By the year 2030, it is estimated that one in five Americans will be over the age of 65, and approximately 60% of this population will need treatment for at least one chronic condition. As the U.S. health care system faces the aging of the baby boomer population and the rise of chronic disease, nurse practitioners (NPs) are leading the way by demonstrating positive results in managing care for older patients and the complexity of chronic conditions. This includes innovative practice solutions, research and training, and policy advances at the state and federal level to strengthen access to NP-provided health care.
Demand for nurse practitioners is at an all-time high, and NPs are now the fourth most sought after health care profession, as well as one of the fastest growing. Last year, primary care nurse practitioner graduates outnumbered primary care medical school graduates by more than three times. It’s no surprise U.S. News & World Report ranked the NP second on its list of the 100 best jobs – naming formidable salaries, job security, and increased practice rights as enticements for students considering health care professions. Factor in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ projection of 31% job growth between now and 2024 (five times the national average for all professions) and the need for more than 50,000 new positions, and we have the right incentives to recruit the next generation of nurse practitioners who can continue strengthening our health care workforce.
But the rising tide of chronic disease is not the only factor revolutionizing the role of the nurse practitioner. Growing recognition of nurse practitioners as key players in the health care delivery system is driving legislative change. Today, 22 states plus the District of Columbia, have made the historic shift to grant NPs full practice authority, providing examples for similar legislation in statehouses across the country. Massachusetts, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and other states are considering comparable legislation, foreshadowing a time when all 50 states provide patients with full and direct access to NP care.
The abilities of NPs to lower costs, improve patient outcomes, and increase patient access have been noted in national studies. In 2017, more than 89% of NPs were trained in primary care, as compared to 14.5% of their physician counterparts. In addition to providing care in traditional settings within hospitals and rehab centers, many are now opening their own practices, working on the community front lines where they deliver comprehensive care, including managing chronic diseases from diabetes to COPD.
With the demand for quality, accessible health care growing, the supply of providers must keep pace. Nurse practitioner graduate education programs are expanding to accommodate increases in qualified applicants, and nurse practitioners are graduating at higher rates. Today, there are roughly 350 colleges and universities with nurse practitioner programs in the United States. In 2016 alone, more than 23,000 nurse practitioner graduates entered the workforce, with the majority prepared in primary care.
With the confluence of aging baby boomers, the rise of chronic disease, health care reform, and focus on prevention and patient-centered care, the next generation of nurse practitioners and the skills they bring to patients are poised to thrive. We are just a few years away from the historic shift when, for the first time in human history, the number of people over 65 will outnumber children under five, and by 2050, this gap will widen to a 2:1 ratio. With this shift comes tremendous opportunity and responsibility for nurse practitioners to practice at the top of their license, serving patients in innovative and rewarding ways. For the 234,000 nurse practitioners and counting, there’s never been a better time to be an NP.