This week is National Nurse Practitioner Week so we thought we would take a look at the need for the family nurse practitioner, especially in rural areas. In our own state of Nebraska, rural areas illustrate several concerning healthcare trends found in similar communities throughout the nation.
Recent studies indicate that the number of physicians and nurses in Nebraska’s rural areas is shrinking and aging. In fact, according to a 2012 survey conducted by the Nebraska Center for Nursing, 17 rural Nebraska counties have no physicians and nine have no registered nurses.
Another study conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Rural Health found that physicians are unlikely to relocate from cities to rural areas, and current family physicians were concerned about future availability of care after they retired. The study also found a disproportionate demand in rural areas — half of all family medicine practices that are recruiting in the state are in rural areas.
These trends are unlocking opportunities for family nurse practitioners with Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degrees to fill gaps in care and take on leadership roles in rural areas. In underserved areas, DNP-prepared advanced practice nurses can provide crucial primary care services that otherwise would not be accessible.
“In Nebraska, DNP-prepared advanced practice nurses can practice in underserved areas in collaboration with a physician, but the physician does not need to be physically present,” says Dr. Lin Hughes, Dean of Nursing at Nebraska Methodist College.
“Advanced practice nurses can work together with a physician through communication via phone or internet. In many other states, where demand is critical, advanced practice nurses can practice more independently.”
Meeting the Demand
In response to these growing demands, Nebraska Methodist College recently announced it will offer the Doctor of Nursing Practice with an emphasis in family nurse practice beginning in the fall 2014 semester. The degree prepares nurses to specialize in managing acute and chronic illnesses for patients of all ages in a non-hospital setting.
Nebraska Methodist College’s DNP program is making the education available where it is needed most. The program’s online format was developed to be accessible to nurses nationwide who live in underserved areas. The program blends online learning with clinical interaction.