Nurse practitioners serve increasingly important role in health care

Nurse practitioners serve increasingly important role in health care

Nurse practitioners serve increasingly important role in health care

Whitney Nash, Ph.D., A.P.R.N., University of Louisville School of Nursing Associate Dean of Practice and Service and the Kentucky Representative for the American Association of Nurse Practitioners.

For National Nurse Practitioner Week, Whitney Nash, Ph.D., A.P.R.N., University of Louisville School of Nursing Associate Dean of Practice and Service and the Kentucky Representative for the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, authored the following op-ed that appeared in the Courier-Journal.


National Nurse Practitioner Week, Nov. 13-19, provides Kentuckians an opportunity to reflect on the increasingly important role that nurse practitioners undertake in providing high-quality health care.

Nurse practitioners, who have master’s or doctoral degrees, are expert clinicians with advanced training to provide primary, acute and specialty health care. They diagnose and treat acute and chronic conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. They prescribe medications and order, perform and interpret diagnostic tests. They integrate health promotion, disease prevention, counseling and education to help patients understand their complete health picture.

More than 222,000 nurse practitioners are licensed to practice in the United States, conducting more than 870 million patient visits annually. About 20,000 students graduate from nurse practitioner programs every year. In Kentucky, there are 4,380 licensed nurse practitioners, an increase of 59 percent during the past five years.  

The positive impacts of this key segment of health care providers is profound. Patients whose primary care providers are nurse practitioners have fewer emergency room visits and shorter hospital stays, resulting in lower out-of-pocket costs. Patient satisfaction rates for nurse practitioners are uniformly high. Two out of three patients support legislation for greater access to nurse practitioner services.

More than 50 years of research demonstrates that nurse practitioners provide safe and high-quality health care. States that have utilized nurse practitioners to their fullest capacity continue to see benefits to patients through a growing nurse practitioner workforce, health care providers better able to practice in rural areas, and lower costs through more preventive care and fewer unnecessary emergency room visits.

While a significant number of Kentuckians have gained access to health care because of the Affordable Care Act, the federal legislation did not fully address the shortage of primary care providers, particularly in rural areas. Also, as baby boomers become seniors in ever-increasing numbers over the next 10 years, having a choice when selecting a health care provider will become even more important. In our commonwealth, there are 81 counties with federally-designated health provider shortage areas.

Nurse practitioners are helping to meet the growing demands for health care in Kentucky and across the country. More nurse practitioners than physicians or physician assistants are choosing to practice primary care.  In 2015, more than 87 percent of nurse practitioners were prepared in primary care programs, while only 12 percent of physicians entered a primary care residency. 

Leading governmental and policy organizations, including the National Academy of Medicine, National Council of State Boards of Nursing, National Governors Association and the Federal Trade Commission have taken notice of the benefits of nurse practitioners practicing to the full extent of their education and training. The Department of Veterans Affairs is considering a rule that would authorize patients to have more direct access to nurse practitioners and other advanced practice registered nurses.

Having nurse practitioners across the commonwealth gives Kentuckians more direct access to cost-effective, high-quality and individualized health care.

Nov. 14, 2016