NPs are rising in a market seeking easy access to care and less cost, new report says.
For the first time, nurse practitioners (NPs) topped the list of most recruited providers in an annual report on physician and advanced practitioner recruiting trends.
The 2021 Review of Physician and Advanced Practitioner Recruiting Incentives indicates that over a 12-month period, Merritt Hawkins, a medical search firm and a company of AMN Healthcare, conducted more search engagements for NPs than for any other type of provider.
The report indicated that 18% of search assignments were for advanced practitioners, including NPs, physician assistants (PAs), and certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), up from 13% the previous year. This is the highest percentage in the 28 years the Review has been conducted.
In the 27 years prior, physicians held the top spot of the report; in the last 14 years, the No. 1 position was held by family physicians.
"COVID-19 and other market forces are changing the dynamics of physician and advanced practitioner recruiting," said Tom Florence, executive vice president of Merritt Hawkins. "NPs are coming into their own in a market that puts a premium on easy access to care and cost containment."
NPs are being used to staff a growing number of urgent care centers and outpatient clinics that offer convenient access to care, as well as providing telemedicine services that feature direct access to caregivers, Florence said.
younger patients, in particular, are foregoing visits to traditional, office-based primary care physicians in favor of more convenient settings, the report indicates, softening demand for primary care physicians.
"Primary care physicians are still a vital part of team-based care and will be increasingly responsible for coordinating the care of older patients with multiple chronic conditions," Florence said. "But the recruiting frenzy in primary care is over."
Older Population Drives Need for Specialists
While family physicians were second on Merritt Hawkins’ list of most recruited providers, primary care physicians comprised only 18% of the firm’s search engagements over 12 months, compared to 20% the prior year and 22% two years ago. By contrast, specialist physicians comprised 64% of the firm’s search engagements over 12 months.
With more than 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, a growing number of older patients require the services of specialists, who generally are older than primary care doctors, with many on the verge of retirement and therefore limiting supply, according to Florence.
While NPs and PAs can perform many of the duties of primary care physicians, they cannot perform many of the complex procedures done by specialists. Consequently, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), is projecting a shortage of up to 48,000 primary care physicians by 2034, and an even greater shortage of more than 77,000 specialist physicians.
COVID-19 Lessened Demand For Physicians
COVID-19 severely inhibited demand for physicians, the report said. The number of search engagements Merritt Hawkins conducted declined by 25% year-over-year, as many hospitals, medical groups, and other healthcare facilities shut down services and lost revenue.
At the same time, the number of NP search engagements the firm conducted increased year-over-year, signaling strong demand for these providers.
The decrease in demand for doctors is likely to be temporary, the report indicates. The various underlying dynamics driving physician supply and demand remain in place, including a growing and aging population, a limited supply of newly trained physicians, and an aging physician workforce.
COVID-19 will not permanently change these market conditions, and demand for physicians already is rebounding, according to Florence.
“NPs are coming into their own in a market that puts a premium on easy access to care and cost containment.”
Tom Florence, executive vice president, Merritt Hawkins
Carol Davis is the Nursing Editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.
18% of search assignments were for advanced practitioners, up from 13% the previous year.
In the last 14 years, the No. 1 position was held by family physicians.
The number of NP search engagements signals a strong demand for these providers.