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Report Says Nurses Have Bigger Jobs To Do, But Doctors Say Not So Fast

The nurse will see you now.

Some of us already hear this when it's time to get ourselves checked out. The rest of us have a good chance of seeing a nurse for health care in the future.

But, and it's a pretty big but, the nursing profession needs to change to be ready for a more complex health system that places greater demands upon them.

For starters, nurses will need to be better educated, says a report just issued by the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine. In 10 years, 80 percent of nurses should have bachelor's degrees. Twice as many nurses should get PhDs and all nurses should do residencies, the sort of practical training that new doctors do.

There are more than 3 million nurses in the U.S. And many are looking to take on more responsibilities. Changes to the health care system and bottlenecks in primary care run in their favor.

But the medical establishment (read: doctors) hasn't always seen things that way. They've looked to protect turf and fault nurses for not being up to the task of more independent practice.

This IOM report bolsters the nurses' case, Kaiser Health News says. Among other things, it calls for the elimination of regulations and institutional limits on what nurses are allowed to do, including so-call "scope of practice" rules that define what sorts of care about they can and can't provide.

The American Medical Association isn't buying it. "Nurses are critical to the health care team, but there is no substitute for education and training" that doctors receive, said a statement by Dr. Rebecca Patchin, a member of the AMA board. "With a shortage of both nurses and physicians, increasing the responsibility of nurses is not the answer to the physician shortage."

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Scott Hensley edits stories about health, biomedical research and pharmaceuticals for NPR's Science desk. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he has led the desk's reporting on the development of vaccines against the coronavirus.