By 2019 will lead to 25 million more primary care visits across the country. That’s nothing compared to the 75 million baby boomers aging into advanced care, and the 50 million among them who will need to be treated for multiple chronic conditions.
Altogether, as a nation, we face a seemingly incalculable sum of provider sweat equity hours needed to care for our people, and how we accomplish that depends on how we evolve our health care system. One major shift has been the role of nurse practitioners in the quest for more affordable, high quality, patient-centered care at a time when the nation is searching for an antidote to today’s health care challenges.
Nurse practitioners have been around for more than 50 years, and in that time, their role has evolved tremendously to meet the demands of our fluctuating health care system. Now nurse practitioners are embracing their biggest health care challenge yet. Here’s a look at what’s changing.
- The numbers. Yes, there’s a provider shortage, but nurse practitioners are bringing reinforcements. Last year, primary care nurse practitioner graduates outnumbered primary care medical school graduates by more than three times, and projected job growth for nurse practitioners exceeds 30 percent (almost three times the average of other professions). In the next seven years, we will add almost 55,000 providers to an otherwise shrinking health care workforce, and the next generation is more educated, ethnically diverse and younger than ever before.
- Specialization. Nurse practitioners must have a master’s degree or a doctorate degree, pass a national certification exam and be licensed in their state. In addition to primary care, nurse practitioners are going further in their education to specialize in areas like oncology, gerontology, psychiatry and neonatology.
- Our purpose. Nurse practitioners are trained to have a holistic, preventative approach to personalized care, which comes in handy when system fragmentation overwhelms patients and providers. One of the biggest challenges to primary care, is the ability to coordinate the care patients receive from specialists, ER teams and follow-up on home health to ensure patients do not fall through the cracks and to avoid duplicative appointments and unnecessary readmissions. From diagnosing critical conditions and prescribing life-saving medicines to teaching patients how to flush a tube or properly dress a wound, nurse practitioners have training that spans the entire care spectrum. Because of this unique skillset, nurse practitioner leadership to help coordinate a seamless continuum of care for better patient outcomes creates improved patient outcomes and cost savings.
- Autonomy. Nurse practitioners are working at the top of their license in 22 states plus the District of Columbia, practicing independently without the need for costly physician oversight or prescription sign-off. Increased practice rights have created new opportunities in retail clinics, onsite corporate health clinics and in-home health care companies, and they have paved the way for nurse practitioners to open their own independent practices, which is especially important in urban and rural areas where provider shortages are affecting access to care. More states are expected to pass similar legislation in the next few years, filling voids in service and providing an affordable alternative for patients looking for more personalized care
- Demand. Demand for nurse practitioners increased 320 percent in just three years, and today we are the fifth most sought after medical specialty (for reference, six years ago we didn’t even make the list). U.S. News ranked nurse practitioner second on its list of the 100 best jobs – naming formidable salaries, job security and increased practice rights as enticements for students weighing health care professions. The notoriety is paying off – more people are choosing the nurse practitioner career track and capitalizing on the tremendous job opportunities to jump-start their medical career.
Nurse practitioners today play a very different role than they did in 1965, and we are still in the process of defining our full potential. Trends in job growth and demand reflect what patients, providers and now legislators have been realizing for some time – that nurse practitioners are vital to our health care delivery system and that they must play an integral role in the future of care. As more states pass legislation granting nurse practitioners full practice authority, and as more opportunities emerge to capitalize on our skilled and rapidly growing workforce, look for nurse practitioners to dramatically change our care delivery system for the better in the next 50 years.
Joyce M. Knestrick, PhD, APRN, CFNP, FAANP, is President of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP).
Many thanks Joyce for this great insight into the NP today!!!