NP or GP for me? No longer a healthcare orphan

Armchair Mayor
By Mel Rothenburger
December 2, 2017 - 5:00am

KAMLOOPS — I want Terry Lake to pay attention. For the last couple of years, I’ve ranted about the doctor shortage. When my GP of many years shut down his service, I became a stray, like a homeless waif wandering the back alleys of the healthcare system. 

With no prospects of landing a new family physician, I stood in walk-in clinic lineups and sat in a waiting room full of hacking and coughing sick people until my number was called and I was given an appointment. 

Then, the clinic closed. I dreamed that someday we would have a healthcare system that worked. That I might even get a family doctor of my own again. So I put my name on lists. 

Early this year, I heard about a doctor who was opening up a new practice and I hustled in and filled out some forms. And heard nothing. 

Awhile later, a primary care clinic called telling me a nurse practitioner was available. Well, sure, worth a whirl, at least on a temporary basis until the real thing came along. 

A few months later, another call came, this time from the office of the doctor with the now not-so-new practice. Was I still looking for a GP and would I like to come in for, as they called it, a “meet and greet”? 

Certainly, I said, but explained that I currently have a nurse practitioner. 

This week, the appointment with the doctor came due. I felt disoriented; hadn’t been in a doctor’s office for quite some time. 

The examining room was standard: a stool for the doc beside a desk, chair in one corner, the dreaded examining table in another. I briefly considered sitting on the stool instead of the chair just to shake things up but thought better of it, fearing it might throw the whole healthcare system into a spin. 

I expected to wait at least half an hour, but 10 or 15 minutes later the doctor breezed in. Pleasant enough fellow. Introduced himself. I asked for his first name. 

He started peppering me with the usual questions about medications and conditions and how much alcohol I drink in the average week. I interjected to explain I wasn’t going to make a decision today, that I was seeing an NP. 

He took it well. “It’s a personal choice,” he said. Choice. A word rarely associated with our healthcare system anymore. We finished our mutual interview and went our separate ways. 

I mulled it over for a few days. Hard to get my head around actually having a choice instead of going begging. Almost as if I was in charge instead of the system. Instead of an unwanted orphan, I was in demand. 

In normal circumstances, I’d go with this doctor in a heartbeat. He receives glowing reviews from his patients. 

This could be a once-in-the-rest-of-a-lifetime opportunity to get an MD. I have no reason not to jump at that opportunity. Except for the NP. 

I like this nurse practitioner deal. I like the NP, I like the speed with which I can get an appointment, I like the no-rush attention I receive, I like the team approach, with me as part of the team. We’re on a first-name basis, and the NP’s chair and mine are the same height. 

This is someone who is well-trained and knowledgeable, and who I trust will make sure I don’t fall through the cracks. 

Doctors are always in a hurry. They have to be. The average time I spent with a doctor in the walk-in clinic was seven minutes. Too many patients, not enough time. 

It’s hard to get in to see doctors, and when you do get to their office, they’re always several patients behind. Their magazines are a year old. 

I’m not saying one way is better than the other way, but I think this way is the better one for me right now, and I’m thankful. I might even stop ranting about the deficiencies of the healthcare system for a while. 

When Terry Lake was health minister, he looked for answers to the doctor shortage, including incentive programs for foreign doctors, and increasing the number of nurse practitioners. He didn’t have time to solve the whole issue, but I credit him with the fact I now have a healthcare practitioner again. 

I’m not ready to admit that I was wrong in the past, or to suggest the system is fixed, because there are still thousands of Kamloops residents looking for a family doctor. 

But I’m happy to say I’m no longer one of them, though for reasons I didn’t expect. I’m sticking with my NP.