Amid a flurry of legislation to pass in the final days of spring state legislative sessions last week, nurses won two more victories in a long war for independence.
For decades, most of the country has required physician oversight for nurses to conduct certain procedures, and especially to prescribe drugs. But that’s slowly changing, as the nation’s health-care needs rise, and nurses fight for the right to practice everything they learned in school.
The most recent wins came in West Virginia and Florida, where after many years of trying, lawmakers passed measures freeing up “advanced practice” nurses — those with more graduate education than just a nursing degree — to administer a wider range of care and prescribe most drugs without having to maintain a relationship with a physician.
For Beth Baldwin, president of the West Virginia Nurses Association, the measure was aimed at meeting the needs of people who live in rural areas where the nearest physicians might be miles away — especially as the Affordable Care Act has expanded the pool of those with access to insurance.
“Who’s going to provide the care for that? If there’s nowhere for them to take the card and get the care, it’s not helpful,” Baldwin says. In some places, when a doctor retires, another has to be brought in on a temporary basis to make sure patients can still get their medications. “We in no way feel that we’ll be replacing physicians,” Baldwin says. “But physicians can be focusing on the people they need to see.”