Patients' accounts of the differences in nurses' and general practitioners' roles in primary care

J Adv Nurs. 2007 Jan;57(2):172-80. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2006.04085.x.


Aim: This paper reports a study of patients' accounts of the differences in nurses' and general medical practitioners' roles in primary care.

Background: Nurses are now diagnosing and treating illnesses including conducting first contact care consultations. However, the findings of international studies reporting patients' views of developments in nursing roles are not consistent. Whilst some studies report higher satisfaction following nurse consultations, others suggest that patients do not want nurses to replace general medical practitioners. Healthcare professionals' views of the boundaries of their roles have been studied, but patients' views have not been reported.

Method: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 28 adults attending general practices for urgent 'same day' appointments during 2004. Participants were interviewed prior to their consultation with either the nurse or general medical practitioner and 19 participants were interviewed after the consultation. Data collection and analysis were concurrent, and based on the constant comparative method.

Findings: Participants' views reflected traditional hierarchies in primary care. They preferred to consult with general medical practitioners if they perceived their symptoms to be serious and with nurses for minor symptoms and reassurance. They thought that nurses had more time for them and were more compassionate. Interpersonal/relational continuity of care was important and for most participants this was with a general medical practitioner who knew them. Participants trusted known practitioners; they also placed trust in professional groups and familiar structures such as the practice.

Conclusion: New nursing services should incorporate patients' views on continuity of care provider when developing models of care delivery. Patient information leaflets in general practices should be used to explain the roles of general practitioners and nurse practitioners/practice nurses. As these roles develop further, more research is needed into all aspects of their implementation and patients' views should particularly be evaluated.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Continuity of Patient Care / standards
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nurse Practitioners*
  • Nurse's Role
  • Patient Satisfaction*
  • Physician's Role
  • Physicians, Family*
  • Primary Health Care / methods*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United Kingdom