 50-60 patients. The majority of the clinic’s patient population is African American and Hispanic.

In order to better assess the clients’ perceptions of the care they were receiving, I decided to create a short survey, randomly selecting patients and asking them to describe the most important quality they wanted to see in their healthcare provider; whether they knew the difference between a NP and a doctor; and whether they could find a difference in the care they received from either one.  

Spending 50 hours in the clinic over a period of approximately 2.5 months, I was able to interview 36 people. The results were interesting. 

More than half of the patients interviewed did not know the job description or difference between NPs and MDs. Many thought that just because some nurse practitioners were addressed as doctor due to having a doctorate degree in nursing, they were also doctors.  

However, what was most interesting to find is that it didn’t matter to patients whether they were seen by a nurse practitioner or a doctor as long as they received honest, compassionate, friendly, and professional care. 

The patients emphasised how important it was to them for a provider to listen to their symptoms, discuss their condition, and answer their questions. The results of my survey were consistent with the current literature regarding the lack of knowledge among the general public with respect to the scope of practice of NPs and MDs. 

Furthermore, according to research, patients prefer to see providers of the same cultural and ethnic background as them, which can potentially alleviate bias and judgement from health professionals unfamiliar with the client’s culture and medical practices. 

This, however, was not supported during my interviews with the patients. All the clients interviewed were African American, and the healthcare providers in the clinic were Caucasian. As mentioned by over 95% of the clients, the ethnic background of their provider did not matter as long as they were compassionate and empathetic.

Compassionate care and empathy are qualities that all healthcare providers, not just nurse practitioners and doctors should possess before entering the profession. After all, isn’t that the reason you choose to be in the medical field in the first place, to help someone in some way whether directly or indirectly? These attributes are what’s most valued by patients in their greatest time of need, regardless of culture or ethnicity. 

Saténik Laube is a graduating student nurse, who studied nursing at Bloomfield College in Bloomfield, New Jersey, USA

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