Nurse practitioner ranks doubled in the past decade

Since 2007, the number of licensed nurse practitioners (NPs) in the U.S. has grown from 120,000 to 248,000, with most NPs working full-time and in primary care settings, according to data released by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP).

“This is an important milestone for patients as well as for NPs,” AANP President Joyce Knestrick, PhD, APRN, said in a press release. “Provider shortages, especially in primary care, have become a growing concern, but the growth of the NP profession is addressing that concern head-on. Couple that with news that NPs conducted an estimated 1.02 billion patient visits last year alone, and it's easy to see why millions of Americans are making NPs their providers of choice.”

Based on results from AANP’s annual survey, most NPs (74.1 percent) worked more than 35 hours per week, while 58.8 percent of NPs worked overtime. Of full-time workers, 35.4 percent were on-call during evening and weekend hours.

The vast majority of NPs (77.8 percent) work in primary care, but the settings are more varied. 25.5 percent reported in private practice, followed by hospital outpatient clinics (12.8 percent), inpatient hospital units (10.3 percent), community health centers and Federally Qualified Health Centers (8.2 percent), and emergency rooms or urgent care (5.9 percent).

Growth in the profession is expected to remain strong in the near future. In the 2015-2016 academic year, 23,000 NPs graduated—a 15.5 percent increase from the prior year. 85.5 percent of those new graduates have been trained in primary care. AANP also cited Bureau of Labor Statistics’ expectations for strong growth, as the number of NPs is expected to grow by 36 percent by 2026—below that of physician assistants (37 percent) but much higher than the 13 percent predicted for physicians (excluding anesthesiologists and surgeons).

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing for the profession as its ranks have grown. Physician groups have resisted efforts to expand the roles of non-physician practitioners, with the American Medical Association adopting a formal policy last year to oppose efforts to allow non-physicians, like NPs or APRNs, to practice independently. Knestick labeled the AMA’s policy as “fear mongering,” arguing NPs and other non-physician practitioners can help alleviate the shortage of primary care doctors.