Whether you are an experienced nurse practitioner with years of clinical practice already under your belt, or you’re a student preparing for a fulfilling career devoted to helping people, you’re likely to face some unexpected challenges and some exciting opportunities in the work you have chosen. The role of the nurse practitioner is rapidly evolving, responding both to changes in the health care industry and to the evolving needs of the communities you serve. This article explores some of the most significant trends nurse practitioners are facing today.
An Expanding Role
The global health care shortage is not news, but what is news, perhaps, is how significant and widespread it is. In fact, in the United States alone, it is estimated that the shortfall in the number of physicians needed by 2033 will approach 140,000.
And that reality is rapidly and dramatically expanding the role of and the demand for skilled nurse practitioners. Where nurse practitioners might have once worked primarily in collaboration with a physician, increasingly, nurse practitioners are taking the lead in patient care. In many states, this includes overseeing and implementing treatment plans and even coordinating end-of-life care.
In addition to operating more independently than ever before, nurse practitioners are also finding themselves drawing on an array of skills, resources, and knowledge to provide more comprehensive care.
For example, as demand and cost pressures on the system mount, health care providers and patients alike are seeking more holistic strategies to promote wellness and prevent disease. This often includes, for instance, an emphasis on fitness and nutrition, constituting a significant shift in standard medical practices.
Historically, health care providers have been dissuaded or even prohibited from offering nutritional advice, as it may have been considered outside of the clinician’s scope of practice.
Today, however, many nurse practitioners are opting to obtain degrees or certifications in nutrition science to enhance their patient care strategies.
In addition to cultivating specialized knowledge to provide higher quality and more comprehensive care, nurse practitioners are also increasingly being looked to as multigenerational health care providers. In such cases, nurse practitioners may provide many of the services of a primary care physician, general practitioner, or family physician.
For this reason, a large number of nursing schools are offering students the opportunity to train as family nurse practitioners (FNP), enabling them to offer optimal patient care across all stages of the lifespan, from birth to death. Licensure as an FNP can be a particularly attractive option for those who seek to develop long-term, trusting relationships not only with individual patients but with an entire family.
Serving At-Risk Communities
Disparities in access to consistent, affordable, and high-quality health care have long been known and lamented. However, health care systems are increasingly turning to nurse practitioners to stand in the breach, filling a desperate need for health care providers in underserved communities.
That means that nurse practitioners may routinely find themselves asked to serve in remote, rural communities or impoverished urban areas where the need for qualified health care providers is greatest. In fact, nurse practitioners who have pursued specializations in community or public health can find themselves in particularly great demand and may build rewarding careers as traveling nurse practitioners, serving communities in need for weeks or even months at a time before moving on to the next post.
When it comes to both training and practice, nurse practitioners have more options and opportunities than ever before. In addition to choosing specific areas of specialization, such as adult or pediatric care, nurse practitioners can also select from an array of subspecialties which will increase their marketability.
However, the degree of clinical autonomy nurse practitioners enjoy will vary from state to state. In some U.S. states, licensed nurse practitioners enjoy what is known as full-practice authority (FPA), meaning that they can prescribe medication, order tests, and define and implement patient care strategies without requiring a physician to sign off on the plan. In other states, though, nurse practitioners still need a physician’s authorization before a treatment plan can be implemented.
Nevertheless, the opportunities for nurse practitioners to earn FPA are growing. For instance, attaining an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse designation can give you full practice authority in many states, including some states where a physician’s sign-off would otherwise be required. Most exciting of all, organizations such as the American Association of Nurse Practitioners are working to establish a nationwide certification protocol to enable qualified nurse practitioners to enjoy full practice authority in all U.S. states and territories.
It is an exciting time to be a nurse practitioner, a time of high demand, increasing independence, and tremendous opportunity. Nevertheless, the challenges are significant, principally due to an ongoing labor shortage and continuing disparities in health care access. In a time when both the need and the reward are great, nurse practitioners are perfectly positioned to fill the gap.