Opportunities growing for careers in primary care
Now is an excellent time to consider a career as a primary care or family physician, nurse practitioner (NP) or physician assistants (PA). A shortage of physicians, combined with the growth and aging of the U.S. population and a greater number of insured patients under the Affordable Care Act, is creating new opportunities for careers in primary care.
A study by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration projects a shortfall of 20,400 primary care physicians by 2020, and demand for services will outpace the number of providers, even adding in NPs and PAs. That shortage is likely to be particularly acute in rural communities, where many healthcare clinics rely on locum tenens professionals for a short- or long-term assignments.
While the ACA includes a number of incentives to increase the supply of primary care practitioners, those training and education steps take time to implement and do not address the variations in state licensing rules.
The federal study projected the number of primary care physicians (PCPs) will rise to 220,800 FTEs in 2020, an 8-percent increase from 2010. However, total demand for PCPs is projected to grow by 28,700, a 14 percent increase during the decade. “While this deficit is not as large as has been found in prior studies, the projected shortage of primary care physicians is still significant,” said the study.
The primary care NP and PA workforces are projected to grow far more rapidly than the physician supply.
On the other hand, the supply of primary care NPs is projected to rise by 30 percent, from 55,400 in 2010 to 72,100 in 2020. In addition, the supply of primary care PAs is projected to increase by 58 percent, from 27,700 to 43,900 over the same period. “Increased use of NPs and PAs could somewhat alleviate the projected primary care physician shortage if they are effectively integrated into the health care delivery system,” said the study.