The Future of Nurse Practitioners in Primary Care

NursingJuly 19, 2013

At a physicians’ conference not long ago, one doctor stood up to say, “Maybe we need more nurse practitioners in primary care.” While a number of physicians want to keep the “practice” of medicine to themselves, others see potential for change on the horizon. For a number of years, health care experts have issued warnings about an impending shortfall among primary care physicians. With the Affordable Care Act (ACA) becoming law in January 2014, shortages likely will worsen. Medical policy makers believe nurse practitioners – nurses who have completed graduate-level studies and up to 700 additional hours of clinical work – could help fill the gap. As an added benefit, an expanded role for nurse practitioners actually could help bring down health care costs, since they typically don’t bill as much as doctors. The American Medical Association (AMA) does not support the idea, even though a majority of physicians surveyed for a questionnaire on the topic felt that nurse practitioners should be able to practice to the full extent of their training, including in the area of primary care. “We’re running out of time on these issues,” suggests Dr. Peter Buerhaus, professor of nursing at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. “If the staffing differences remain unresolved, we are just going to cause harm to the public.” Advanced-practice nurses already serve as principal providers for many patients. In the process, they are making diagnoses, prescribing medications and ordering diagnostic tests. And despite the opposing viewpoints of their respective professional organizations, at medical practices, clinics and hospitals across the country, physicians and nurse practitioners work side by side every day without issue. That cooperative spirit gives policy makers hope an equitable solution can be reached. Meanwhile, nursing in its many other specializations remains a critical component of quality health care. If that’s a career path you’d like to explore, visit to learn more about how you can join the ranks of America’s nurses.