A family nurse practitioner sits with a parent and child.

How Family Nurse Practitioners Can Play a Major Role in Addressing the Physician Shortage in the U.S.


Adequate primary healthcare eludes 80 million Americans, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The problem may worsen in the coming decades due to a combination of factors: a shortage of physicians, increased incidence of lifestyle-related chronic diseases, and the aging U.S. population.

Family nurse practitioners (NPs) can be part of the solution as these professionals can deliver a range of primary care services. Nurses interested in filling primary care gaps created by projected physician shortages in the U.S. by becoming an NP can gain the necessary skills and credentials through advanced education, such as Norwich University’s online Master of Science in Nursing program.

The Physician Shortage in the U.S.

One-third of the physicians now working in the U.S. are expected to reach retirement age in the next decade, CNBC reports. The U.S. could see a shortage of up to 121,000 physicians by 2030, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

A factor contributing to the shortage is the aging U.S. population. One in five people in the U.S. will be age 65 or older by 2030, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.. The increasingly complex care needs of this aging population drive demand for physician services.

The rising rates of lifestyle-related chronic diseases, such as diabetes, obesity, and drug abuse, also impact the physician shortage by increasing demand for care. For example, diabetes affects about 1 in 10 adults in the United States, with about 95% of the cases being Type 2 diabetes, according to a Circulation Research report. The study cites increases in body weight as a leading cause of Type 2 diabetes. With the obesity rate among U.S. adults expected to reach 48.9% by 2030, according to The New England Journal of Medicine, the rate of diabetes in adults is expected to rise. Unless addressed, the physician shortage in the U.S. will have an impact on care for these individuals.

The Positive Impact of Family Nurse Practitioners

Family nurse practitioners develop strong relationships with patients across their lifespans, diagnosing problems and treating acute and chronic illnesses. Working independently or as part of a team, they help to improve access to primary care by promoting proactive care strategies, providing care in underserved rural areas, and prescribing medications as allowed by state law.

Proactive Care Strategies            

Nurse practitioners combine their clinical knowledge with compassion and communication skills to develop patient relationships. Proactive primary care delivered by nurse practitioners includes regular physical examinations and diagnosis and treatment of health conditions.

Nurse practitioners emphasize whole-person healthcare, promoting disease prevention, wellness education, and health management. Nurse practitioners contribute to reduced hospitalizations and better patient outcomes, according to a report in The Hill.

Providing Care in Rural Areas

The widening physician shortage in the U.S. is especially acute in rural areas. For example, less than half of primary care needs are met in rural areas of Arizona, CNBC reports. Overall, rural areas have 13.1 physicians per 100,000 people, according to the National Rural Health Association. In urban areas, the ratio is 31.2 physicians per 100,000 people. Lack of access to primary care puts patients at greater risk for persistent health problems, illness, and health-related complications. Family nurse practitioners can help to deliver high-quality primary patient care in rural communities.

Prescribing Medications

Nurse practitioners can prescribe medicines in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. About 20 states allow NPs to write prescriptions without oversight from a supervising physician, according to data from Scope of Practice Policy.

Nurse practitioners’ clinical background, knowledge of advanced nursing practice, and experience in scientific research prepare them to diagnose and treat health conditions. They must demonstrate high ethical standards as they undergo peer reviews and clinical evaluations for licensure. The process prepares them for roles as qualified clinicians who can prescribe medicines for acute illnesses and chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

The Importance of Earning an Advanced Degree

An advanced degree, such as a Master of Science in Nursing, can help professional nurses take on new roles in their careers. Centered on research, inquiry, and analysis, Norwich University’s online Master of Science in Nursing, which offers a Nurse Practitioner concentration with a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) track, can provide graduates with the skills to serve as leaders in their professions. The program addresses issues such as evidence-based practice, healthcare policies, organization, financing, ethics, professional role development, and diversity. Graduates will gain the knowledge and skills required to sit for the Family Nurse Practitioner national certification board exam.

The FNP track is designed to prepare students for greater autonomy and expertise in primary care management, including diagnosing, prescribing, and managing acute and chronic illnesses for individuals and families across all age ranges and demographics. Courses include Advanced Physical Assessment; Advanced Pharmacology – Population Focus: Family; Healthcare Systems, Nursing Leadership, and Advanced Nursing Role; and Quality Improvement and Patient Safety.

Drive Change as an Advanced Practice Nurse

Graduates of Norwich University’s online Master of Science in Nursing - Family Nurse Practitioner track are prepared to serve as principal providers of primary healthcare to patients and families across their lifespans. Discover how Norwich equips aspiring family nurse practitioners to play a lead role in easing the effects of the ongoing physician shortage in the U.S.

Recommended Readings:

The Nurse’s Role in Preparing Patients for Flu Season During a Pandemic
How to Become a Chief Nursing Officer
Nurse Leadership Qualities for Your Future Career


5 Factors Contributing to the US Specialist Physician Shortage, AristaMD
Why America’s Physician Shortage Could Top 120k by 2030: 5 Things to Know, Becker’s Hospital Review
Epidemiology of Obesity and Diabetes and Their Cardiovascular Complications, Circulation Research
America’s Aging Population Is Leading to a Doctor Shortage Crisis, CNBC
Impact of Nurse Practitioner Practice Regulations on Rural Population Health Outcomes, Healthcare
More States Pushing for Autonomy in Scope-of-Practice Battle, HealthLeaders
Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Practice Characteristics, The Journal of Ambulatory Care Management
About Rural Health Care, National Rural Health Association
Nurse Practitioners Overview, Scope of Practice Authority
Nurse Practitioners Are a Solution to Health Care Provider Shortages, The Hill
Projected U.S. State-Level Prevalence of Adult Obesity and Severe Obesity, The New England Journal of Medicine
Demographic Turning Points for the United States: Population Projections for 2020 to 2060, U.S. Census Bureau
Can Nurse Practitioners Help Ease the Growing Physician Shortage?, U.S. News & World Report
Why Do We Continue Using the ER for Care?, U.S. News & World Report

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