It’s time to expand scope of practice for primary care NPs

Nurse with a clipboard

The increasing numbers of Americans with health insurance are clamoring for primary care providers. At the same time, some states are actually passing laws that make it more difficult for primary care nurse practitioners (NP) to practice.

While the data shows physicians alone cannot meet primary care needs in the U.S., the challenge is to maximize the practice potential of both doctors and NPs, according to a recent article in Health Affairs.

While more medical school graduates are pursuing primary care, their numbers will scarcely make a dent in the shortage of primary care doctors. The National Center for Health Workforce Analysis projects a shortage of as many as 20,400 doctors by 2020. The good news is 17,900 NPs who graduated in 2015 intend to focus on primary care.

Compare that with the nearly 2,700 medical school graduates who want to pursue careers in primary care, and the need for primary care providers becomes glaring, according to authors Joanne M. Pohl, Ph.D., professor emerita at the school of nursing at The University of Michigan; Anne Thomas, Ph.D., dean of the school of nursing at the University of Indianapolis; Debra J. Barksdale, Ph.D., professor and associate dean of academic affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University; and Kathryn E. Werner, executive director of the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties.

Even more promising than the number of primary care NPs receiving their diplomas last year is the fact that three quarters of them were family nurse practitioners, which means their training allows them to treat patients throughout their lives. Gerontology was the second most popular specialty among graduating NPs, which is great news for the number of seniors who will soon flood the Medicare rolls, according to the article.

The nursing education leaders and advocates are critical of states such as Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, which limit the number of NPs a physician can supervise. Still, they celebrate the Veterans Administration’s move to allow NPs to practice at the top of their licenses. The additional benefit? VA doctors will be able to focus on patients--and not have to worry about the need to supervise NPs.