Guest blog by Tricia Hussung at Rivier University Online
nursing careers, nursing profession, rivier university, physician shortage
Healthcare experts suggest that physicians will be in increasingly short supply during the next decade. This is due in part because of U.S. population growth and changing demographics. In fact, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) states that the nation’s population is expected to grow 10 percent through 2025, with a 45 percent increase in those 65 and older. Baby Boomers are aging, and that means an increased strain on healthcare professionals and resources. Nurse practitioners in particular have more opportunity than ever to play a leadership role in providing primary care services.

Understanding the Physician Shortage
One of the main contributing factors to the current and future shortage of physicians is age. The AAMC reports that there were 767,100 practicing physicians under the age of 75 in 2013; however, only 10 percent of those physicians were between 65 and 75. Those between age 55 and 64 made up 26 percent of the active workforce. This means that it is very likely that a third or more of all physicians could retire over the course of the next decade.
The Health Resources and Services Administration(HRSA) studied changes in the supply of primary care physicians and found that the projected supply through 2020 is significantly less than the projected demand. If there are no changes to the primary care delivery system, HRSA projects a shortage of 20,400 primary care physicians by 2020.
Solutions and the Demand for Nurse Practitioners
Both the AAMC and HRSA studies indicate that nurse practitioners will play an important role in alleviating the physician shortage. If the number of nurse practitioners and physician assistants continues to grow, this could “somewhat alleviate the projected primary care physician shortage if they are effectively integrated into the healthcare delivery system,” HRSA said. And if this occurs, the shortage of 20,400 primary care physicians could drop to only 6,400.

Nurse practitioners are an ideal solution to the physician shortage. States have expanded the legal scope of practice for nurse practitioners as a way to control rising medical costs. Because of the Affordable Care Act’s emphasis on preventive care, nurse practitioners are filling the role of primary care provider more and more.
Ongoing Education Standards for Nursing
A 2010 report by the Institute of Medicine, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, called for higher levels of education for nurses. The report recommended that at least 10 percent of baccalaureate nursing graduates enter a master’s or doctoral program within five years. This would put nurse practitioners in a better position to mitigate the physician shortage and meet the increased demand for primary care. Most of all, current nurses can make a big difference in today’s healthcare system by furthering their education and becoming nurse practitioners.

A version of this post was originally published on the Rivier University Online website.

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