Issue 9 Stories
On-Call Advice

Why do I sometimes see a PA or NP instead of a doctor?

What are their qualifications?

Advanced practice clinicians (APCs), which include physician assistants (PAs) and nurse practitioners (NPs), are an integral part of the care teams at Sentara facilities. Both PAs and NPs work in collaboration with physicians to provide high-quality primary and specialty care for patients. 

With increasing demands on physicians to provide complex and advanced medical and surgical care, APCs are often able to see patients more quickly. Often, patients may be seen by an APC for follow-up care after surgery or some other procedure or test. Although the doctor will continue to supervise the patient’s overall care, the APC often will provide the face-to-face monitoring or treatment. The same holds true with primary care, where the APC, in collaboration with the physician, will often be the one to provide comprehensive, personalized care to the patient. 

Our PAs and NPs are qualified to examine patients; diagnose, treat and manage acute and chronic illnesses; order and interpret test results; prescribe medications; assist in surgery; and coordinate care. Like physicians, APCs provide patient-centered care, health education, counseling and preventive care. 

PAs are graduates of an intensive, three-year graduate-level program that includes many of the same courses physicians take, and through which PAs earn a master’s degree. NPs are advanced practice registered nurses who have completed graduate-level programs and clinical training beyond their RN studies, and may have either a master’s or doctoral degree. 

Both PAs and NPs are board-certified, licensed healthcare professionals. PAs receive board certification from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants, and NPs are certified by one of several nurse certification agencies, such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center or the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. All APCs are required to pursue ongoing continuing education and to seek recertification at specified intervals. 

As we strive to make available the right level of care in the right amount of time and at the right location, APCs will continue to play a significant role in how Sentara provides high-quality, patientcentered primary and specialty care to meet our patients’ needs.

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