How Can Nurse Practitioners Affect Primary Care Provider Shortages?

Nurse Practitioners and Primary Care Shortage
Nurse Practitioners and Primary Care Shortage

In the United States alone, the projected physician shortage in primary care settings could be up to 55,200 providers by the year 2033. The problem of a primary care shortage requires a solution, and nurse practitioners are positioned to help. 

Nurse practitioners are registered nurses with advanced practice nursing roles. Because of their advanced educational preparation and clinical training, NPs are uniquely valuable in helping reduce the strain on the current health and medical workforce.

According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), approximately 89% of nurse practitioners hold a primary care certification. In 2022, statistics show that approximately 70% of all nurse practitioners are delivering primary care. This high percentage shows that nurse practitioners are favorably positioned to impact primary care shortages.

Primary Care Shortages in the United States

The Health Resources and Services Administration designates certain geographical areas as health professional shortage areas (HPSAs) where there is a population to health care provider ratio of at least 3500 people to 1 health care provider. In the United States, there were 8,176 designated shortage areas, with 17,057 health care providers needed to alleviate the shortages. The state of Indiana was found to have 44 separate geographical areas with primary care shortage. 

A count of primary care facilities within the shortage areas and states was also conducted. It was found that nearly 4500 primary care facilities are located within the health care provider shortage areas.

Individual states with the largest number of shortage areas are presented in the list below, along with the number of primary care facilities that are located within shortage areas.

  • California (438 facilities)
  • Texas (162 facilities)
  • Missouri (241 facilities)
  • Alaska (297 facilities)
  • Florida (157 facilities)
  • Michigan (185 facilities)
  • Illinois (137 facilities)
  • Georgia (84 facilities)
  • Arizona (135 facilities)
  • Kentucky (87 facilities)
  • North Carolina (99 facilities)

Educating future NPs and advocating for NP full practice autonomy continue to be priorities for improving primary care shortages.

Nurse Practitioners Working in Primary Care

Family nurse practitioners are the largest group of primary care nurse practitioners, with approximately 70% of all NPs holding the family NP certification. Because FNPs are trained specifically for primary care and are able to care for patients of all ages, this nurse practitioner specialty is most frequently encountered in primary care.

There are many benefits of becoming a family nurse practitioner, but if your goal is to help with the primary care shortage, there are other nurse practitioner specialty areas that also may work in primary care settings, including:

  • Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners
  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioners
  • Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioners
  • Women’s Health Nurse Practitioners

Depending on the program, nurse practitioners are prepared to care for a variety of patient populations. There can be some overlap in the curriculum for each nurse practitioner specialty area. Family nurse practitioners, for example, are trained to work with patients and families of all ages. Adult-gerontology nurse practitioners may have a greater focus on the elderly and do not work with the pediatric population.

Both family nurse practitioners and adult gerontology primary care nurse practitioners may find themselves working in the same employment positions. If you are considering either of these specialties for your future career path and wondering which may be right for you, here are some factors to help distinguish the FNP vs. AGPCNP.

The scope of practice for nurse practitioners has many role similarities to both physicians and physician assistants who work as primary care providers. A benefit of the nurse practitioner role is that currently, more than half of states allow NPs full practice autonomy. This allows licensed NPs the freedom to set up independent primary care practices that can increase access to health care in underserved areas.  

NPs are trained, certified, and licensed to complete physical assessments, order and interpret diagnostic testing, prescribe medications, and evaluate outcomes of care. The scope of practice for licensed NPs is determined based on state rules and regulations. Because of this, there is some variability depending on the state where the NP is licensed. 

If nurse practitioner job responsibilities are appropriate for primary care settings to offset the physician shortage, you may be wondering why a primary care shortage exists. In addition to the physician shortage, there is also a global nursing shortage affecting the United States and several contributing factors to explain the situation.

Global Nursing Shortage and Contributing Factors

By the year 2030, the World Health Organization estimates there will be a shortage of 5.7 million nurses worldwide. In the face of this information, strategic planning and legislative action to support both the generation and retention of a qualified nursing workforce is critical. Reasons for the nursing shortage include growth in the population aged 65 and older, a need for additional qualified nursing educators and turnover in nursing jobs, to name a few.

Although it is true that nurse burnout, violence in the workplace, and reduced staffing are some of the more difficult reasons for nurse turnover, there are other more positive reasons that lead nurses to transition into other nursing careers. When nurses change jobs, the distribution of nurses in primary care settings has not remained consistent. 

The pandemic has put a strain on the nursing workforce, but some nurse turnover is related to a shift in nurses toward non-clinical positions. As technology advances, more nurses may consider leaving the clinical arena for informatics nurse positions. With a positive career outlook, nurses are empowered to leave their current positions in search of other nursing roles, thereby shifting the dynamics of employment in primary care.

Nurse Practitioner Students

Educational Requirements to Become an FNP

There are many different nursing programs available to help you become a family nurse practitioner that will prepare you to make a difference in the primary care shortage. Before you begin exploring potential options, one consideration to think about is whether you are looking to pursue a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree.

Nurse practitioners with doctoral degrees have additional training that encompasses policy and legislative advocacy. This is just one of the benefits of earning a DNP degree. Doctorally prepared nurse practitioners learn how to evaluate research evidence for translation into clinical practice and may use these skills in creating programs to advance the application of evidence-based practice in the real world.

Additionally, the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF) has moved to evolve nurse practitioner programs to the DNP degree as the requirement for entry into practice. If you are looking to have a future as a nursing educator or an academic faculty member to help educate future nurses, a doctoral degree is the requirement for most full-time nursing education employment positions.

No matter what level of graduate education you are looking to pursue, the University of Indianapolis has several program options that can prepare you for filling a much-needed role in America’s healthcare workforce.

Become a Family Nurse Practitioner with an MSN from UIndy

UIndy is an excellent choice for becoming a family nurse practitioner. The university is nationally-ranked by the U.S. News and World Report, and its online MSN-FNP program boasts passing rates above the national average for the national nurse practitioner certification exam. Your schedule can be created in a part-time format, ideal for those who are working nurses looking to complete a nursing education program with a feasible time commitment. UIndy also offers a BSN-DNP FNP program with the same characteristics for those desiring to complete their terminal nursing degree online.

Both programs include clinical placement support in your local area so you can keep your mind focused on your studies. For those seeking the adult gerontology primary care nurse practitioner route, UIndy also has online MSN-AGPCNP and BSN-DNP AGPCNP programs for consideration.

If you are ready to embark on the journey to become a nurse practitioner, take the next step and apply for enrollment in the Online Family Nurse Practitioner MSN program with UIndy so you can become an essential part of the solution for reducing the primary care shortage.

Explore the Online Family Nurse Practitioner MSN program from the University of Indianapolis