Studies have consistently shown similar patient outcomes for care delivered by APRNs and physicians, with APRNs achieving high patient satisfaction and lower costs.

A swelling demand

APRNs obtain master’s or doctoral degrees. Several factors are driving demand for health care services, foremost among them the aging baby boomers and healthcare reforms, such as the Affordable Care Act. APRNs have become increasingly utilized by older Americans covered by Medicare. Figures show one-third received at least one service from an APRN and 700,000 choose an APRN as their primary care provider. APRNs also are the main provider of convenient primary care found in retail clinics nationwide.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects rapid employment growth for APRNs from 2012 to 2022:

  • 34 percent for nurse practitioners (NPs) (primary care – assessment, diagnosis, treatment, prescribing and disease management) 

  • 29 percent for certified nurse midwives (lifelong women’s health care)

  • 25 percent for certified registered nurse anesthetists (anesthesia and pain management)

Another category of APRNs, clinical nurse specialists, also provide primary care while focusing on specific populations or disease types.

In addition to clinical practice, nurses with advanced degrees have the opportunity to fill faculty positions at nursing schools, which have an 8 percent vacancy rate.

A growing trend

Currently, some states restrict APRNs’ ability to practice by requiring physician supervision. The Institute of Medicine has recommended APRNs be permitted to practice to the full extent consistent with their education and training without physician supervision. In 2014, Connecticut, Minnesota and New York recognized the vital primary and preventive care services provided by nurse practitioners and passed bills decreasing this and other barriers to their autonomy. Those states’ actions reflect a national trend.

A federal report shows advanced nursing degrees are on the rise. Graduates from masters and doctoral nursing programs increased 67 percent from 2007 to 2011. With projections of a wave of nursing retirements coupled with increased demand, pursuing an advanced nursing degree is a wise career decision.