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My oldest son is 27, but when he was a baby, I took him to see his pediatrician and was surprised that he was instead seeing a nurse practitioner.

That was a rarity in 1987, but today they are becoming more the rule than the exception.

In fact, "nurse practitioner" is now number two on the list of best jobs of 2015 according to U.S. News and World Report.

So what does that mean for the care we're getting?

When Edith Klosterman’s asthma and allergies flare up, she has no problem checking in with Barb Stitt, a nurse practitioner at the South Bend Clinic.

Stitt works in the allergy department alongside Dr. Jim Harris. He is Edith's primary care physician, but she doesn’t mind seeing Stitt instead.

“When I got Barb nine years ago, we clicked, and one thing about her is she really does listen, she takes the time and asks the right questions," Edith explains.

And for good reason. Stitt has been a nurse for 33 years and a nurse practitioner for 16, so there's not much she can't do for the patients. “Like a physician, we can see them as new patients, some see them as rechecks, acute patients. So we can access, diagnose, prescribe medications, order tests,” she explains.

Melissa Bartoszewicz is also a nurse practitioner at the South Bend Clinic. Her expertise is cardiology, and like Stitt, she can do most of what the doctor does.

She believes it makes for better all-around health for the patient. “I think it is making a huge positive impact. Nurse practitioners bring the best of the nursing world to the medical world, and the fact that we're trained to give holistic care and then that, coupled with the medical model of disease management, just makes sense.”

Dr. Harris agrees, adding that they're necessary. “Even though we have a lot of new doctors coming out of medical school every year, we just can't meet the demand for patients to be seen, and so nurse practitioners have really helped us meet that demand.”

Nurse practitioners have training beyond their bachelor’s degrees. Stitt has a master's degree and Bartoszewicz has her doctorate, so Dr. Harris says the doctors they work for are extremely confident, and patients should be too. “I have complete confidence in my nurse practitioner, as I think most doctors do, so I try to pass that on to the patients as well.”

Edith is a believer. She says Stitt has done a great job managing her many allergies. “I don't feel like I have to see him because she takes care of my needs.”

That's especially important as a predicted shortage of 90,000 doctors by 2025 looms.

Bartoszewicz points out the obvious help they provide doctors and patients. “We're able to take a huge load off of them, to take patients with chronic diseases and manage those diseases and keep them out of the hospital and keep them well.”

Edith encourages patients who are leery about the practice to learn more. “I don't think I'd be afraid to see any doctors’ nurse practitioner in any practice today.”

Dr. Harris believes it is the best thing for doctor and patient, saying, “This is clearly the way of the future, it's the only way we can meet the demand in medicine.”

An important side note: The American Association of Medical Colleges says there is no shortage of doctors coming out of medical school, but the federal government capped funding to students for residencies in 1997. Without those residencies, medical students cannot get their license to practice medicine.

As a result, U.S. medical school graduates now exceed the number of available residency slots, and some hospitals are funding those residencies on their own.

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Posted on August 28, 2015