For more than 20 years, the looming caregiver shortages in primary care medicine and nursing have been well documented.
In its study on workforce supply and demand projections released in November, 2016, the National Center for Healthcare Workforce Analysis of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services stated: “Under current workforce utilization and care delivery patterns, the 2025 demand for primary care physicians is projected to exceed supply at the national level.” (See Chart.) Following this ominous yet not unexpected finding, the study goes on to point out: “With delivery system changes and full utilization of NP and PA services, the projected shortage of 23,640 FTEs can be effectively mitigated.”
In fact, the study goes on to reveal that if current trends continue, the primary care capacity problem will be more than mitigated by advanced practice registered nurses, pointing out: “The projected increase in primary care NP supply (93 percent) exceeds the increase in demand (19 percent) by 42,500 FTE primary care NPs in 2025.”
That’s right: the number of primary care nurse practitioners is expected to nearly double by 2025 while demand is expected to increase only 19 percent. The most troubling problem with this trend is not how it affects the supply-demand balance in primary care, but in where this increase in supply is coming from – bedside nursing ranks. And because of experience and program requirements, often acute care’s most experienced critical care nurses successfully pursue advanced practice degrees.
The majority of nursing shortage reduction strategies over the past decade have focused on expanding nursing degree programs and the number of students enrolling in those programs. These strategies are of course important, but they only address the recruitment side of the nursing workforce equation, not the retention challenges.
For years, nursing leaders have expressed concern regarding the advancing average age of nurses and the looming retirement of a significant portion of the current workforce. Pursuit of advanced practitioner degrees, along with other non-bedside alternatives in the provider, insurance and pharma industries, has accelerated the loss at the bedside of experienced nurses.
All of these factors point to the need to think very differently about how we respectfully engage bedside nursing professionals in care delivery improvement. Ensuring that an experienced, highly-qualified nurse is at our side when we are hospitalized is more than an industry imperative. It is among our highest personal priorities when we or a loved one is suffering the most.
This blog is based on an excerpt from our latest white paper: “The Case for Recognizing Nurses as Healthcare’s #1 Stakeholder.” Download it here.