More and more rheumatologists are looking to expand their practices by adding a nurse practitioner (NP) or physician assistant (PA) to help with increasing patient loads. While an additional person can certainly enhance practice operations, it can be difficult to find an ancillary health professional trained in rheumatology, and daunting for a small practice to consider training an NP or PA in the subspecialty. On the other hand, a skilled NP or PA can benefit the practice overall and help provide better care for patients—in the initial evaluation of a patient, patient education, and routine patient follow-up that may include joint injections and other procedures. With the advent of a new online rheumatology training program for NPs and PAs that will launch at the ACR/ARHP Annual Scientific Meeting this month, that skilled health professional just might be easier to find.
Explore This IssueOctober 2008
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“This training program will be a pivotal source for anyone who wants to build or improve their knowledge and skills in the care of patients with rheumatologic disease,” says Basia Belza, PhD, RN, scientific editor of the ACR/ARHP Nurse Practitioner and Physician Assistant Postgraduate Rheumatology Training Program and a professor in the School of Nursing at the University of Washington in Seattle. Although the training program was designed for nurse practitioners and physician assistants who are new to the field, others will be able to register and benefit from it, too. The program provides basic and advanced rheumatology-practice knowledge and clinical skills. It is delivered online. The Web site has a user-friendly interface and consists of 19 modules, says Dr. Belza. There are three sets of modules—core, adult, and pediatric—each authored by experts in the field and reviewed by external reviewers. Prospective students can register for one of the three options: core and adult modules; core and pediatric modules; or core, adult, and pediatric modules.
The training program is an outgrowth of discussion within the ACR and ARHP over the past eight years about the shortage of rheumatologists and long-term estimates that the demand for rheumatologic care will continue to grow, while the supply of trained rheumatologists will not keep pace. “The impact of the shortage was being noticed more and more and we felt that we had to take action to help rheumatologists in their daily practice,” says Karen Kerr, MSN, NP, CPNP, PNP-BC, a rheumatology nurse practitioner at Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit and the immediate past president of the ARHP. Kerr assisted the ACR Workforce Study Group with information about how advanced practice clinicians, such as NPs and PAs, assist in practice settings around the country. The group published its workforce report in 2007. “We know from experience that adding an NP or PA to the rheumatology staff can easily double the number of patients that can be seen,” says Kerr. “This is a good practice model for chronic illness, and particularly for rheumatology. It is a benefit to both adult and pediatric patients.”