The demand for healthcare has never been greater. With the evolution of the Affordable Healthcare Act, millions of people continue to access healthcare when they weren’t able to previously. An aging population coupled with the COVID-19 health crisis have also significantly increased the call for healthcare providers, including the need for nurse practitioners.
There’s been a well-documented shortage of nurses, but this shortage also extends to physicians. Studies have shown that the need for physicians will be far greater than the number of them available to work, and this shortage is predicted to continue. This deficit is estimated to be over 130,000 physicians by the year 2030, affecting both primary care and specialty areas.
Many factors are responsible for this shortage, with some physicians retiring early due to burnout, decreasing medical school enrollment, the cost of education, as well as fewer residency programs. Many solutions have been proposed to help improve the shortage. One of the ways healthcare systems can combat this physician shortage is by filling the need for nurse practitioners (NPs) to provide care.
The role of the nurse practitioner
Nurse practitioners are registered nurses who have successfully completed additional education and training, obtaining either a master’s or doctorate, and are able to provide medical care. This care includes diagnosing disease and prescribing treatment. In order to become a nurse practitioner, following graduation, they must become nationally certified in their specialty.
To nurse practitioners, there is much more to the patient than their diagnosis. NPs treat patients from a perspective of promoting health and preventing disease. Studies have shown that patients who receive care from nurse practitioners have outcomes just as good, if not better, than care provided by physicians. They also have shown to have better patient satisfaction when compared to physicians.
Patients whose care is managed by nurse practitioners have also been found to have fewer visits to the emergency room and lower medication costs. This helps to show that in addition to providing effective care, nurse practitioners can also be a resource for helping to control healthcare costs.
Not only are patients getting adequate healthcare, they are also satisfied with the experience. Studies have shown that patients cared for by nurse practitioners felt comfortable in their presence, that they were respected and listened to, and were trusting of the clinical decision making by the nurse practitioner.
Each member of the healthcare team should be well-respected for their role in patient care. The observations offered here are intended to highlight the fact that nurse practitioners offer an affordable alternative to physician-based practices without sacrificing quality patient outcomes or patient satisfaction.
The physician/nurse practitioner relationship
How nurse practitioners can be utilized from practice to practice and from state to state can vary. Some states allow nurse practitioners to practice independently with full practice authority and no physician oversight, while others have more restrictive practice for nurse practitioners.
Currently, 22 states allow for nurse practitioners to have full practice authority and do not require physician oversight in any capacity. Sixteen states have reduced authority, meaning some, but not all, of a nurse practitioner’s work requires physician oversight. The remaining 11 states are restricted practice states, where nurse practitioners require physician oversight for the full scope of their work.
Although the practice restrictions placed upon nurse practitioners come from the state level, they can have major implications on individual healthcare systems, especially in rural areas, where even larger numbers of providers are needed. Studies have shown that nurse practitioners could successfully provide healthcare services to rural communities, bringing a much needed resource into these communities.
The collaborative relationship between nurse practitioners and physicians should be highlighted as well. Many models exist in which physicians and NPs work together, sharing a group of patients for which they provide care, or sharing groups of patients. One study showed that those in acute care settings (such as hospitals and ICUs) had better outcomes with a collaborative nurse practitioner/physician model than physician-only care.
Addressing the need for nurse practitioners
Nurse practitioners work in many, if not all, specialties, primary care, and inpatient and outpatient settings. Their uses are endless and can be tailored to fit the needs of your healthcare facility.
When reviewing your system’s need for provider coverage, it may be helpful to look beyond the role of the physician alone. Nurse practitioners, practicing either independently or in collaboration with a physician, may be the answer to your provider shortage. This can benefit your patients, as they will be cared for well and experience increased satisfaction.
Leaders and recruiters who understand what motivates nurses to stay or leave will have an advantage in recruiting nurses, increasing job satisfaction, and growing nurse leaders. To learn more about what matters to nurses in their careers (including current NPs), you can review the findings within the 2022 Nurse Salary Research Report.