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By Robert Napierala

Many times people know their nurse practitioner as the person they see at the doctor’s office instead of the doctor. A nurse practitioner is technically a registered nurse who has obtained an advanced degree and training in order to have the ability to diagnose and treat both common and chronic illnesses. Nurse practitioners are able to order diagnostic imaging tests in all 50 states.

The fact is, doctors and nurse practitioners make diagnostic errors; after all they are human. Many misdiagnoses are minor, but there is always the possibility of a crucial missed step resulting in patient harm or even death.

So how are nursing schools and health care institutions preparing new nurse practitioners to keep up with new diagnostic technologies? Unfortunately, there is no nationalized method to teach student nurse practitioners diagnostic imaging skills. This may be a problem because of the increasingly high-level competencies in which nurse practitioners must be proficient.

Recommendations by the Institute of Medicine include restructuring nursing education programs to include collaborative training by experts in the field, and a focus on conceptual learning rather than repetitive memorization. Several institutions have initiated such educational methods, and have shown positive results.

Nurse practitioner educators at an American university created a workshop with faculty from radiologic and imaging science programs. Student nurse practitioners who attended the workshop encountered case studies requiring diagnostic imaging studies such as ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging, computed tomography and interventional radiology. The workshop had excellent results, and became a permanent part of the nurse practitioner curriculum at the university.

An emergency department at a London hospital requires new nurse practitioners to partake in an intensive radiologic course before they are able to order and interpret X-rays independently. The training consists of a workbook, instruction from a physicist and a day of study in a radiology department. As a result, the nurse practitioners working in the emergency room had a missed fracture rate of less than 2 percent, which is considered well within their national standards of care.

Institutions in this country and across the Atlantic are showing positive results when training nurse practitioners using interdisciplinary concept-based teaching methods. Such programs may improve new nurse practitioners’ diagnostic accuracy, and therefore improve overall safety and quality of care. A nationalized method of diagnostic training across the nurse practitioner schools in America would help to maintain the high-quality standards.

Robert Napierala is a graduate student in the adult nurse practitioner program at Daemen College.