Farms and cattle ranches extend as far as the eye can see in Western Nebraska. Former cattle rancher Murlene Osburn figured the area would be a perfect place to open up her own practice as a psychiatric nurse. She thought it would be simple to open her doors to help the local people of the small town.
Unfortunately Osburn ran into barriers from the very beginning. In the state of Nebraska, nurses are required to have a doctor sign permission to perform tasks even though they are certified nationally. In a rural area like Wood Lake, NE, the closing psychiatrist Osburn could find to help her was a seven hour drive away and would charge $500 per month for his services. Defeated, she decided to return to cattle ranching.
Things have changed for Osburn and other nurses like her since then. In March, Nebraska adopted a new law which allows nurses with advanced degrees to practice without supervision of a doctor. It is the 20th state to change the law.
The change allows nurses with a master degree or higher to perform physician duties like ordering and interpreting tests, administering treatment and prescribing needed medications. It is also a big win for the states’ residents, of which one-third live in rural areas and are short on physicians.
Osburn has worked as a nurse since 1982 and practices mainly in psychiatric areas and nursing homes. She says the need for psychiatric help in farming areas like Wood Lake is great. As farming becomes more automated, the population becomes smaller and more isolated, causing depression.
She says it is important to just have someone to listen. Watching the mental toll the isolation took on her neighbors was enough for her to decide on applying to a psychiatric nursing program.
Thanks to the new law, Osburn is now searching for the office space so she will be ready to open her doors when the law takes effect this September.