As a nurse practitioner (NP), you are in high demand, and you can expect this demand to continue to grow due to a forecasted nurse practitioner shortage. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the U.S. could see an estimated shortage of between 21,400 and 55,200 primary care physicians by 2033, resulting in an even greater urgency for NPs to step in and provide care. Finding solutions for the nursing staffing shortage is now more critical than ever.
What is Causing the Shortage?
According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), nearly 100 million people live in primary care shortage areas in the United States. Nurse practitioners, registered nurses, travel nurses and even nursing students are on the front lines of the crisis. But how did we get here?
Aging Population as a Primary Factor
As the baby boomer generation continues to enter retirement age, we can expect significant demand for nurses to care for this population. According to an article published by the National Institute of Health (NIH), aging baby boomers have resulted in a 73% increase of Americans over 65 years old, from 41 million to 71 million between 2011 and 2019.
Due to advancements in healthcare technology, people are living longer, increasing the need for health services as more individuals require treatment for long-term, chronic health conditions. NIH also cites an aging nursing workforce as a factor, with about one million registered nurses over age 50. This means that in the next 10 – 15 years, a third of this workforce could exit the field at retirement age.
Additional Factors Contributing to the Nursing Shortage
A lack of work life balance and burnout are also causes for many nurses’ departure. A National Academy of Medicine report suggests that between 35% and 54% of U.S. nurses and physicians have symptoms of burnout. This is not surprising considering that the work environment for healthcare professionals can be incredibly stressful.
In addition, nursing schools struggle to keep up with the demand. According to nursejournal.org, nursing school applications are reaching record levels, but nurse programs are having to turn away tens of thousands of applicants annually due to “a lack of nurse educators, clinical space, classroom space, and clinical preceptors.”
The journal also attributes the shortage to faculty retirements and competition for faculty from clinical and private sector employers who offer higher pay. As a result, master’s and doctoral programs are not producing qualified advanced practice educators quickly enough to replace those leaving the field – and the educator shortage is only expected to increase.
How to Fix a Nursing Shortage with Independent Nurse Practitioners
Both current and future independent NPs will be pivotal in the solution for a shortfall in primary care. In fact, states that give nurse executives full practice authority rank among the best in the nation for achieving the best health system performance, access to care and patient health outcomes. These states also offer better access to primary care, better access for seniors and greater patient choice.
Patients report satisfaction too, with studies showing they have confidence in the care they receive from NPs. A Duke University study backs these findings, concluding that, “nurse practitioners provided comparable or superior primary care, better results, and equal or higher levels of patient satisfaction compared with physicians.”
Along with the aging population, rural communities are among the hardest hit by the healthcare shortage. An AANP survey found that, “nearly 50% of patients waited longer than one month — and 25% report waited more than two months — for a health care appointment in the last 12 months.”
In addition, since 90% of NPs are trained to deliver primary care – and represent 25% of primary care providers in rural practices – they are uniquely positioned to provide much-needed care to the underserved.
Independent Nurse Practitioners Improve Healthcare Outcomes
According to an article published in NursingProcess.org, nurse practitioners improve healthcare outcomes for their patients, community, and overall population through improved access, cost-effectiveness, and increased trust and patient satisfaction. The article also states, “These improved outcomes lead to healthier individuals, a decrease in uncontrolled chronic health problems, early identification of cancers, or even identification of high-risk patients to implement a plan to reduce the risk of cancer.”
Because NPs approach healthcare from a holistic viewpoint, they see each patient as an individual, looking beyond just their physical health. They also promote patient education, which has been shown to increase engagement and improve health outcomes. Perhaps most importantly, NPs emphasize health promotion and early detection and disease prevention, which also helps mitigate the shortages in healthcare providers.
Independent Nurse Practitioners Provide Cost-Effective Care
NPs also are helping to offset the ever-rising cost of healthcare while providing solutions for the nursing shortage. In fact, a study by economists at Brandeis University found that nurses charge patients:
- 29% less for health evaluations
- 11% less for in-patient care than physicians
NPs may offer care at a reduced cost, but they do not sacrifice quality. According to an NIH study, NPs offer a cost-effective solution to the primary care physician shortage. The study compared outcomes between patients reassigned from physician to primary care NPs and found that, “patients reassigned to NPs experienced similar outcomes and incurred less utilization at comparable cost relative to MD patients.”
Solutions for Nursing Shortage: Practice Authority Matters
As an independent nurse practitioner, you already are making a positive difference by caring for patients who may not otherwise have access to quality healthcare. However, the lack of autonomy given to NPs has a significant impact on their ability to serve to their full potential, as many states still restrict NPs from practicing to their full ability.
Examples of these restrictions include requirements that NPs must be supervised by a physician or that they must practice within a certain distance of supervising physicians. According to an article published by USA Today, these restrictions are hurting patients. The article notes that:
- 63 million people who live in states that restrict nurse practitioners lack easy access to a primary care provider
- Patients who do not have easy access to primary care experience delays in diagnosis, pay more for care, and die earlier than those who have quick access to providers
- If states eased restrictions that keep nurses from independently treating patients, they could reduce their provider shortages by two-thirds
The article concluded, “Reforms to allow nurse practitioners to practice to the full extent of their training have expanded care, cut costs, and saved lives.”
Here to Help the Healthcare World Cope with Drastic Shortages
NP Advantage celebrates the contributions that independent nurse practitioners make in healthcare. Our goal is to support NPs in launching and growing independent practices, so that they can enjoy the benefits of independent practice while serving those who need them most. We offer a full suite of services, including annual business planning and practice websites, to equip entrepreneurial NPs with the tools they need for success.