According to a recent report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of employed nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners is projected to grow 45 percent between 2019 and 2029. In 2019 there were a combined 263,400 people in these professions, and by 2029 there will an additional 117,700, according to the projection.
What is a nurse practitioner?
A nurse practitioner is an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) who has completed either a Masters of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), and then been licensed by their state to practice as a nurse practitioner.
Their advanced training affords Nurse Practitioners a higher level of responsibility than Registered Nurses, operating at a similar level of responsibility to a doctor. In some states they have ‘full practice’ authority, which means that they can operate without the supervision of a doctor.
A Nurse Practitioner will use their training to either operate as a Primary Care Provider, in much the same way as a physician, or to operate as a specialty care provider. For example, a nurse practitioner might specialize in neonatal practice and spend their time overseeing the care of infants who have chronic or acute health conditions. They would have the authority to make decisions about the correct course of treatment for individual patients, as well as the ability to shape healthcare policy in their specialist area.
Nurse practitioners can prescribe medications, examine patients, diagnose illness and provide treatment. The fact that they have already worked as nurses gives them a unique approach to patient care, while their advanced studies allow them to take on responsibilities usually left to physicians. The Kaiser Family Foundation reported that Nurse Practitioners can provide 80 to 90 percent of the care that primary care physicians provide.
It is for these reasons that Nurse Practitioners are increasingly becoming an integral part of medical care teams, and why if there are not enough Nurse Practitioners to meet the growing demand for healthcare services that medical facilities provide, healthcare provision will suffer.
Why is there a shortage of nurse practitioners?
Nurse Practitioners are Registered Nurses who have gone on to complete advanced studies. Therefore the widely reported shortage of Nurses has a knock-on effect on the number of people who are going on to train as Nurse Practitioners.
The American Association of Colleges In Nursing (AACN) reports that there are several factors contributing to the nursing shortage:
- Nursing school enrollment is not growing fast enough to meet the projected growth of demand for nurses. The AACN reported that there has been a 5.1% increase in enrollment for entry-level baccalaureate programs in nursing in 2019, however, this increase is not sufficient to meet the expected demand for nursing services.
- In addition to this, nursing schools are actually having to turn away qualified applicants because they don’t have enough faculty members, clinical sites and classroom space or the budget to acquire more of these things. In the educational year 2019-2020, 80,407 qualified applicants were turned away from nursing programs for these reasons.
- A significant proportion of nurses are nearing retirement age. A 2018 survey found that the average age for a Registered Nurse is 50 years old, which means that we may see a large number of nurses retiring over the next 10 to 15 years. It is projected that more than one million nurses will leave the workforce by 2030.
- The population is aging. In 2017, the US Census Bureau reported that the number of US citizens over 65 is projected to be 82 million by 2030. The larger number of older adults means that there will be an increased need for geriatric care, as well as care for the chronic conditions that are more likely to occur in old age.
- High stress levels are causing nurses to leave the profession. The nursing shortage negatively affecting patient care quality, and in turn this is creating a more stressful work environment for nurses, which is prompting some to leave the profession.
- Newly qualified RN’s are changing professions. A 2007 study found that 13% of RN’s had changed their principal job role after the first year, and that a further 37% felt that they were ready to change jobs.
These factors leave registered nurses feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Professionals feeling this way are unlikely to feel that they are able to add an additional program of education to their already busy lives.
What is being done about it?
Although the shortage of Nurses and Nurse Practitioners is a problem, measures are being put in place to address a lot of the different challenges.
Nursing schools themselves are making efforts to find and accommodate additional nursing students by forming strategic partnerships. For example, in 2013 the University of Minnesota announced a partnership with the Minnesota VA Health Care System to expand enrollment in their BSN program. The VA committed $5.3 million to the school to expand clinical placement sites, fund additional faculty and support interprofessional engagement. By doing this the VA is hoping to improve focused care for veterans, and the university is better able to train new nurses so it’s a partnership that benefits both groups.
Improvements in online education are also benefiting aspiring Nurses and Nurse Practitioners. Baylor University is helping aspiring Nurse Practitioners to access training by providing nursing programs online. For example, the neonatal nurse practitioner programs at Baylor allow RN’s to carry out the majority of their studies online so that they can fit their studies in around their work, but they also provide the support that students need to succeed by providing clinical placements for all graduate-level clinical rotations.
State-based initiatives are helping more nurses to access education. In 2014 the University of Wisconsin, funded by a UW system initiative grant, announced funding of $3.2 million for the Nurses For Wisconsin initiative to provide fellowships and loan forgiveness for future nurse faculty who agree to teach in the state after graduation, as a way to address the state’s projected nursing shortages.
Businesses are also contributing to the cause. Since 2002 Johnson and Johnson has sustained the Campaign for Nursing’s Future, which is a multimedia effort to promote careers in nursing.
It is only through more collaboration and innovation by states, organizations and universities that access to nursing education can be improved, and we can start to address this shortage.
What's Your Reaction?
Brett is the Managing Editor of this website. A former business executive turned teacher, activist, and writer, Brett also operates an anonymous Twitter account with a very large following.