Nurses Play Vital Role
Trenton is a tiny town in the northwest corner of Georgia. If you could pick it up and move it on the state map, you could just about squeeze it into nearby Cloudland Canyon State Park. Travelers who aren't headed to the park might not notice Trenton unless they need a place to stop on Interstate 59 on a drive from Birmingham, Ala., to Chattanooga, Tenn.
Trenton has fewer than 2,000 residents, but it is the seat of Dade County -- by default. It is the only incorporated town in the county.
It was there, in rural Georgia, that I started my first job out of residency 25 years ago on a National Health Service Corps assignment. I had studied medicine in Atlanta and moved on to residency in Augusta. Now I was a big-city outsider in a small town.
I knew no one.
Verenice Hawkins, R.N., helped changed that.
Verenice was the nurse for the local health department and, as such, was a lynchpin in the community. People knew and trusted her. She helped spread the word about me, and she had good things to say. That was just one of the nice things she did to help me find my way during my four years there.
Long before anyone ever uttered the words "patient-centered medical home," Verenice and I -- along with my two nurses, med tech and front office staff, the local emergency medical services, two chiropractors, one pharmacy, and a physical therapist -- worked together to give our patients a medical home. We communicated, cooperated and coordinated the care we provided to our community.
I left Trenton in 1992 to take a job at East Tennessee State University, and I had not heard from Verenice for years until last week when she reached out to me … on Facebook! She's 80, but she is still working and making a difference. She says she can't fully retire because her community and patients need her, and she's still passionate about what she does.
So this week -- which happens to be National Nurses Week -- I have been thinking a lot about Verenice and the other nurses I have worked with through the years.
Today, the PCMH model is much broader than the small-town medical home Verenice and I provided two decades ago. Now it includes dieticians, physician assistants and so much more. But at its core, team-based care is about doctors and nurses working together for our patients.
Much has been made of the fact that our country is facing a shortage of 45,000 primary care physicians by 2020. But we also should note that an even larger shortage of registered nurses -- 260,000 -- is projected by 2025. We need more primary care physicians, but we also need more nurses. Both pipelines need to be addressed to meet patient needs.
Thank you to all the dedicated nurses who work so hard to care for patients and are critical, valued members of our health care teams.
Reid Blackwelder, M.D., is the president-elect of the AAFP.
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