National Rural Health Day serves as chance to raise awareness
In recognition of National Rural Health Day, last week the American Association of Nurse Practitioners® (AANP) applauded the tens of thousands of nurse practitioners (NPs) who are practicing in rural areas, many of which are struggling with sharp surges in COVID-19 cases combined with a nationwide shortage of primary health care providers. AANP urges all states to allow NPs to practice at the top of their profession, which will further expand NP care in rural areas now amid the pandemic and over the long run.
“With more than 290,000 licensed NPs, and roughly 30,000 new NPs entering the health care workforce every year, NPs are adding high-quality providers and strength to our health care workforce,” said Sophia L. Thomas, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC, PPCNP-BC, FNAP, FAANP, president of AANP.
“Today, NPs represent approximately one in four providers in rural practices, and amid skyrocketing COVID-19 cases in small towns and rural areas, they are playing a vital role. According to our surveys, 60% of NPs are testing, diagnosing and treating COVID-19 patients in a wide variety of settings, putting the health and well-being of their patients ahead of their own. Based on current trends, today’s limited access to health care in rural areas will continue to worsen in the years ahead unless policymakers take strategic steps to address it.”
More than 80 million Americans live in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or areas where there are more than 3,500 patients for a single primary care provider. This lack of access means no prevention, screening, immunizations or basic care for infections and illnesses, and inadequate health care access is especially prevalent in rural areas.
In addition, aging Baby Boomers are snowballing into the largest patient population in history, and while their health care needs spike, the number of practicing physicians is falling nearly as fast. The net result is a health care provider population that is simply not big enough, nor geographically dispersed enough, to handle mounting patient demand.
By 2030, experts project the shortfall to reach more than 120,000 providers, but the access to care, or lack thereof, will not be distributed evenly. Some communities will have less provider choice and longer wait times. Other, smaller communities will have an even bigger problem — no access at all. Patients living in rural communities are five times more likely to live in a shortage area than patients living in urban or suburban areas.
“NPs can change that dynamic,” said David Hebert, CEO of AANP. “NPs evaluate, diagnose and treat patients, order and interpret diagnostic tests and prescribe medications in all 50 states. In fact, nearly 90 percent of NPs are certified in an area of primary care — the biggest shortage area in rural communities — and are more likely to settle in rural areas.”