Nearly 80 million people live in Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) — areas where there are more than 3,500 patients for a single primary care provider. This shortage means no prevention, screening, immunizations or basic care for infections and sicknesses, and patients in rural areas are hit especially hard.
If we stay on the same trajectory, the problem will only get worse. Aging baby boomers are snowballing into the largest patient population in history, and while their health care needs spike, the number of physicians practicing is falling nearly as quickly. The net result is a provider population that is simply not big enough, or geographically dispersed enough, to handle mounting patient demand. By 2030, experts project the shortfall to reach more than 120,000 providers, but the access to care, or lack thereof, will not be distributed evenly. Some communities will have less provider choice and longer wait times. Other, smaller communities will have an even bigger problem — no access at all. Patients living in rural communities are five times more likely to live in a shortage area than patients living in urban or suburban areas.
Nurse practitioners (NPs) are out to change that. With more than 290,000 NPs practicing, and roughly 30,000 new NPs entering the health care workforce every year, NPs are adding high-quality health care providers and critical mass to our health care workforce. NPs are trained to evaluate and diagnose patients, order and interpret diagnostic tests and prescribe medications in all 50 states. Moreover, more than 85% of NPs are trained in primary care — the biggest shortage area in rural communities. In fact, while physicians are likely to be concentrated in urban areas, NPs are more likely to settle in rural areas. Today, NPs represent one in four providers in rural practices, and more in states with full practice authority laws. Even more telling, modernization of scope of practice legislation would decrease the number of patients living in a rural primary care shortage area from 23 million to 8 million.
As our nation grapples with physician shortages, the American Association of Nurse Practitioners® (AANP) salutes the NPs who go where care is needed most. Rural populations are being hit especially hard by provider shortages, but NPs are making a big difference in these communities, one provider at a time.
NP Week is held each year in November to celebrate NPs as exceptional health care providers and to remind policymakers of the importance of removing outdated barriers to practice so that NPs will be allowed to practice to the full extent of their experience and education. Together, we can expand access for all patients by granting America’s NPs full practice authority.
This week is the perfect time to join AANP in celebrating more than 50 years of the NP role! Get involved by: