The Primary Care Provider Shortage: 2019 Update

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Nurse visit sick child at home to check her heart rate.

Data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) suggests that the U.S. could see a shortage of up to 120,000 physicians by 2030. In addition to having a negative impact on patient care, the primary care provider (PCP) shortage will also increase demand for nurse practitioners (NPs).

The primary care provider shortage is rooted in the following key areas: First, the number of graduating physicians that choose the primary care provider path is declining. Second, the number of primary care providers who are entering retirement continues to grow. The AAMC estimates that by 2025, roughly a third of practicing primary care providers will be age 65 or older.

A Brief History of the Health Care Provider Shortage in the U.S.

U.S. health care staffing shortages aren’t unique to primary care physicians. While lower starting salaries among primary care providers have contributed to fewer professionals in this area, the number of working registered nurses (RNs) has also been declining for almost three decades.

The U.S. nursing shortage began in the early 1990s, when health insurance providers initiated cost-cutting policies. Licensed, experienced nurses were replaced with less-skilled aides, and the layoffs made the profession unattractive to those who had other career prospects.

Given these reductions, the number of nurses, nurse practitioners, and other primary care providers entering the workforce is hardly enough to keep up with the needs of the aging population.

The Impact on Patient Care

Experts worldwide have long stated that insufficient primary care provider and nursing staffing levels can be directly correlated with declines in patient care quality.
● CBS News reported that the primary care provider shortage has made it harder for patients in many parts of the country to access care. Data from MarketWatch supports this finding and indicates that in some states, such as Connecticut, only 15 percent of primary care needs are being met.

● A 2014 Registered Nurse Forecasting study published in The Lancet found that increasing a nurse’s workload by one patient led to a 7 percent increase in the likelihood of patient mortality within 30 days of admission. Researchers also found that for every 10 percent increase in staffing by nurses with a bachelor’s degree, patient mortality declined by 7 percent.

Plans for a Remedy

Many states have begun to implement strategies aimed at reversing the U.S. health care provider shortage. Programs geared toward increasing NP program enrollment, including those that provide future nurses with fellowships and student loan forgiveness, are already underway.
Alaska’s SHARP program, for example, offers up to $47,000 in student loan forgiveness for nurses, while the Delaware State Loan Repayment Plan offers up to $30,000. Those interested in pursuing a nursing career may be interested to learn that state, federal, and military loan forgiveness and repayment programs are available nationwide.

The Changing Landscape of Health Care

Despite the current RN shortage, data from the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) found that in 2018, nearly 248,000 licensed nurse practitioners (LNPs) were in the U.S. This is a marked increase from 2007, when the nationwide total hovered around 120,000.
Although the reason for the popularity rise in this career path doesn’t appear to be directly linked to the RN shortage, it can be linked to the primary care physician shortage. As such, many who are interested in a career in nursing are opting to pursue their Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). In addition to providing students with the education and background needed to be successful NPs, it makes them well positioned to serve as primary care providers to their patients.
DNP nurse educators are also playing an important role in helping prepare tomorrow’s nurses for a health care career. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that RN employment is forecast to grow by 15 percent between 2016 and 2026, which is faster than all other occupations. Consequently, the need for DNP-educated nurses will remain high.

A Path Toward the Future

The online BSN to Doctor of Nursing Program at Regis College has been designed to provide students with the tools they’ll need to be successful in the future. Credentialed nurses who are interested in teaching and having greater autonomy, better career options, and greater earning potential will find the program worthwhile. Take an active role in the future of nursing. Contact Regis College today to get started.

Recommend Readings
What Health Administration Professionals Need to Know About the Future of Health Care
Future of Nursing: Trends in a Demanding Industry Tips for Writing Nursing Journal Articles

Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, SHARP Support-for-Service
Association of American Medical Colleges, New Research Shows Increasing Physician Shortages in Both Primary and Specialty Care
BMJ Quality & Safety, “An Observational Study of Nurse Staffing Ratios and Hospital Readmission Among Children Admitted for Common Conditions”
CBS News, Shortage of Primary Care Physicians Could Threaten Patient Care
MarketWatch, “America’s Facing a Shortage of Primary-Care Doctors”, “NPs, Pas Could Reduce Primary Care Physician Shortage Nearly 70%”
Proactive Healthcare Recruiters, The Global Nursing Shortage Causative FactorsResearchGate, “A Historical Perspective on the Nursing Shortage”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “The Great Nursing Shortage: Which States Are Hit Hardest and What’s Being Done to Help?”
The Lancet, “Nurse Staffing and Education and Hospital Mortality in Nine European Countries: A Retrospective Observational Study”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses
U.S. National Library of Medicine, “Nursing Shortage
U.S. News & World Report, “What Nurses Need to Know About Student Loan Forgiveness” WBUR, “Nursing a Shortage