It's mid-November, and that means National Nurse Practitioner Week is upon us again. This year falling on the dates of November 13th through 19th, National NP Week 2016 is a bigger phenomenon than ever before, especially as the number of nurse practitioners licensed in the U.S. continues to grow. (The current numbers, per the AANP, are 222,000 NPs nationwide, with that number expected to expand to 244,000 in 2025, per a Medical Care Research and Review study.)
As the nation's go-to source for locum tenens staffing, Staff Care has long advocated for the increased use of locum nurse practitioners as a means to offset the nation's worsening physician shortage. That shortage is affecting many specialties, but primary care appears to be the hardest hit. And it just so happens that primary care is a field for which nurse practitioners are particularly well equipped to help out. According to the AANP, 83.4% of American NPs are certified in an area of primary care practice.
That's no doubt a major reason why Staff Care's 2015 Survey of Temporary Physician Staffing Trends showed a sharp increase in the utilization of NPs in recent years. In 2014, almost one in five (17.4%) of surveyed healthcare employers reported having used locum tenens NPs in the past year — up significantly from 12.4% in 2013 and just 4.8% in 2012. That made NPs the fourth-most used locum tenens specialty of that year, behind physicians specializing in primary care, behavioral health and hospital medicine.
And they move even higher up the list when it comes to future demand: According to the same survey, more than one in five healthcare employers (22.7%) were currently seeking locum tenens NPs to supplement their existing staff in 2014. That's way up from 15.4% the year before, and 7.8% the year before that, and lands NPs just behind primary care physicians and mental health professionals on the overall list.
"Hospitals and medical groups are turning to locum tenens NPs and PAs for many of the same reasons they use locum tenens physicians — to maintain services and revenue and to fill-in until permanent
candidates can be found," the report authors add. "Just three years ago, Staff Care received only a minimal number of requests for locum tenens NPs and PAs. In 2014, they accounted for 12% of all temporary days requested."
Increased Demand for Locum Tenens NPs Leads to Calls for Expanded Scope of Practice
And yet, there are barriers to the growth in the utilization of locum tenens NPs. According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), the goal of NP Week is not only to "celebrate these exceptional health care providers" but also to "remind lawmakers of the importance of removing outdated barriers to practice so that NPs will be allowed to practice to the full extent of their experience and education."
About that last part: In recent years, as the physician shortage escalates, calls to expand nurse practitioners' scope of practice have increased. Nurse practitioners are among the clinicians who cannot “practice to the top of their license,” as a Politico report describes it. "In other words, they cannot do what they were trained to do — and what they are permitted to do in other parts of the country.
That statement refers to the fact that, while NPs hold prescriptive privileges in all 50 states (and Washington, D.C.), they hold full practice authority in only 21 states (and D.C.). And among these 21 states, a third of them (Colorado, Hawaii, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, and West Virginia) have only granted this access within the past several years. (Other states, Florida, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma have attempted or are attempting to do the same on a legislative level.)
While this movement is opposed by some physician groups, it is embraced by others. "“My nurse practitioner colleagues are able to see other people and that gives me more time to spend with these incredibly difficult [cases]," one physician told Politico.
"The prevailing opinion among [survey] participants (though not by all medical groups across the country) is that broadening scope of practice is both necessary and inevitable, given the direction the health care system is moving, including greater emphasis on team-based care and primary care," the Politico report adds (emphasis ours).
Or, as that Med Care study put it, "NPs will likely fulfill a substantial amount of future demand for care." We're already seeing that happen — and, as ever, Staff Care is on the front lines of this health staffing innovation, offering premium locum tenens NP recruitment nationwide.
If you represent a healthcare employer and are interested in learning more about how staffing locum tenens nurse practitioners can help you meet your patient care goals, we encourage you to contact a Staff Care representative today. You can also fill out a locums NP staffing request here.
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