With Physician Shortage, Nurse Practitioners + Physician Assistants On The Rise

For Nurse Practitioners (NPs) and Physician Assistants (PAs), there has never been a better time to enter the field. According to new data recently released by the Association of American Medical Colleges, the United States will continue to face a projected physician shortage over the next decade. “This shortage will create an overwhelming demand for NPs and PAs—and it has already started,” says Katie Niekrash, Senior Managing Director within The Execu|Search Group’s Healthcare division. In fact, the healthcare industry continues to grow rapidly, adding 36,500 jobs in June alone, the largest contributor to the 222,000 jobs that were added in June nationwide.

The shortage of physicians in the healthcare field is due to a variety of unique circumstances, all of which will continue to contribute to the issue in years to come. Today, there are more insured Americans than ever before, due to the Affordable Care Act. “While this is a positive trend, the demand for excellent care now far outweighs the supply of physicians, creating an imbalance,” says Katie. “Additionally, the barriers to entry in order to become a physician are quite high—with increasingly high costs for medical school and a limited number of programs, fewer students are entering the field.”  Add into the mix the aging population of Baby Boomers who are entering retirement and it’s not difficult to see why the need for NPs and PAs will continue to grow.

“This is the time to build a very rewarding career as an NP or PA,” says Katie. “The need is high, and candidates who can provide excellent care have many options.” For those looking to make the most out of the growing physician shortage, Katie recommends considering the following practice settings to gain valuable experience while filling crucial gaps in the industry:

Primary Care:

The demand for primary care physicians has risen exponentially in recent years due to the growing number of insured Americans. “Now, rather than only going to the emergency room when they’re sick, more patients are seeking yearly checkups and staying healthier,” says Katie. “Additionally, the Baby Boomer population is beginning to visit physicians more regularly as they enter retirement age.”  However, especially in underserved areas of the country, it can be difficult for physicians to see so many patients. As a result, NPs and PAs are filling the gaps to serve the overwhelming demand.

Additionally, while primary care is seeing exponential growth in patients, it’s also seeing fewer physicians enter this practice setting. “Physicians who are entering the work force are less likely to enter primary care,” notes Katie. “Since they tend to pursue other settings, NPs and PAs have a lot of opportunities to get great experience, especially in entry level roles.”

Urgent Care:

Urgent care facilities across the country are staffing up with NPs and PAs who can quickly and accurately diagnose and treat patients in need of care. “While many urgent care facilities may have one or two physicians on staff to address the most serious of cases, NPs and PAs are in the majority treating patients,” says Katie, “and in some facilities, nurse practitioners have taken the lead.” As a result, those looking for flexibility and a high potential for growth may find that urgent care is an excellent career path.