Nurse Practitioners Can Help Offset Shortfall in Primary Care Physicians

By Catherine Groux
Posted September 19, 2011 07:24 AM

Many professionals believe nurse practitioners could solve the physician shortage.
Many professionals believe nurse practitioners could solve the physician shortage.
As healthcare reforms give more Americans access to medical insurance, the industry needs more primary care physicians to deal with the influx in patients. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, by 2020 the nation will face a shortage of approximately 45,400 primary care physicians, as well as a deficit of 46,000 surgeons and medical specialists. While such a vast shortage could affect all Americans, the association expects that underserved and vulnerable populations, such as individuals who live in rural or inner-city areas, will suffer the most.

In order to deal with this potentially harmful shortage, many medical professionals feel it will be important to train more nurses to become nurse practitioners. Recently, Courtney Lyder, dean of the University of California - Los Angeles School of Nursing, expressed this opinion in a press release.

"Today's shortage of primary care physicians will only be exacerbated unless we look to nurses and nurse practitioners to fill the gaps in providing needed care," Lyder said in a statement.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that nurse practitioners are a type of advanced practice nurse who are qualified to perform many of the same tasks as physicians. These healthcare professionals can specialize in areas such as acute care, women's health, family practice and geriatrics, and must hold a master's degree in nursing.

The BLS states that registered nurses, including nurse practitioners, are the largest healthcare occupation, employing about 2.6 million people in 2008. Still, Lyder does not believe that most people understand just how important these professionals are to the healthcare industry. Today, the roles of nurses and nurse practitioners are changing, she said. These individuals are qualified to complete many more tasks and are often responsible for implementing healthcare reforms and spearheading research.

Individuals who want to earn a master's degree in nursing have many options at schools across the country. For example, last month, Texas' Wayland Baptist University announced the launch of an online Master of Science in Nursing degree program, according to a press release. The course of study will begin this fall and can be completed in 18 months. Additionally, since the program utilizes online education, officials from the school said it can provide flexibility for students who work full time.

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