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Nurse practitioners getting wider scope to invade docs’ traditional turf

Doctor shortages—and new laws in at least 20 states—are giving nurse practitioners license to perform many procedures that have traditionally been reserved for physicians, the New York Times reports.

In March, Nebraska became the 20th state to implement laws allowing nurses with advanced degrees to practice medicine. Now, nurses with a master’s degree or higher will no longer be required to get consent from a doctor to complete tasks such as prescribe medicine, administer treatments, and order and interpret test results.

Nebraska and other rural states have had an exceedingly difficult time getting practicing doctors to move to remote areas, where residents are often hours away from a physician. With the adoption of these new laws, rural citizens are more likely to have access to available healthcare services.

Although praised by many nursing boards, the recent influx of laws broadening nursing’s scope of practice, has drawn concern from groups representing doctors. The major contention is that even with an advanced degree, nurses still lack the proper training and skills to effectively diagnose and treat certain ailments.

However, studies have shown that advanced-practice nurses provide primary care that is just as accurate and effective as doctors. Furthermore, they are generally less costly than doctors as well. According to a 2011 report published by the Institute of Medicine, three to fourteen nurses can be educated for the same cost as one physician.

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