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Future Job Trends for Nurse Practitioners

By Doug Bennett

According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), there were 290,000 licensed nurse practitioners in the United States as of December 2019. And the future job outlook for nurse practitioners (NPs) appears quite favorable, with the role of nurse practitioners expanding significantly in recent decades in response to America’s changing health care needs, advances in scientific knowledge, and the consequences of healthcare reform. These changes are yielding many new opportunities for both new and experienced nurse practitioners.

What is the future demand for nurse practitioners?

Research conducted by the Association of American Medical Colleges found that the United States could face a shortage of roughly 55,000 primary care physicians by 2032. Without enough primary care physicians available to care for the population,  future demand for family nurse practitioners (FNPs) is expected to remain high over the coming decade, if not longer. This increased demand for nurse practitioners will be especially high in states where FNPs have been granted full practice authority.

Additionally, there is already a sustained shortage of registered nurses in both the U.S. and globally, which will only exacerbate future demand for nurse practitioners. This shortage is expected to deepen as the Baby Boomer generation ages and the need for care providers, in general, increases. These developments promise abundant job growth for future nurse practitioners. In fact, U.S. News and World Report recently ranked nurse practitioner as number 7 on its list of the “100 Best Jobs in 2019.”

Show me the money!

Along with increased demand for nurse practitioners and registered nurses comes higher salaries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2019, the median annual wage of a nurse practitioner is $109,820, which is more than double the average annual salary for all occupations.  Nurse practitioner salaries, in particular, have risen much faster than inflation over the past decade, recently surpassing physician assistants for the first time. In a 2018 American Nurse survey of nurses,, 60 percent of respondents reported having received a salary increase in the past 12 months. 

So, how can future nurse practitioners prepare to capture so many opportunities?

Take advantage of online education

As demand for nurse practitioners and other nursing specialties grows, the motivation for nurses to pursue advanced degrees is higher than ever. In response to this trend, many schools now offer online nursing degree programs that enable nurses to earn a degree while continuing to work full-time. This allows registered nurses to become BSNs and BSNs to become family nurse practitioners, while also minimizing the investment of time necessary to grow professionally and helping meet the current and future demand for more nurse practitioners in the workforce.

Advanced degrees become the norm

The Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) was established approximately 20 years ago to recognize the breadth of content in nurse practitioner training programs and is now the terminal degree for advanced practice nurses. Advanced formal education and clinical training have become more commonplace in recent decades as a result of the broadening role of nurse practitioners. 

Several studies have shown that the risk of patient mortality decreases in conjunction with increases in the number of RNs holding at least a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Given the compelling evidence that higher education results in better patient outcomes, expect advanced nursing degrees to become more the norm as we move into 2020 and beyond. 

What is the future outlook for nurse practitioners?

Above average job growth, more autonomy, and new work environments

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 26 percent job growth rate for registered nurses from 2018 to 2028, which is must faster than the average for other occupations.

Twenty-two states and Washington, DC have already granted full practice authority to nurse practitioners. This trend is expected to continue as other states begin to reckon with primary care physician shortages and re-evaluate supervising physician collaborative agreement requirements and other restrictions on practice.

Retail health clinics are disrupting the health care landscape by providing an alternative for the provision of primary care. New and expanding health care services offered in major retail chains—such as Walgreens, CVS, and Target—provide new opportunities for nurse practitioners to open up their own clinics. 

Greater flexibility for travel nurse practitioners

As more states join the enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC), it becomes substantially easier for nurse practitioners to work across state lines. These changes create greater flexibility and more job opportunities for nurse practitioners who are interested in diversifying their professional skills, while also trying out living and working in a variety of new settings.

Technology advances open new doors for future nurse practitioners

The mobile health era offers numerous new opportunities for nurse practitioners interested in practicing telehealth. Nurse practitioners can offer on-demand urgent care services by connecting with patients via their smart phones or computers. Telepsychiatry, in particular, helps improve access to care for underserved and isolated rural populations, while also reducing the stigma sometimes associated with seeking out mental health care.

Changing demographics lucrative for nurse practitioners

According to Becker’s Hospital Review, as the U.S. population becomes increasingly diverse, the ability to speak a second language—especially Spanish—is a very in-demand and valuable skill for future nurse practitioners to possess. 

Increased demand for nurse practitioner specialists

By 2050 one fifth of the U.S. population will be 65 or older. As the Baby Boomer generation ages and experiences more illness and ailments, more nurse practitioners will be needed to provide specialty care, especially in geriatrics. Currently, fewer than 3 percent of advanced practice registered nurses are certified in geriatrics. This deficiency creates additional opportunities for future nurse practitioners who want to serve in highly sought-after specialty areas, such as geriatrics and at-home care. 

Increased demand in outpatient centers and underserved and rural areas

With hospitals under enormous pressure to have high turnover rates, outpatient care is consequently in high demand, particularly for nurse practitioners who specialize in outpatient care fields, such as adult-gerontology, acute care, and critical care. Rural and underserved areas in particular need more outpatient care centers with specialized nurse practitioners. This trend is thought to stem from far fewer licensed physicians practicing in these areas. One of the best ways to become a nurse practitioner serving in underserved and rural areas is to specialize in public or community health.

Healthcare reform creates new opportunities for future nurse practitioners

Healthcare reform has resulted in new healthcare delivery and payment models that are designed to reward providers for improving patient outcomes, while also reducing overall costs. Several studies over the past decade have confirmed that integrating areas such as primary care and mental health care helps improve patient outcomes and reduce costs. As this new integrated approach becomes more commonplace, nurse practitioners—especially those who specialize in treating mental health conditions—will see corresponding new professional opportunities to keep up with demand that physicians alone cannot fulfill. 

Locum tenens positions for all specialties are available now. If you are interested in locum tenens opportunities, Locum Leaders can help you find the perfect location to put your education and training to work. To learn more, please complete this form or call 877-562-8656.