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Keywords:

  • advanced nursing roles;
  • hospital-based care;
  • nurse practitioners;
  • physician assistants;
  • role substitution

zwijnenberg n.c. & bours g.j.j.w. (2012) Nurse practitioners and physician assistants in Dutch hospitals: their role, extent of substitution and facilitators and barriers experienced in the reallocation of tasks. Journal of Advanced Nursing68(6), 1235–1246.

Abstract

Aims.  This paper is a report of a study exploring the role of nurse practitioners and physician assistants, the extent of substitution and the barriers and facilitators experienced by them as a consequence of substitution in public hospitals.

Background.  Nurse practitioners and physician assistants are emerging worldwide. However, despite the large amount of evidence showing the added value of these professionals, little evidence is available concerning the role, extent of substitution and facilitators and barriers experienced by them as a consequence of substitution.

Methods.  Interviews were conducted and a questionnaire was completed by 43 nurse practitioners and 13 physician assistants employed in public hospitals in the south of the Netherlands in 2007.

Results.  Nurse practitioners and physician assistants performed a broad spectrum of tasks, but differed significantly in the time spent and the kind of tasks performed. Nurse practitioners spent 25% (10·4 hours; sd = 5·5) and physician assistants 40% (18·7 hours; sd = 7·6) of their time on medical procedures. They both also performed new tasks or tasks for which there previously was insufficient capacity. Many of them experienced policy/organizational, legal, financial or facility problems in the reallocation of tasks.

Conclusion.  Nurse practitioners and physician assistants have wide ranging but different responsibilities in public hospitals. By performing medical procedures and new tasks or tasks for which there was not enough capacity, they function as substitutes and supplements for doctors. However, barriers are affecting the extent of substitution. The challenge ahead is to remove the barriers experienced by nurse practitioners and physician assistants.