Nurse practitioners (NPs), like physicians, have the ability to assess and diagnose patients and prescribe treatments and medications. How do you become a nurse practitioner? NPs are registered nurses that have obtained an advanced degree in nursing, such as a Master of Science in Nursing-Family Nurse Practitioner (MSN-FNP). These individuals are becoming an increasingly valuable part of the health care team. The United States is in the midst of a physician shortage, especially in primary care. More nurse practitioners, especially family nurse practitioners, are filling the gaps as they provide care to an increasing number of patients. With the number of active nurse practitioners on the rise, here are a few things that you should know:
1. The Number of Nurse Practitioners is Growing
A March 2018 press release by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) reported that the number of NPs licensed to practice in the United States is at an all-time high – 248,000 NPs are currently licensed to practice.
2. NPs are Seeing More Job Opportunities
Survey research conducted by the American Medical Group Association (AMGA) indicates that increasing numbers of primary care practices are expanding their use of advanced practice clinicians (APCs). APCs include nurse practitioners and physician assistants. Health care is shifting toward a more team-centric and coordinated approach to providing care, and the increasing integration of nurse practitioners is central to this change. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that by 2026, nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and nurse anesthetists can expect a 51% increase in job growth.
3. Nurse Practitioners’ Scope of Practice Varies by State
Nurse practitioner degree programs provide advanced nursing education that nurse practitioners require in order to practice in their full capacity. The laws of each state determine the scope of nurse practitioners. Some states require NPs to have physician supervision, while an increasing number of states now allow them to practice independently. Currently, 22 states and Washington D.C. grant nurse practitioners full practice authority, meaning they may practice independently of a physician. Other states require a collaborative agreement with a supervising physician, or have restrictions on their practice. The National Academy of Medicine and the National Council of State Boards of Nursing both recommend that states provide NPs full practice authority.
4. NPs Provide Equivalent Care to Physicians
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported that after six months, no significant differences were noted in the health status of patients who had been seen by nurse practitioners compared to those seen by primary care physicians.
5. Nurse Practitioners are Serving the Underserved
The National Rural Health Association reports that approximately 20% of Americans live in rural areas, and there are on average 13.1 physicians per 10,000 people, compared to 31.2 per 10,000 people in urban areas. Increasing numbers of nurse practitioners are working in underserved areas such as these. By 2016, the percentage of NPs serving rural populations is expected to increase from 17.6% to 25.2%.
6. NPs Work Well as Team Members
Nurse practitioners are able to perform many of the same duties and tasks as physicians. As the shift toward multidisciplinary care teams increases, nurse practitioners become more valuable. Nurse practitioners essentially serve as the physician in their independent practices, which enables physicians to focus on the higher-acuity cases.
7. Nurse Practitioners Work in a Variety of Settings
Whereas NPs work in hospitals and many nontraditional settings such as in corporate health and plastic surgery offices, FNPs typically work in primary care clinics or their own private practices, treating patients throughout the life cycle, diagnosing illness, conducting exams, and prescribing medication in clinics. Many home health companies employ nurse practitioners, whereas family nurse practitioners often work in physicians’ offices or hospice facilities as well as their own private practices. As the integration of nurse practitioners increases, the number and variety of job opportunities will continue to grow for both NPs and FNPs.
American Association of Nurse Practitioners. (2018). Number of nurse practitioners hits new record high. Retrieved from https://www.aanp.org/press-room/press-releases/173-press-room/2018-press-releases/2190-number-of-nurse-practitioners-hits-new-record-high
American Medical Group Association (AMGA). (2014). Advanced practice clinician workforce continues to grow; incentive pay an increasing part of compensation mix. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140214130715.htm
American Association of Nurse Practitioners. (2018). State practice environment. Retrieved from https://www.aanp.org/legislation-regulation/state-legislation/state-practice-environment.
Barnes, H., Richards, M.R., McHugh, M.D., Martsoff, G. (2018). Rural and nonrural primary care physician practices increasingly rely on nurse practitioners. Health Affairs, 37(6). Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1377/hlthaff.2017.1158.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2018). Nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, and nurse midwives. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm.
Mundinger, M.O., Kane, R.L., Lenz, E.R., et al. (2000) Primary care outcomes in patients treated by nurse practitioners or physicians: A randomized trial. JAMA. 283(1), 59–68. doi:10.1001/jama.283.1.59
National Rural Health Association. (N.d). About rural health care. Retrieved from https://www.ruralhealthweb.org/about-nrha/about-rural-health-care.
Pittman, P., Williams, B. (). Physician wages in states with expanded APRN scope of practice. Nursing Research and Practice, volume 2012. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2012/671974