There are more patients than ever entering the healthcare system that will require their primary care needs be met by qualified medical personnel. However, this influx of patients is not being matched with an equal proportion of primary care doctors.
While the Affordable Care Act has been responsible for much of the increased patient load, healthcare reform is not the main factor. Medical doctor Danielle Ofri, in an article for the New York Times, notes that while more students are entering the medical field, these future doctors are choosing to specialize and sub-specialize rather than to obtain a medical degree in one of the primary care fields. Enter the nurse practitioner.
Filling the Primary Care Gap
Nurse practitioners (NPs) are advanced care registered nurses that can perform nearly all of the duties of a primary care physician. Services frequently provided by an NP include:
•Diagnosing and treating both acute and chronic diseases and conditions
•Ordering and interpreting results of diagnostic testing
•Ordering physical therapy
•Educating and counseling patients for better health
While the NP may choose to specialize in areas such as pediatrics, geriatrics, oncology or one of many others, according to an infographic by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), more than 80 percent of NPs are choosing primary care as their field of choice.
Creating Healthier Patients
In addition to providing the same type of care provided by a traditional primary care physician, a registered nurse can also provide counseling and preventive services. NPs teach patients about making positive changes and healthier lifestyle choices for improved overall health rather than just when they are experiencing symptoms of illness. The AANP notes that patients who receive services from an NP, including education and prevention services, will often require less emergency care and have reduced medication costs.
Salary and Job Outlook
Many states in the U.S. allow a nurse practitioner to practice medicine independently while others require that an NP work with a physician to practice. Barton Associates provides an interactive chart that shows the independent versus collaborative requirements for each state.
As advanced-practice registered nurses, NPs can make a yearly income in the six figures in some areas. According to information provided by U.S. News and World Report, the average median income for an NP is around $90,000 a year with a job growth rate of nearly 34 percent through the year 2022.