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Nurses seeking power to write

LAWRENCEVILLE - What has become an annual battle by highly trained nurses to win the right to write prescriptions in Georgia will kick off in Gwinnett County this week.

A group of advanced practice registered nurses from Gwinnett will meet with members of the county's House delegation on Tuesday night to seek support for their "Right to Write" campaign.

Nurses have pushed the issue in the General Assembly for the past 11 years but have been derailed each time by opposition from the influential Georgia Medical Association, which represents the state's doctors.

Physicians should not be worried that giving advanced nurses the authority to write prescriptions would take away from their practices, said Karen Schwartz, a registered nurse in Gwinnett.

"We have no hidden agenda," she said. "We just want to practice to the full scope that we were trained to practice."

Two bills were introduced in the Legislature this year addressing the issue, one in the House and one in the Senate. Both drew Republican and Democratic co-sponsors, including such prominent leaders as the chairmen of the two chambers' rules committees, Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellville, and Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs.

But neither got past first base in the legislative process, in large part because they weren't put in the hopper until late in the session. Both remain alive, however, because the General Assembly will enter the second year of its term in January.

While the nurses maintain that Georgia doctors don't want them writing prescriptions out of a fear of competition, doctors say they're concerned that advanced nurses lack the training.

"What they have is a four-year bachelor's degree and a two-year master's," said David Cook, executive director of the medical association. "That's equivalent to physicians with two years in medical school. (They're) not authorized to prescribe, either."

Freshman Rep. Clay Cox, R-Lilburn, hasn't been around for the years of debate on the subject. He said he'll be anxious to hear the nurses make their case on Tuesday.

"I want to learn about the issue and make sure I understand what they're seeking," he said. "That way, I can vote on it intelligently if it reaches the floor."

- Staff writer Leslie Wiggins contributed to this report.