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How Nurse Practitioners Fill the Health Disparity Gap in Community Health Centers

If you enjoy working directly with your community to improve health and mitigate health disparities, consider a nurse practitioner (NP) position in a community health center. Health centers rely on NPs to handle patient needs and scenarios. A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Adult–Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AG PCNP) program, such as that offered by La Salle University, prepares you to become a primary care provider for underserved individuals.

What Is an Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AG PCNP)?

According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, an AG PCNP works to “assess, diagnose and plan for the health needs of all adults, from young adults to seniors.” AG PCNPs may work with at-risk and culturally diverse adult populations to address various health concerns. They also work in a variety of settings, including private practice, ambulatory clinics and community health centers. One of the most important places AG PCNPs work with patients is community health centers to provide services that help bridge the health disparity gap.

What Is a Community Health Center?

For many U.S. citizens, the high cost of healthcare, a lack of insurance, distance to care and language barriers may prevent patients from seeking medical care. A community health center (also known as a community clinic, or Federally Qualified Health Center) is a community-based patient-directed organization that serves a community, often with specific populations with limited access to healthcare. They aim to reduce these barriers to improve access to crucial primary and preventative services, including health education.

Community health centers are often located within or near other vital resources (food pantries, thrift stores, financial assistance for utilities, low-cost legal advice or temporary shelter) to offer a “one-stop shop” for help. Additionally, some community health centers provide transportation services such as bus or subway vouchers, van services or help for mobility-impaired patients to access free government services. Finally, community volunteers or non-profit organizations may partner with a community health center to ensure everyone can access high-quality, comprehensive, culturally competent primary medical care.

What Health Disparities Do Community Health Centers Address?

Critical to the success of community health, these centers are often a part of the healthcare safety net to help close the gap in high-need, medically underserved areas. Services include an assortment of interventions, including the following:

Addiction Counseling/Recovery: Community centers supporting addiction recovery may provide a wide range of services to meet the needs of the public, such as counseling services, referrals to low-cost recovery centers and specialized treatment for teens or pregnant women. The building may also double as a meeting place for groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Some community centers provide outpatient treatment to opioid-dependent patients.

Vaccines: Community health centers can provide standard vaccines to patients but most commonly administer the flu, COVID-19 and shingles vaccines.

Therapy/Counseling: Mental health treatment is vital to patients’ overall well-being, but unfortunately, it can quickly become expensive, and free or low-cost options often have a long waiting list. Community health centers help close this gap by providing therapy to their clients, often offering therapy sessions in the patient’s first language.

Preventative Screenings: Preventative screenings for conditions like hypertension, diabetes and cancer are vital to early diagnosis and interventions. For example, blood tests that reveal hyperglycemia in the prediabetes stage can spur lifestyle interventions that slow or reverse the progression to Type 2 diabetes.

Community Education: Community education may come in a variety of formats, including individual or group classes. Resources like multi-lingual pamphlets, prenatal classes, group fitness activities and health toolkits (such as lead testing) are all great approaches AG PCNPs can incorporate into their practice to improve their community’s health.

What Is the Role of the AG PCNP in Health Centers?

Nurse practitioners are critical in community health centers as healthcare providers. Most community health centers primarily staff NPs with volunteer physician supervision. These NPs are at the frontlines of primary care to diagnose and treat patients with simple and chronic health issues. For example, patients have multiple complex health conditions and services may include routine checkups and physicals, well-woman exams, immunizations, tuberculosis testing, pregnancy testing, prescriptions and lab tests.

In addition, community health NPs are experts at providing information for assistance and referral services for utilities, shelter, food, clothes and household items. They may be bilingual or work closely with interpreters.

La Salle University’s online MSN Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner program prepares advanced practice nurses to fill a number of roles and assess, diagnose and manage common acute and chronic health programs. Graduates learn how to prevent, diagnose and treat common health problems while focusing on at-risk and vulnerable populations like those seen in a community health center.

Learn more about La Salle University’s online Master of Science in Nursing Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner program.

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