Nurse practitioners' pay increases outpace primary-care doctors'

Whether you agree that nurse practitioners should help fill the void left by a shortage of primary-care physicians or not, it's clear that demand for these midlevels is increasing. And so is their pay--more quickly than that of primary-care physicians', in fact.

According to the Medical Group Management Association's Physician Compensation and Production Survey: 2010 Report Based on 2009 Data, average compensation for PCPs rose just 2.9 percent in 2009, while NPs saw a raise of 4.9 percent.

And although the median compensation for NPs in 2009--$85,706--was far less than what group practice primary-care and specialist physicians earned ($191,401 and $325,916, respectively), since 2005, NPs' pay has risen 21.9 percent compared with 13.9 percent for PCPs and 2.9 percent for their specialty counterparts, according to the MGMA.

Spurred largely by health reform, the number of nurse practitioners as well as physician assistants is expected to keep rising, reports NPR. According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants, there were 74,100 physician assistants in practice in 2008, the most recent census available. It's projected to be the second-fastest-growing health profession, after home health aides, in the coming decade. As of 2010, there are 135,000 practicing nurse practitioners, according to the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, with an additional 8,000 being added to the ranks each year.

According to PCP Michael McDonald, MD, who supervises a number of midlevels at Sebasticook Family Doctors in rural Maine, his team of MDs, doctors of osteopathy, NPs and PAs helps make it possible for the practice to serve some 8,000 patients over 20 towns in four counties in central Maine.

And not only can NPs and PAs perform about 80 percent of the services provided by PCPs, with comparable quality, according to a number of published studies cited by Medscape Medical News, McDonald says these providers are much easier for him to recruit than physicians. "It's been very difficult to get MDs to come to the area. And if they do, they don't stay for very long, and they leave," he says. "All of our nurse practitioners and PAs have been here almost since the beginning, since we've started."

To learn more:
- read the full article in Medscape Medical News
- see this NPR piece