Advanced Practitioners: Not All Heroes Wear Capes

Advanced practitioners are coming to the rescue here in the Gorge and around the county.

Scheduling an appointment with a doctor will not be a problem... As long as you can wait three to four weeks.

In 2017, the wait time to schedule a new patient appointment with a physician soared to an all-time high of24 days, according to a survey of more than a dozen major metropolitan areas by national physician search firm Merritt Hawkins.

Wait times have been a problem for many residents in The Dalles and surrounding communities. But Mid-Columbia Medical Center is bucking the trend of rising wait times thanks to successful recruitment of advanced practitioners.

Advanced practitioners are a category that includes physician assistants and nurse practitioners. Advanced practitioners undergo extensive education and training, and are licensed to diagnose, treat and prescribe medication to patients.

The Dalles resident Angela Hanson has been seeing her primary care provider for about eight years.

“I’ve never had a problem getting in to see her, “Hanson said of Physician Assistant Shay Murphy, who has been practicing at MCMC since 2003. “Whenever I have any questions before or after an appointment, I make a phone call and it’s returned. I feel like she really goes the extra mile for her patients.”

Murphy puts her patients at ease, which makes it easy to discuss private medical issues, Hanson said

“It’s like seeing a friend you haven’t seen in a longtime,” Hanson said. “A lot of times you see a doctor and your blood pressure goes up because you’re nervous. I’ve never had that problem with Shay, ever.”

Advanced practitioners not only provide medical care. They are critical to the future of MCMC, said MCMC President and CEO Dennis Knox.

“As the physician shortage continues to increase, especially in rural areas, advance practitioners will be key to continuing MCMC’s tradition of high quality and compassionate healthcare,” Knox said.

Welcoming New Providers in 2018

After a nationwide recruiting effort, this year MCMC Family Medicine boosted its roster of primary care providers to eleven. New staff in 2018 will include Dr. Jordan Nagle. Kim Whitaker and Nurse Practitioner Lindsay McHugh.

Also new is Nurse Practitioner Sarah Kuppenbender, who has been practicing at MCMC since November 2017.Raised in Mt. Angel, Oregon, she worked as a registered nurse in acute care and cardiology before completing the family nurse practitioner program at Oregon Health & Science University.

Kuppenbender chose to join MCMC Family Medicine due to the hospital’s team approach to healthcare, which encourages collaboration between physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners.

The team approach extends to patients. Family Medicine staff help new patients choose a primary care provider based on their individual needs, said Practice Manager Linda Compton.

Hanson needed a compassionate primary care provider. After attending her husband’s appointments with Murphy, she knew Murphy was the right provider. “She really listened to him, heard his concerns, and they actually worked out a plan of treatment together,” Hanson said.

Patients often visit the doctor when they are at their worst, Murphy said. She feels honored to earn their trust.

“People come to see us when they are at their weakest,” she said. “They want to be home because they feel terrible. How blessed we are to help them feel better.”

Wait times across the country are skyrocketing for patients who need to schedule a new patient appointment with a primary care provider. MCMC is fighting back with innovative programs designed to reduce wait times by:

  • Increasing the number of primary care providers.
  • Pairing patients with primary care providers faster.

“Our goal for 2018 is to reduce the wait time for new patient consultations and non-emergency appointments, “said MCMC Family Medicine Practice Manager Linda Compton. “If you sprain your ankle or your elderly mother catches the flu, we don’t want you to wait three days for an appointment.”

In recent years, more doctors in the U.S. have chosen to become specialists. This trend — coupled with population growth and a dramatic increase in the number of older Americans — is fueling a nationwide shortage of primary care physicians:

  • Approximately 60 million Americans live in areas with a shortage of primary care physicians.
  • The primary care physician shortage is more severe in rural areas:
    • rural: 3.98 primary care physicians per 10,000 people
    • urban: 5.33 primary care physicians per 10,000 people

This means hospitals like Mid-Columbia Medical Center are fighting for a limited pool of primary care physicians.

To increase the number of primary care providers and reduce wait times, MCMC has increased recruitment of advanced practitioners, a category of medical professionals that includes primary care providers like physician assistants and nurse practitioners.

“I like family medicine — especially here in the Gorge —because I get to know the little details of my patients’ lives, “said Shaylyn Murphy, a physician assistant who has been practicing in The Dalles since 2003. “I love being a detective and providing a diagnosis and treatment plan.”

MCMC Family Medicine offers same day appointments and extended evening and Saturday hours so patients can get the care they need when it works for them. Call 541.296.9151 for an appointment.