The critical shortage of primary care and specialty physicians in the U.S. affects patients in all parts of the country. Patients often must schedule appointments months in advance, spend hours in waiting rooms, and have less time to consult with their doctors. Many health care industry groups forecast the physician shortage to worsen in the future, which could cause further disruptions in access to care and increase the risk of harm to patients.
The National Center for Health Workforce Analysis (NCHWA) of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) projects that demand for nurse practitioners will increase by 15% between 2017 and 2030 and that demand for physicians’ assistants will increase by 8% in that time period. While physician assistant and nurse practitioner demand continues to grow, there will continue to be a shortage in primary care physicians. The shortfall will impact all communities in the U.S., according to the NCHWA.
The American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) has called for increased funding for medical schools and reforms to graduate medical education, according to Stat, a medical news website. However, analysts assert that such changes will do little to ease the physician shortage, especially when compared with alternative approaches that have the potential to be more effective. Topping the list of such options is increased reliance on nurse practitioners.
Nurse Practitioner Roles and Responsibilities
A UnitedHealth Group survey found that 13% of all U.S. residents — 43 million people — live in a county with less than one primary care physician for each 2,000 residents. The survey found that 38% of rural residents live in a county with a primary care physician shortage, compared with only 8% of people residing in urban and suburban areas. The growing need for primary care providers presents an opportunity for nurse practitioners.
While nurse practitioners operate independently, many of them also contract and collaborate with other health professionals, hospitals, and medical clinics. According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), 89.7% of nurse practitioners are prepared to practice in primary care with specialties in family (65.4%), adult (12.6%), pediatrics (3.7%), women’s health (2.8%), and gerontology (1.7%), among other specialties.
Nurse practitioner duties and responsibilities include the following:
● Performing physical exams
● Diagnosing and managing acute and chronic conditions
● Providing patients with health promotion and disease prevention information
● Ordering, conducting, and interpreting diagnostic tests
● Prescribing both pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic therapies
● Educating and advising patients on health conditions, risks, and treatment options
How Nurse Practitioners Help Communities
Nurse practitioners are at the forefront of the health care industry’s efforts to meet future nurse practitioner demand. In 2018 and 2019, 30,000 new nurse practitioners graduated, bringing the total number of NPs in the U.S. to 290,000, according to the AANP. By contrast, the AAMC reports that the U.S. will experience a physician shortage of between 46,900 and 121,900 positions by 2032.
While some health care needs require attention from medical doctors, NPs continue to take on additional duties that were once performed only by physicians. Some states require that NPs be supervised by a licensed physician, and some states don’t allow NPs to prescribe medications. In addition, many health care providers place their own restrictions on the services that NPs may provide to patients. Research also indicates that placing restrictions on NPs can harm patients by preventing them from receiving the care they need in a timely manner.
Nurse practitioners’ holistic approach to health care could be a key factor driving the improvement in patient satisfaction and treatment outcomes. Researchers have noted that physicians traditionally focus on treating diseases and curing specific ailments, while NPs address those maladies in the context of the patient as an individual, according to U.S. News & World Report. As a result, NPs are likely to spend more time with each patient they treat to ensure that the person understands the treatment and its impact on other parts of life, such as family relationships and finances.
How to Become an Advanced Practice Nurse
For nurses and nursing students, the path to becoming an NP begins by earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. Regis College’s online MSN program is grounded in the medical practices that advanced practice nurses encounter in modern health care settings. The program imparts the critical thinking and practical skills that allow NPs to have a direct impact on improving patient outcomes and delivering quality care to people whose access to health resources is limited by their location, income, or other circumstances.
The most effective postgraduate nursing programs emphasize training in clinical settings, as well as coursework in advanced topics such as pathophysiology, clinical pharmacology, and clinical decision-making. U.S. News & World Report points out that nursing education programs that engage students in their communities are more likely to find their students practicing in those communities after they graduate.
Post-master’s certificates are also available for graduates — with master’s degrees — who want to train in other nursing areas. However, these certificates are only available for nurses who have successfully completed all NP requirements for their state and/or country. The job outlook and market forecast for NPs is simply great. In fact, many nurse practitioners are able to secure positions in leading hospitals, clinics, private health-care facilities, and even home-care services if desired. According to the research, 92% of NPs would encourage other nurses to become NPs.
Nurse Practitioner Specialization
Regis College’s MSN program features six specialty areas for students to choose from: family care, pediatrics, psychiatric-mental health, women’s health, adult gerontology primary care, and adult gerontology acute care. The MSN program helps students in each concentration connect with NPs who practice in their respective subfields, preparing them to positively impact health care in their communities from their first day of work.
A primary focus of Regis College’s MSN program is preparing students to qualify for certificate examinations from boards including the American Nurses Credential Center, AANP, Pediatric Nursing Certification Board, and American Association of Critical-Care Nurses.
Nurse Practitioner Careers in Demand
Another way NPs and other advanced practice nurses can help address the critical nurse practitioner demand is by taking on roles as nurse educators. Nurse educators hold advanced nursing degrees and have clinical training in a specialized area, such as acute care, family health, cardiology, oncology, or pediatrics. In addition to being employed by colleges and universities, nurse educators are employed by hospitals, community health agencies, and long-term care facilities.
Just as a physician shortage exists, the supply of nurse educators can’t keep pace with the demand for their skills. Perhaps the greatest impact NPs can have in filling the growing need for physicians is by advocating for their profession in leadership roles at health care organizations, community health centers, professional nursing associations, and nursing schools, as nurse educators and nurse leaders. MSN programs prepare NPs to contribute their vision, creativity, and critical decision-making skills in ways that motivate their teams to succeed.
Learn More About Becoming a Nurse Practitioner
The benefits of earning an advanced nursing degree, such as an MSN, extend beyond serving a single institution or community. By facilitating access to high-quality, holistic patient care, NPs contribute to the well-being of the entire health care system, helping address the challenges of the growing physician shortage and nurse practitioner demand. As they fill new roles and expand existing ones, NPs have also become key players in the effort to meet the health care needs of underserved populations. Nurses with advanced degrees have opportunities to reach new heights in their careers, serving as role models, educators, and leaders of the next generation of health care professionals.
The online Master of Science in Nursing program at Regis College prepares graduates for advanced and specialized nursing roles in settings such as family practices, pediatric units, adult-geriatric facilities, women’s health centers, and mental health institutions. Learn about how this program can lead to nurse practitioner career success today.
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American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Nursing Faculty Shortage
American Association of Nurse Practitioners, NP Fact Sheet
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