How Family Nurse Practitioners Can Play a Major Role in Addressing the Growing Physician Shortage in the U.S.

Adequate primary healthcare eludes over 80 million Americans, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The problem may worsen in the coming decades due to a combination of factors: a growing shortage of physicians and healthcare workers, the surge in patients needing emergency care due to the COVID-19 pandemic, increased incidence of lifestyle-related chronic diseases, and the aging of the U.S. population.

Family nurse practitioners can be part of the solution. These professionals play an important role in delivering high-quality primary care. Nurses who are interested in helping fill primary care gaps created by projected physician shortages in the U.S. would do well to consider opportunities for advanced education, such as Hawai‘i Pacific University’s online Master of Science in Nursing degree program.

The Physician Shortage in the U.S.

One-third of the physicians now working in the U.S. are expected to reach retirement age in the next decade, CNBC reports. The U.S. could see a shortage of up to 122,000 primary care physicians by 2032, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

A factor contributing to the shortage is the aging U.S. population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the nation’s population is estimated to grow by more than 10% by 2032, with those over age 65 increasing by 48%. The increasingly complex care needs of this aging population help to drive demand for physician services.

The rising rates of lifestyle-related chronic diseases, such as diabetes, obesity, and drug abuse, are also impacting the physician shortage by increasing demand for care. In 2018, 26.9 million people of all ages- or 8.2% of the population-had diagnosed diabetes, following a trend of nearly 1.5 million American diagnosed with diabetes every year, according to the CDC’s 2020 National Diabetes Statistics report. With the obesity rate among U.S. adults expected to reach 50% by 2030, according to The New England Journal of Medicine, the rate of diabetes in adults is expected to rise. Unless addressed, the physician shortage in the U.S. will have an impact on family care.

The Positive Impact of Family Nurse Practitioners

Family nurse practitioners develop strong relationships with their patients across their life spans, diagnosing problems and focussing on preventive care. Working independently or as part of a team, they help to improve access to primary care by promoting proactive care strategies, providing care in underserved rural areas, and prescribing medications as allowed by state law.

Proactive Care Strategies

Nurse practitioners combine their clinical knowledge with compassion and communication skills to develop patient relationships. Proactive primary care delivered by nurse practitioners includes regular physical examinations and diagnosis and treatment of health conditions.

Nurse practitioners emphasize whole person healthcare, promoting disease prevention, wellness education, and health management. Nurse practitioners contribute to reduced hospitalizations and better patient outcomes, according to a report in The Hill.

Providing Care in Rural Areas

The widening physician shortage in the U.S. is especially acute in rural areas. For example, less than half of primary care needs are being met in rural areas of Arizona, CNBC reports. Overall, rural areas have 39.8 physicians per 100,000 people, according to the National Rural Health Association. In urban areas, the ratio is 53.3 physicians per 100,000 people. Lack of access to primary care puts patients at greater risk for persistent health problems, illness, and health-related complications. Family nurse practitioners can help to deliver high-quality primary patient care in rural communities that need it most.

Prescribing Medications

Nurse practitioners can help fulfill the important role of prescribing medications as allowed by law in the states where they practice. Nurse practitioners can prescribe medicines in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. About 22 states allow NPs to write prescriptions independently, without oversight from a supervising physician, according to data from Scope of Practice Policy.

Nurse practitioners’ clinical background, knowledge of advanced nursing practice, and experience in scientific research prepare them to diagnose and treat health conditions. They must demonstrate high ethical standards as they undergo peer reviews and clinical evaluations for licensure. The process prepares them for roles as qualified clinicians who can prescribe medicines for acute illnesses and chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

The Importance of Earning an Advanced Degree

An advanced degree, such as an online Master of Science in Nursing with a specialization in family care, can help professional nurses take on new roles in their careers. Hawai‘i Pacific University’s online Master of Science in Nursing degree with a specialization in Family practice can provide graduates with the skills to serve as leaders in their professions. The program addresses issues such as evidence-based practice, community healthcare planning and policies, ethics, professional role development, and diversity.

The program is designed to prepare students for greater autonomy and expertise in primary care management, including diagnosing, prescribing, and managing health care delivery for individuals and families across all age ranges and demographics. Courses include Advanced Pathophysiology, Advanced Nursing Research, Primary Care of Child, Women, Adults and Geriatric Adults.

Drive Change as an Advanced Practice Nurse

Graduates of Hawai‘i Pacific University’s online Master of Science in Nursing - Family Nurse Practitioner degree program are prepared to serve as principal providers of primary healthcare to patients and families across their life spans. Discover how HPU equips aspiring family nurse practitioners to play a leading role in easing the effects of the ongoing physician shortage in the U.S.


"Why America’s Physician Shortage Could Top 120k by 2030: 5 Things to Know"

Association of American Medical Colleges, "New Findings Confirm Predictions on Physician Shortage"

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "National Diabetes Statistics Report 2020: Estimates of Diabetes and Its Burden in the United States"

HealthLeaders, "More States Pushing for Autonomy in Scope-of-Practice Battle"

National Rural Health Association, About Rural Health Care

NCBI, "Impact of Nurse Practitioner Practice Regulations on Rural Population Health Outcomes"

Scope of Practice Policy, Nurse Practitioners Overview

The Hill, "Nurse Practitioners Are a Solution to Health Care Provider Shortages"

The New England Journal of Medicine
"Projected U.S. State-Level Prevalence of Adult Obesity and Severe Obesity"

U.S. Census Bureau, "Demographic Turning Points for the United States: Population Projections for 2020 to 2060"

U.S. News & World Report, "Can Nurse Practitioners Help Ease the Growing Physician Shortage?"