By Sean Wilkes, MD
The president of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, in a recent Washington Post article on the roles and titles of medical professionals (“Medicine without doctors? State laws are changing who treats patient”), has asserted that the primary difference between primary care doctors and nurses is that nurses bring a “nursing philosophy” that is more holistic and treats patients more individually not only misrepresents the dedication and compassion of physicians, but it also presents a grossly inaccurate portrayal of the practice of medicine.
As a physician, I can attest to the rigorous training and education we undergo, which instills in us the importance of treating the whole patient — not just their symptoms. The foundation of medicine is the biopsychosocial model, which emphasizes the interconnectedness of biology, psychology, and sociocultural factors. This holistic approach ensures that physicians consider all aspects of a patient’s well-being, from their physical symptoms to their mental health and social circumstances.
Between medical school and residency, physicians spend the better part of a decade learning to treat the whole patient. It is unclear to me how nurse practitioners, who have less than 10% of this training, are somehow capable of doing more.
This assertion reminds me of another common trope oft touted by nurse practitioners: “brain of a doctor, heart of a nurse.” Assertions like these, while perhaps intended as complimentary, are denigrating and reductive. They imply that physicians are solely analytical, lacking in compassion or empathy. Nurses do not have a monopoly on empathy. Every day, doctors across the world form deep, meaningful relationships with their patients, often spanning years or even decades. These relationships are built on trust, understanding, and a mutual commitment to the patient’s health and well-being.
Mr. Ferrara’s claims only serve to further divide two professions that should be working together to care for patients. It is disheartening to see such divisive rhetoric, especially from a leader in the nursing community. Both professions are dedicated to the well-being of their patients and to providing holistic and tailored care that resonates with individuals’ needs.