A vital yet often underappreciated group of health professionals in rural healthcare delivery is nurse practitioners (NPs). While the nature and scope of practice of NPs has evolved over recent years, they are now firmly established as a key component of primary care health care and in some rural communities, are among the most accessible primary care health professionals. According to the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), 18%, or roughly 27,900 of the currently practicing 155,000 NPs work in rural or frontier communities. Also, it is estimated that 88% of NPs are prepared in primary care with roughly 2/3rds of NPs practicing in primary care. Their contributions are not insignificant: 60% of NPs see 3-4 patients per hour.
As the various components of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are implemented in the next few years, it is widely expected that the demand for primary care services will increase significantly and NPs will play a critical role in the provision of this care. The University of Arizona nursing program recently announced an expansion of its NP program, which is a welcome move to help meet this expected increase in demand.
Here at the Center for Rural Health, we are currently working on a health workforce analysis of all 15 counties in Arizona and this analysis will include a look at NPs. We hope to release this report in mid 2013. We are also involved in the recruitment of NPs to rural communities in Arizona through the 3RNET program. For more information about our rural workforce efforts, please follow this link: http://www.crh.arizona.edu/programs/workforce
For more information on the scope of practice of NPs, please follow this link: http://www.aanp.org/images/documents/publications/ScopeOfPractice.pdf