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Nurse Practitioners and the Primary Care Shortage

Recent studies have indicated that there has been a steady decrease of primary care physicians across the United States. In fact, many primary care physicians have ceased operations — or retired due to the aging population. Similarly, many doctors have stopped practicing due to higher numbers of uninsured Americans across the country. With fewer medical school graduates than ever before, the only professionals that can fill these voids are nurse practitioners. These professionals have the abilities to treat patients like PCPs, and they continue to be in great demand across the US.

To learn more, checkout the infographic below created by Regis College’s Online Master of Science in Nursing degree program.

Nurse Practitioners and the Primary Care Shortage

Primary Care Physician Shortage in the U.S.

Currently, the national demand for primary care physicians is 224,780. However, the current supply is only at 216,580. This is a shortage of 8,200 doctors that the population desperately needs. Some of the main reasons for these shortages are an increasingly aging population — that requires specialist care as opposed to general physicians. Based on research and studies, nearly 15 percent of the population in the US were 65 years of age in 2015 accounting for approximately 48.2 million people, and that number is expected to soar to 74 million by 2030.

Aging Concerns in the US and Increased Health Conditions

As folks grow older in the US, their chances of developing health conditions increase as well. This too is one of the main reasons for the shortages in primary doctors, since these conditions require specialists and sadly — even hospices and long-term care. According to research, 33 percent of Americans over the age of 65 have hypertension. Twenty-two percent of Americans in the same age group have fair to poor health conditions. Twenty-nine percent also suffer from some type of heart disease; while an alarming 80 percent deal with chronic conditions. This includes diabetes, stroke, arthritis, and other conditions.

Projections for Future Shortages

Physician demand across the US continues to be in great demand. However, research has shown that the supply is simply not there. Along with the current statistics, future projections show a huge shortfall of between 61,700 and 94,700 by 2025. The projected shortage of PCPs will be between 14,900 and 35,600 by 2025 as well. Thirty-seven states will also have a shortage of primary care physicians by 2025, while 12 of those states are projected to lose at least 1,000 PCPs. Florida — which has huge medical centers – is projected to lose over 3,000 doctors by 2025. The same also goes for Massachusetts, which is projected to lose around 890 physicians.

Other Reasons for PCP Shortages

Despite Obamacare and the Affordable Act, there are still over 23 million American without adequate insurance coverage. This too is one of the reasons why PCP care has and continues to drop throughout the United States. The numbers of medical school graduates increased from 16,594 – between 2006-2011 – and 18,243 between 2011-2017. While this seems like a good sign, industry monitors believe these graduation rates are not enough to keep up with the current pace and demands. Remember, there are already over 8,000 primary care physicians shortages happening each year. The only professionals that can fill these huge gaps and voids are nurse practitioners.

Nurse Practitioner Roles and Responsibilities

The national demand for Nurse Practitioners is at 57,330. This is the same number of the current supply of NPs available to fill the existing voids. While nurse practitioners operate independently, many of them also contract – and work in collaboration – with other health professionals, hospitals and medical clinics. NP duties also range from performing physical examinations to diagnosing and managing acute and chronic conditions. Duties also include providing patients with disease prevention information, along with health promotion materials and suggestions. They also prescribe both pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic therapies, as well as educating and advising patients on health conditions, risks, and treatment options.

Projections for Future NP Shortages and Surpluses

According to research, no state is projected to have NP shortages in 2025. In fact, 13 states are projected to have NP surpluses of well over 1,000 in 2025. This includes over 100 new NPs across the District of Columbia and over 5,000 in Texas alone. Currently, over 80 percent of nurse practitioners are prepared to practice in primary care. This includes specialties in family medicine, adult medicine, pediatrics, women’s health, and gerontology.

Educational Requirements and Job Overviews

Most NP academic programs are master’s degrees. Post-master’s certificates are also available for graduates — with master’s degrees – that want to train in other nursing areas. However, this is only available for nurses that have graduated and successfully completed all NP requirements for their state and/or country. There are currently over 150 programs that offer NP certifications and DNP degrees. 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 percent of NPs would encourage other nurses to become NPs.

What Sets Nurse Practitioners Apart from other Healthcare Professionals?

While there are other opportunities in health-care and nursing, there are a few notable differences between NPs and other health care providers. This includes more emphasis on holistic healing and empowering patients to lead healthier and more productive lifestyles. NPs also follow up with patient needs — much more than other health-care providers or general nurses. In fact, 52 percent of NPs stay abreast of all the latest medical industry news, trends and developments. This enables them to pursue other avenues in health care, along with ongoing education and schooling for other nursing areas or NP specialties.

Additionally, NPs are able to multi-task and make quick but effective decisions when it comes to health-care. With the continuing shortage of primary care physicians, the future outlook for nurse practitioners remains positive and good. These professionals remain in high demand, and that will only continue in the months and years ahead.

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