KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Nurse Practitioners And Physician Assistants May Help With Primary Care Shortage

Nurse practitioners and physician assistants may help mitigate the primary care physician shortage.

The Washington, D.C., Examiner reports that the "already severe shortage of primary care physicians" will likely become critical within ten years. "Depending upon whose estimates are accepted, the doctor shortfall will be between 40,000 and 300,000 physicians. Because of the time it takes to train a doctor, the situation will likely persist for more than a generation. This situation will pose multiple challenges to a U.S. health care system already reeling from criticism about cost and general quality of care. ... One possible pathway through the shortage may be two relatively new categories of providers Physician Assistants and Nurse Practitioners."

"Many P.A.s and N.P.s work in physician shortage areas. Both groups earn good livings; but normally at about half the salary of what a typical primary care doctor earns. By 2020, the number of available P.A.s will have expanded from today's 75,000 to around 140,000. Projections for Nurse Practitioner numbers are harder to come by. There are an estimated 140,000 licensed Nurse Practitioners today. The limiting factor in training additional N.P.s may be the number of doctoral level trainers available and the level of pay that these trainers can expect for their work. The existence of these two, fairly new, career paths make the looming, primary physician shortage challenge appear more manageable than it otherwise might have been" (Portner, 8/26).

Meanwhile, the Chicago Tribune/Associated Press reports: "The University of Michigan-Flint is launching an online doctoral program in nursing this fall" that is a "response to a looming shortage of nurses and doctors" (8/27).

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