Nurse practitioners can improve outcomes, lower healthcare costs, and expand patient access to care. But only if their practice environments let them.
It's not news that the US is facing a shortage of primary care physicians.
According to estimates by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's Health Resources and Services Administration, by 2020 the nation will by facing a shortage of 20,400 primary care physicians.
The good news is that the organization predicts this gap in primary care could potentially be filled by nurse practitioners and physician's assistants.
The number of primary care NPs is expected to increase by 30% (from 55,400 in 2010 to 72,100 in 2020) and the primary care PAs is projected to increase by 58% (from 27,700 in 2010 to 43,900 in 2020).
Annual Number of Graduates from NP Programs: Master's and Post-Master's Graduates, 2002 Through 2012
As Cindy Cooke, DNP, FNP-C, FAANP, president of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners points out there's more to solving the primary care provider shortage equation than simply balancing less with more.
Scope of practice and licensing issues also need to be addressed. The AANP (source of map below) tracks practice environments.
"Alabama is a collaborative state and I actually worked for the military, so it's a federal property where I can practice to the full scope of my education and training. But as soon as I drive outside of those states, I'm not smart-enough, apparently, to do it again," Cooke says.
"To me it's a terrible waste of people. We have the expertise and let's utilize it. The patients are suffering. Access to care is huge."
Cooke believes there are three major reasons that healthcare leaders should support full practice environments for NPs.
Jennifer Thew, RN, is the senior nursing editor at HealthLeaders.