The number of nurse practitioners (NP) and physician assistants (PA) is growing rapidly. While the number of primary care physicians in the United States has increased by only 8% from 2015 to 2020, the number of primary care NPs is expected to increase by up to 30% while the number of primary care PAs is expected to increase by as much as 58%.
The slow growth in the supply of primary care physicians creates strain for healthcare institutions that need to meet the increasing patient demands for primary care. Nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) have the potential to fill in this gap.
However, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and CRNAs each face different challenges as well as new opportunities for growth in the future.
The Future for Nurse Practitioners
Several areas are seeing exceptionally high growth in career opportunities for nurse practitioners:
As patient hospital stays grow shorter, there is an increased need for more outpatient care. That creates a high demand for outpatient care nurses in various specialties, including critical care, acute care, and gerontology.
Telemedicine is also proliferating, driven by advances in technology and by patient demand, cost savings, and improved access.
There is also a higher demand for academic nurse practitioners, as many current faculty members are reaching retirement age. Nurses with doctorate degrees will find excellent career opportunities with high salaries.
The Future for Physician Assistants
Physician assistants now play a crucial role in providing healthcare access in rural and other underserved areas. The demand for PAs is increasing wherever the number of physicians is declining.
In some states, whether physician assistants are allowed to write prescriptions is governed by the state's medical board. Other laws that affect PA practice also vary by state. PA advocate groups are urging states to implement Optimal Team Practice (OTP) policies. These give PAs greater autonomy and make the working relationships PAs have with physicians more collaborative.
PAs gained the ability to take on a new role when the Medicare Patient Access to Hospice Act went into effect in January 2019. This law allows hospice care to Medicare patients to be provided for and managed by PAs.
The Future for Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists
CRNAs face several challenges. New drugs are being taken off of hospital formularies because of their high cost. An aging population requires anesthesia professionals to take individual steps to promote safety, such as avoiding opioids and using regional anesthesia.
The Support for Patients and Communities Act (H.R. 6) gives CRNAs and certain other healthcare providers the ability to prescribe Medication-Assisted Treatment for opioid abuse prevention and treatment.
The Future for All Advanced Practice Providers
The roles for all APPs -- including nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and CRNAs -- are multiplying to meet the need created by the shortage of physicians. The government at both the state and federal level recognizes the vital need for APPs, and new laws have been going into effect that gives APPs more authority and autonomy.