By Liz Baer, M.Ac, L.Ac | Co-founder of Capital Integrative Health

Historically when you walked into a doctors office, you would wait to see the medical doctor after being checked in by a nurse or medical assistant. But with the downward pressure of insurance, doctor shortages, aging population growth and an increase in chronic illnesses¹, mid-level providers such as Nurse Practitioners (NPs) and Physician Assistants (PAs) have become a life-line to both physicians and patients.

The democratization of information and medical training has created a much broader platform for team-oriented patient care: one in which doctors, NPs, PAs and even allied health professionals like acupuncturists, psychologists, nutritionists and body workers collaborate to bring high-quality, proactive care to their patients.

When you add the knowledge and practice of Functional Medicine into the mix, patients at a clinic like ours get a level of progressive, comprehensive attention from NPs and PAs that breaks through the limitations of a typical doctor’s office.

” I love the team approach that PA’s generally work in, it is much more representative of what we will be seeing in the future of hospitals, ORs and clinics.” Emily Breton, MPH, MMS, PA-C.

Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants who also practice Functional Medicine are especially important in both leading and supporting these inter-disciplinary teams because of their extensive medical training and ability to do much of what a physician can, including diagnosing and managing disease, ordering functional labs, writing prescriptions, and conducting primary care and urgent care services.

PAs and NPs:

  • Diagnose, treat and manage patient care
  • Work independently or under leadership of a physician (depending on the state)
  • Prescribe and manage medication
  • Order and review labs
  • Perform minor surgeries and procedures, and assist in major ones.²

When we asked CIH PA Emily Breton what she appreciated about her medical education she explained, “PAs go to school with medical students, so we learn the medical model alongside each other. This creates an overlay of our learning, as well as teaches us to work together early on.”

“I especially loved that the PA training was broad and gave me a foundation in primary care as well as multiple specialties from ICU to ENT.”

With the reshaping of today’s healthcare teams, one of the most important questions is: How do these advances improve the lives of patients?

Expanded medical teams like ours at CIH provide:

  • enhanced access to care
  • more range in services, both to prevent and manage illness
  • improved quality, safety and reliability of care
  • better health and functioning for patients, especially those with chronic conditions

All our CIH medical providers (as well as our Nutritionist Katie Morra and Acupuncturist Liz Baer) have training in Functional Medicine. The combination of our varied practitioners working together creates a unique healing space that empowers each patient on their journey to wellness, and builds healthier families and communities.

To learn more about the important roles of NPs and PAs, click on the links below:

What is an NP

NPs: the Future of Healthcare

What is a PA

Profile of a PA

¹15 things to know about the physician shortage,, Dani Gordon | July 24, 2014
²How physician assistants are re-shaping health care,, Ben Allen | Oct 9, 2014
³Democratization of medical knowledge and technology: brief commentary on implications for medical education, Simul Healthcare, 2006 Winter;1(4):238-9. doi: 10.1097/01.SIH.0000245657.45445.d4.