The week kicks off today and runs through November 18 and honors the work NPs do both on the job and as ambassadors for the nursing profession.
Minority Nurse caught up with Dr. Scharmaine L. Baker, FNP, FAANP, FAAN, CEO at Advanced Clinical Consultants, to talk about the role of a nurse practitioner. After Hurricane Katrina, Baker’s New Orleans patient caseload swelled from 100 to 500 in three months. With a critical shortage of health care facilities and providers, Baker’s skills as an NP not only saved her patients, but also clearly showed how invaluable her thorough NP training is.
National Nurse Practitioner Week, says Baker, is a way to give nurse practitioners the recognition they often don’t receive. “National Nurse Practitioner Week gives us the positive spotlight that we deserve,” she says.
This kind of national attention to the nurse practitioner’s work shows the devotion nurses have to caring for a patient, and also helps clear up any misunderstandings about the role and how an NP works within a health care team. “Nurse practitioners don’t just prescribe a medicine and send you out of the door,” says Baker. “We take the time to listen to the patient stories about their children, spouses, pets, and job promotions. These stories often solve the complicated puzzle of making an accurate diagnosis. It’s called holistic care of the total man.”
When prospective nursing students are deciding on a career path, Baker urges them to consider a few things. Top in their minds should be the honest assessment of their commitment to making this career decision. Taking the time to complete the challenging NP studies isn’t easy, she says. “Once they have decided that this is indeed the right time to pursue an Advanced Practice Nursing degree,” she adds, “then the necessary preparations as far as letting family and friends know that they will be somewhat unavailable for the next three to four years because the schooling demands all of your time for successful completion.”
But when the degree completion and training are done, the potential for a lifelong career that challenges you, uses all your skills, and lets you connect with and help people is gratifying on many levels. As a nurse practitioner, you’ll be diagnosing, assessing, and treating medical conditions. You’ll also look at the whole patient. NPs take into account the interplay between a patient’s physical and emotional well-being as well as the environment they live in. By doing so, they can help treat every part of a patient’s condition.
“I get to hear the stories that make my patients happy or sad,” says Baker. “Then, I get to connect those stories to their physical state. They are always related. I enjoy providing health care on this advanced level. I get to take care of the whole patient.”
Baker also points out that while NPs continue to earn recognition and some states are allowing them to practice on their own, there is still work to be done. “The most challenging and frustrating part of advanced practice nursing is the many restrictive laws that prevent us from practicing to the full extent of our scope,” she says. “It’s downright ridiculous! I long for the day when all states will actively have full practice authority.”
Currently, nearly two dozen states allow nurses to have full practice authority where they practice without physician oversight. Baker continues to advocate for full practice authority among all nurse practitioners. She also urges NPs and the nursing profession to continue to honor the nurses who worked so hard to get all nurses where they are today.
“Many have fought for us to be where we are,” says Baker. “Every time we show up and provide stellar care, we make our founding nurses beam with joy. We must never forget their sacrifices.”
Celebrate National Nurse Practitioner Week this week and spread the word about these highly skilled professionals. Use #NPWeek to share photos and tags on your social media posts to help others see just what satisfaction a career as an NP can bring.
When Dr. Scharmaine Baker started the Nola the Nurse book series, she knew kids needed information about advanced practice nurses and a role model to show them all about it. What Baker, DNP, didn’t expect was the impact the character and the Nola books would have on kids or the people who would help her get the word out.
On October 27, Baker told her story on The Harry Show, in which New Orleans-native, show host, and entertainer Harry Connick, Jr. gave her a chance to talk about Nola the Nurse on a show devoted to nursing. While the experience was thrilling (and included a vacation to Punta Cana that Connick gave to her family), Baker was especially excited at the thought of having more information about nursing and advanced practice nursing reach a national audience so quickly. “He said, ‘I really believe in Nola the Nurse and I hope this show helps you go far,’” recalls Baker of Connick’s support.
Nola has really taken off,” says Baker. She started the books when she couldn’t find any books that featured African American NPs or even many that talked about nursing as a career. Baker’s books take her Nola character into people’s homes, each of which exposes her to different cultures.
Over the summer, Baker said she thought a mascot would help the kids connect nursing to real life, so she added a life-size Nola doll to bring with her when she makes presentations and reads her books to groups. “She’s a tremendous hit,” says Baker about the Nola doll.
Kids get engaged with the story and it’s an opportunity for them to listen to her heart and to check her pulse,” says Baker.
As Baker continues to develop the Nola series (three more books are set to be published starting next year), she is developing a specific structure to help kids understand what NPs do. Using the Nola mascot, stickers, activity books, and the stories themselves, Baker connects with elementary school kids in schools, camps, and groups.
As the program is taken to teens in high school, Baker finds it just easy to talk to them about nursing as a career. “It’s engaging the next generation into the world of advanced practice nursing,” says Baker.
“I was the first nurse practitioner with a house call practice in Louisiana in 2004,” says Dr. Baker. Although she began as a nurse practitioner in 2000, it was a physician’s retirement that started her house call career. The physician had about 15 house call patients that Dr. Baker was asked to take over. “Fifteen patients turned into 100 in a couple of months,” she says. “Once I started making house calls, I thought, ‘This is what I need to do.’ Then Katrina hit.”
When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, Dr. Baker says house calls became critical. Health care was hard to come by in the deserted city, but Dr. Baker returned in October and her practice swelled to 500 patients in four months. “I would go into a home and see five to 10 people,” she says of the intense post-Katrina months.
That kind of unpredictability is what makes a house call practice both rewarding and challenging. The house calls require nurses to use every skill they have. “It wasn’t a stretch,” says Dr. Baker. “In my nursing career, I had done just about everything from trauma to home health.” But that’s where the similarities to traditional medical-setting health care ends. Offering health care in someone’s home involves an immense trust and intimacy and often gives unprecedented access to what else is happening in a patient’s life.
House calls, of course, mean a nurse can’t see as many patients as in an office setting. Between the health care practices and the travel, a house call nurse might see 6 or so patients in a day. But the overhead is extremely low, says Dr. Baker.
But that isn’t deterring modern nurses who want to see patients in their home settings. Since 2008, Dr. Baker has taught a monthly house call course for nurses. “I teach others how to start a house call practice in their own state,” she says. “I’ve trained about 100 nurses from all over.”
And house call nurses have to have the breadth of training and experience to give them the confidence to make decisions as a sole health care provider. You can’t run down the hall and ask another provider’s opinion, Dr. Baker says. You are it.
Dr. Baker knows her work is appreciated even though it’s still often a surprise to some. She encourages other nurses to consider the career path.
“To this day there is a growing need,” says Dr. Baker. “But when I go a home, someone will still say, ‘I didn’t know people still did home visits,’” she says.
Sometimes the biggest inspirations come in the smallest packages.
For New Orleans-based Dr. Scharmaine Baker, NP, her young daughter served as a catalyst for her new book series, Nola the Nurse. The series will follow Nola, a very young African American nurse practitioner, as she makes house calls for her friends’ baby dolls and encounters new cultures and foods along the way.
“I was looking for stories for my daughter who was then about 15 months old,” says Dr. Baker of her now 5-year-old daughter. “And I was looking for African American nurses or nurses of color who weren’t necessarily African American. Specifically I was looking for nurse practitioners.” The findings were pretty slim. Dr. Baker found a handful of books about nurses and only one with an African American as the main character. “It was unbelievable,” she says. “I didn’t expect to see that.”
So Dr. Baker, always interested in creative writing, decided to write about a little girl who wants to grow up to be a nurse practitioner like her mom. Nola’s name is, of course, a nod to her city and her work helps her gain cultural understanding as she heals the baby dolls of her friends. “This has been fun,” Dr. Baker says. “I’d really like [readers] to think they can be a nurse practitioner or whatever they want to be when they read these books.”
The stories come from Dr. Baker’s own varied nursing career. “I wanted to draw on what I see when I make a house call to provide primary care,” she says. Dr. Baker, who spent years as a house call NP, says the experience teaches nurse practitioners to expect the unexpected.
In Nola’s case, that is all the different cultural experiences she has while taking care of the baby dolls. To highlight the cultures, Dr. Baker includes a traditional recipe from whatever culture the family is from. In one book, the family from Kenya serves matoki and the book includes a recipe for it as well. “I picked cultures that intrigue me and that I would eventually want to visit,” says Dr. Baker. So far, Nola is set to visit Kenya, India, Mexico, France, and Japan. “They are cultures to me that are flavorful,” says Dr. Baker.
Although Dr. Baker did plan to number the series in order, she decided to publish a special edition this year in honor of the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. “Nola the Nurse Remembers Hurricane Katrina” will be released later this summer in honor of an event that changed the lives of so many. “Nola is too young, so she is remembering the story as it told to her by her mom,” says Dr. Baker.
The memories, of course, are based on her own experiences. Dr. Baker, who had just set up an office in New Orleans when the hurricane hit, says nurse practitioners were instrumental in the recovery of the city. “It was the most emotional work for me,” she says remembering how one house call in the ravaged city would turn into seeing neighbors, relatives, and friends of a patient as well.
The stories interwoven in the Nola series reflect all the patients Dr. Baker has seen but slants the stories for children. Culture and tradition are essential, but so are all the different ways people adapt to their lives. Some children will dress in traditional cultural clothes and another will use a wheelchair.
“Everyone is accepted no matter what they wear and what they use,” says Dr. Baker. “They are still kids and that’s the point.”
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