In the United States, more than fifty-eight million citizens live in areas that are classified as primary care shortage areas. These regions, officially labeled as Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs), fail to maintain a sufficient group of primary care providers as outlined by federal guidelines. According to a report issued by the Kaiser Foundation, Advanced Practice Nurses (APNs) have the potential to fill this void. As of 2012, approximately 127,000 APNs deliver treatment in the country and 60,400 of those practitioners serve as primary care providers (PCPs).  Although these professionals can serve as a viable solution to the health care talent shortage in the United States, the deficiency persists due to lack of trained talent and regulatory practice limitations at the state level.
The Growing Role of Nurse Practitioners
A Forbes Magazine article titled “Nurse Practitioners More in Demand than Most Physicians” cites that care provider organizations have a long history of struggling to fill PCP and internist roles.  Despite this, the demand for physicians is slightly decreasing. As reported by the national doctor recruiting firm Merritt Hawkins, more organizations are seeking the services of nurse practitioners and physician assistants. This change comes on the heels of health care regulations that require insurers to compensate providers based on the quality of their services. As the caregiving environment becomes more team oriented, it’s growing almost impossible to deliver fair access and patient satisfaction without talent pools that consist of a mix of physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners. To reinforce relatively new government health care mandates, insurers are incorporating new compensation models into their contracts that stipulate payment percentages based on treatment quality outcomes. To deliver better outcomes according to these guidelines, care provider organizations have continued to recruit mostly family physicians for almost the last decade and a half. However, physician assistants and nurse practitioners combined have moved up to the fourth most recruited medical professionals, up from the twentieth most recruited just over eight years ago. Independently, NPs placed fifth – one spot behind dedicated hospital physicians – while physician assistants came in tenth in recruiting rankings, tying with general surgeons. In fact, advanced practice nurses outranked several other specialists, such as cardiologists, urologists, and neurologists.
Building a Foundation for the Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree
Since 2004, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) has formally encouraged APNs to practice to the full extent of their capabilities. The organization has also actively worked to promote the pursuit of Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. The AACN took this course of action after sponsoring a special task force that examined how nurses with high-level training could positively impact population health outcomes. Today, nursing institutions deliver such training in the classroom and online.  Doctor of Nursing Practice hopefuls may pursue learning tracks in specialty disciplines such as Nurse Practitioner, Clinical Nurse Specialist, Certified-Nurse Midwife, and Certified Nurse Anesthetist. DNP coursework builds on master’s degree training and includes preparation in evidence-based practices, quality improvement, leadership, and other critical health care related skills. The degree provides high-level advanced education that’s an alternative to research-based instruction. The AACN calls on trained DNPs to serve as leaders within their respective organizations.  Additionally, this level instruction fully prepares DNPs to implement the latest discoveries uncovered by their research-oriented peers. With the changing nature of the United States health care system, nursing professionals with the skill to implement the latest evidence-based discoveries in provider facilities are a critical resource.
Looking Toward DNPs for Service
In response to the nation’s health care demands, frontrunners in medicine – such as the Institutes of Medicine, The Joint Commission, The Robert Wood Foundation, and other advocates – have led the charge to promote DNP training in learning institutions around the country. This and other factors have led toward a fast increase in momentum for the transition to DNP training at institutions of higher learning. Also accelerating the change are a multitude of recent medical discoveries, the complex nature of modern health services, a relatively new interest in quality of care, and a shortage of highly skilled nursing talent. From an educator’s perspective, the nationwide movement toward encouraging nurses to seek DNP training is becoming part of the modus operandi. An MD Magazine article reports that American universities have a way to go before reaching a point where they produce enough APN graduates to satisfy the nation’s health care demands.  Therefore, the potential nursing shortage is still a very real threat. In some instances overworked and overstressed nurses are abandoning the profession under pressure, further exacerbating the shortage. To date, nearly half a million licensed nurses do not work in their fields in the United States.  A twofold approach is needed to remedy this – lobbying for APNs to have more freedom to serve as PCPs, and an influx of fresh, new DNP talent to shore up the nursing talent pool in the United States. As the population continues to grow and more Americans acquire health insurance, the need for qualified, licensed advanced practice nurses will rise. In unison, United States care providers must optimize their operational policies and procedures; a major undertaking that’s already underway. Moving forward, advanced practice nurses can play an integral role in helping care provider organizations transition toward a contemporary model of treatment.
Health care is seeing an industry-wide demand for advanced practice nurses trained at the doctoral level due to the changing landscape, drive for improved patient outcomes, and a shortage of qualified nurses. If you’re an RN with a bachelor’s degree in nursing and ready to take your career to a higher level, the Regis College’s BSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice online program can prepare you for advanced nursing practice.