The growing shortage of primary care physicians in the U.S. has provided opportunities for family nurse practitioners (FNPs) to work to their full scope of practice and fill this gap by providing much-needed healthcare services, particularly to those age 65 and older. Over the last decade, changes in policy and state regulations have allowed more nurse practitioners to diagnose, order tests, prescribe medications, perform physical exams and work to their full scope of practice.
Continuing your education with a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) – Family Nurse Practitioner online program can bolster your healthcare skills and equip you to address the FNP shortage.
What Role Do Family Nurse Practitioners (FNP) Play in Primary Care?
With the ongoing primary care physician shortage, FNPs are increasingly necessary for rural and nonrural primary care practices.
In a study of NPs in primary care from 2008 to 2016, researchers found that “at the end of the period, NPs constituted 25.2 percent of providers in rural and 23.0 percent in nonrural practices, compared to 17.6 percent and 15.9 percent, respectively, in 2008.” However, the greatest increases in NPs were in rural practices where the number of NPs rose from 35% in 2008 to 45.5% in 2016.
While FNPs can offer many of the same services a family physician provides — such as physical exams, diagnoses, ordering tests and prescribing medications — the services they perform are also less costly. As a result, FNPs can ensure individuals and families receive primary care services in locations that often do not have physicians. Plus, the services they provide are more cost-efficient for patients and the healthcare system.
How Is the Shortage of Primary Care Physicians Fueling Demand for FNPs?
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the U.S. will experience a shortfall of almost 122,000 physicians by 2032 due to physician supply lagging behind growing demand.
The primary factor resulting in this demand is the growing number of aging adults — including working physicians. The AAMC states that one-third of the active physician workforce will be over the age of 65 within the next ten years, and “when these physicians decide to retire could have the greatest impact on supply.”
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that by 2030, the large population of baby boomers will be over the age of 65, meaning one in every five residents will be of retirement age. For the first time in U.S. history, the number of older people is predicted to outnumber the population of younger people.
What Is the Future Demand for Family Nurse Practitioners?
However, opportunities for NP employment continue to grow. A research study published in Health Affairs shows that “the number of NPs in the U.S. more than doubled from approximately 91,000 to 190,000” between 2010 and 2017 across the entire country.
The extraordinary demand for FNPs will continue as the population continues to age and physician supply cannot meet the growing demand. Forbes notes that “in rural areas, in particular, NPs are increasingly the main or even sole primary care provider in communities … Nurse practitioners account for 1 in 4 medical care providers in U.S. rural practices — a ‘significant’ 43.2% increase from 2008 to 2016.”
AANP ‘s president, Joyce Knestrick illustrates that patients trust healthcare provided by NPs pointing to approximately 1.06 billion visits in 2018.
With an aging baby boomer population that will see roughly one-third of the physician workforce retire in less than a decade, FNPs are increasingly crucial to filling these primary care provider roles. Plus, because FNPs provide many of the same services offered by primary care physicians but at a lower cost, there is an ongoing need for these nurses, especially in rural and underserved areas or when healthcare budgets are tight.