Cindy Zeller, a pediatric nurse practitioner, has dreamed of opening her own medical practice for the last 20 years. But recently, she was limited by a Maryland law that required nurse practitioners to have physician oversight to see patients.
That changed in 2015 when the state passed a new law that allowed trained nurse practitioners to open completely independent offices. Zeller decided to take advantage of the legislation, and — with the support of her husband and five children — will open her practice, Better Futures Pediatric and Lactation Services, in Woodsboro on Jan. 3.
“I think it takes you back to the nursing aspect where we really focus on teaching and wellness promotion,” she said of her practice, which will treat patients from newborns to age 21. “I have my doctorate, but in previous positions, I had no broader responsibilities than what everyone else was doing, even though I was the only nurse practitioner in the practice.”
Beyond an increased focus on education, Zeller said she hopes to decrease her patient load and offer more comprehensive care to families. In her former job as a nurse at Frederick Pediatric Associates, she estimated that she saw around 24 to 30 patients a day, which limited the time per child to around 15 minutes.
At her new practice, though, she hopes to see only 15 or 20 patients a day, at most. While the smaller load might decrease her revenue, Zeller said, it has benefits for both the parents and they children they bring to see her.
“I want to take 30 minutes for a well visit and talk about anticipatory guidance and development milestones and what they can expect,” she said. “ They’re going to leave with less questions and less concerns.”
Zeller will also offer lactation consultation services, a speciality and a passion for her ever since she learned about the field. Consultants are trained to offer guidance to mothers having difficulty with nursing their babies, a common issue that’s often under-discussed in hospitals and primary care settings, she said.
Currently, Zeller is credentialed through three different insurance groups — the Johns Hopkins Family Health Plan, Amerigroup and MultiPlan — and hopes that she’ll soon be able to accept plans from larger companies including CareFirst and Aetna. She also plans to accept patients with state-provided health care.
Both Zeller and Michelle Cooper, another nurse practitioner with an independent primary care practice in Frederick, emphasized the important roles that nurse practitioners can play in the community. Cooper often provides free care through volunteer work with the Asian American Center and participating in local health fairs.
Zeller has lived in Woodsboro for 20 years and said she wanted to establish a practice in close to home, in an area of the county with few pediatric practices.
“I had to look at, ‘Well, where’s the need?’” she said. “And it’s very fulfilling. I have kids that I took care of who are now bringing their babies to me. It makes me feel very old, but it’s a nice progression to see.”