By MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS
TRAVERSE CITY — MaryLee Pakieser is a force to be reckoned with, whether she's advocating for patients or for state legislation that affects them.
That's why the Traverse City nurse practitioner is the 2013 recipient of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners' Nurse Practitioner State Award for Excellence, said Pakieser's nominator, Joanne Pohl. The award is given annually to a nurse practitioner in each state who has demonstrated excellence in his or her area of practice.
Pakieser, 61, has been a registered nurse since 1972 and a nurse practitioner — an advance practice nurse — since 1995. For much of her career, she worked with disadvantaged populations, including migrant farm workers and people in poverty. She currently practices at the Traverse City VA Outpatient Clinic, where she provides primary care services for veterans in the Traverse City area.
Pakieser also is a respected advocate for nursing and nurse practitioners. From 2010-2012, she served on the Michigan Department of Community Health Task Force on Nursing Practice, which made recommendations on the future of nursing in Michigan. As president of the Michigan Council of Nurse Practitioners, she helped push for a proposed bill to allow nurse practitioners to practice independent of physicians.
"She's been that voice for marginalized people in the community, but she's also been an outstanding leader and advocate for nurses and nurse practitioners," said Pohl, professor emeritus at the University of Michigan School of Nursing, former director of the U-M's Adult Nurse Practitioner Program and past president of the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties. "Her energy level is very contagious. She's really somebody who has the courage to speak up for patients and nurses and nurse practitioners in particular."
Typically nurse practitioners can diagnose illnesses, treat patients and prescribe medications without a doctor's involvement. But Michigan is one of several states with practice restrictions.
"We have 40 years of documentation and ongoing research that shows that nurse practitioners working within the scope of their education and license are equal and in some instances better than our physicians," Pakieser said. "Our other big hallmark is we are experts in patient education. We take what physicians say and translate it to patients in a way they can understand and (vice-versa).
"The best health care is when physicians and nurses and all the various disciplines respect each other, work together, recognize each other's areas of expertise and collaborate on what is best for the patients."