Fill Gaps in Primary Care as a Family Nurse Practitioner

An FNP interacting with a young patient
An FNP interacting with a young patient

The need for primary care providers is growing. According to recent data reported by the Association of American Medical Colleges, a current shortage of physicians in the United States is anticipated to reach between 17,800 and 48,000 in the primary care setting by the year 2034. This projection is representative of physicians practicing in the areas of family medicine, geriatric medicine and general pediatrics. 

If you have ever needed to make an appointment to see a primary care doctor or a specialist and encountered a longer wait time than desired, you have experienced a consequence of the physician shortage. An aging population and physician retirement are two of the largest factors contributing to the situation. Fortunately, primary care nurse practitioners are equipped with the skills, knowledge and expertise to help fill these concerning gaps in medical provider availability. 

The main purpose of this article is to explore the pathway to becoming a family nurse practitioner. Whether you are looking to enter a second career in nursing or are a working nurse looking to advance your education and become a primary care practitioner, read on to learn how the role of an FNP is working to improve the health care system in America.


Duties of the Primary Care Nurse Practitioner

The scope of practice for a nurse practitioner and a physician are similar when considering primary care responsibilities. Licensed family nurse practitioners, like physicians, are prepared to complete the following patient care duties:

  • Collection of in-depth patient health histories
  • Physical assessment of patients across their lifespan
  • Ordering of laboratory testing (such as diagnostic imaging and routine blood work)
  • Interpretation of laboratory results to inform accurate diagnoses
  • Development of comprehensive plans of care inclusive of pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic treatments as appropriate
  • Referral to specialty care when indicated
  • Ongoing evaluation and management of health conditions to achieve goals of care

The primary care nurse practitioner has a unique combination of nursing skills coupled with a practitioner mindset. The role of the FNP applies critical thinking in partnership with the patient and family to reach health and wellness goals. As a family nurse practitioner, you will advocate for patients while serving as their central point of health care. You will work within the network of providers that patients and families may access for health care services and assist in the coordination of care. 

If this type of work interests you, be assured that the current job outlook for nurse practitioners is growing in tandem with the need for primary care providers.


Increasing Demand and Salary for FNPs

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is an anticipated 46 percent increase in employment projected for nurse practitioners in the United States between 2021 and 2031. This equates to an additional 112,700 nurse practitioner jobs in just 10 years. 

Nationally, nurse practitioners make between $38 and $78 per hour with an average salary of approximately $120,000 per year. Those working in home health agencies and outpatient clinics are reported to have the highest salaries compared to those working in general medical facilities and surgical hospitals. Nurse practitioners can be found working in nearly every primary care setting. This includes schools, public health departments, correctional facilities, homeless shelters and even their own practices in states that allow full nurse practitioner autonomy.

Current nurses who choose to become nurse practitioners have the chance to expand their scope of practice and increase their professional autonomy in the workplace. As NPs contribute to solving the physician shortage, the role of APRNs in the community will continue to include advocating for full practice authority. 

Approximately half of U.S. states have adopted models of nurse practitioner full practice authority, which is the ability of licensed NPs to practice without restrictions such as physician oversight or mandated collaborative agreements. When NPs have greater ability to make clinical care decisions independently, this freedom allows greater mobilization of the available health care workforce to increase access to much needed care.

Filling a critical need is only one of the reasons to become an NP. Your interpersonal skills are also strengthened with continued application in primary care. There are ample opportunities to work within diverse cultures and family dynamics to learn and serve with humility and compassion. In addition to clinical responsibilities, the role of an FNP includes the opportunity to make a significant impact by actively listening and engaging with empathy. Pursuit of graduate education to become a nurse practitioner provides a formal mentorship opportunity for continued growth in these areas. 

Next, let’s explore the core competencies for the FNP and discuss how they may be applied in the primary care setting. 


FNP Core Competencies

A proficient family nurse practitioner has a strong scientific foundation. The ability to critically think about a patient’s health condition while also reviewing and applying the latest evidence for improved patient outcomes is essential for the role of an FNP. 

Nurse practitioners frequently subscribe to professional journals and stay current on best practices and disease-specific treatment guidelines to deliver quality care. For busy professionals, resources are available that condense the latest research findings into daily or weekly news briefs to help streamline the process of staying up to date.

Technological literacy and teamwork are two other essential skills for the FNP to apply in the primary care setting. Interdisciplinary collaboration occurs regularly between primary care and specialty providers to ensure continuity of care. On a daily basis, family nurse practitioners will use electronic medical records in documenting the details of patient visits as well as transmitting prescriptions and referrals throughout the health care delivery system. It is also important that nurse practitioners are savvy consumers of health information online. FNPs help patients navigate the volume of health-related websites to find credible sources for support and discern information that can be trusted. 


Graduate Nursing Programs for FNP Students

Becoming an FNP is a process that includes both didactic learning and clinical application. While enrolled in a primary care nurse practitioner program, students participate in case studies and patient care to hone their ability to apply evidence to practice. Continual translation of research evidence into clinical practice is one way that nurse practitioners lead practice inquiry and make a meaningful difference in the world. 

Leadership skills are also developed in an NP program where students learn about the nurse practitioner scope of practice and ethical principles for making sound decisions in the best interest of patients and families. Faculty help foster an understanding of how policies are developed and the ways resources may be allocated to best address disparities and specific needs at the local, state and federal levels.


Start Your Nursing Career at Marymount University

The entry-level option for students with non-nursing undergraduate degrees is the Online ABSN. In just 16 months, Online ABSN students complete the following requirements in preparation for RN careers:

  • An on-campus residency
  • Clinical placements in Virginia
  • 100% online courses on topics like Research and Evidence-Based Practice

Marymount’s ABSN is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Nursing courses at Marymount are taught by practicing APRNs who can speak with authority about the profession. The university’s stellar reputation is confirmed by top U.S. News & World Report rankings in its National Universities and Nursing categories. 

If you want to become an RN, contact one of our student advisors to discuss if this program is right for you.


Request My Free Marymount Accelerated BSN Program Guide