According to predictions by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), nurse practitioners (NPs) are expected to be the fastest-growing occupation of all professions in the next decade. The number of NPs, the BLS predicted, will grow from 246,700 to 359,400 by 2031.
In a table of projected occupations, the BLS listed nurse practitioners at the very top of all professions expected to grow. By 2031, they predicted, nurse practitioners will grow at a rate of over 45%, which is faster than any other occupation, including tech roles like statisticians and security and software positions.
Healthcare positions in general will have one of the highest number of job openings through 2031, the BLS noted, along with social assistance. The reason that NPs may be the fastest growing of all could boil down to a few different factors.
A shift to team-based healthcare
According to the BLS, one of the biggest driving factors behind the boom in NPs is the shift of healthcare facilities to use “team-based healthcare models. “ The BLS explains that team-based healthcare models “utilize nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and other healthcare practitioners to provide patient care that would otherwise be provided by a doctor.”
The BLS explains that healthcare jobs in general are growing alongside a population that is aging over 65 years old. Those individuals will require more healthcare, which includes the need for both primary and specialty care providers—-areas which NP can serve. NPs who can provide healthcare for an aging population will be especially in need.
Chronic conditions in patients
Alongside an aging population, the BLS also explained that there has been an increase in patients with chronic conditions, which requires more management by skilled providers. NPs can serve a unique need in managing chronic conditions in ways that physicians often cannot.
A move towards more home-based care
Although not necessarily nurse practitioner-specific, the BLS notes that there has been a shift to more home-based medical care, which has left many gaps in providers that NPs can fill. Everything from virtual visits to managing chronic conditions to homecare visits can be served by an NP.
Salary may also play a role in the growth of NPs. For instance, the BLS noted that the expected average wage of an NP will be $120,680 by 2031, the highest of any other profession listed and on par with software developers and physician assistants.
With two-thirds of nurses reporting some kind of burnout, RNs may consider advancing their careers to work as NPs, which can allow for more autonomy, better work-life balance, and less high-pressure work environments.
The need for more NPs may lead to more regulation of the profession. The Washington Post reports that there are some states pushing back on the scope of what NPs can do, as well as their titles. For instance, Florida wanted to pass a bill that would have prevented any NP who holds a doctorate degree from using the title of “Dr.”
The Washington Post notes that many states are grappling with those who believe that NPs should have a limited scope when compared to physicians, due to their differences in their training requirements—but that there is a struggle of defining what NPs can do and offer with the reality that NPs provide necessary healthcare to many who otherwise would not have access to medical services.
While states decide if and what legislation they may want to pass to regulate NPs, the government is wasting no time in preparing to support its aging population by investing in nurses. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced on August 10, 2023, that it will be awarding more than $100 million to help grow the nursing workforce.
Of the $100 million, close to $35 million of it will be going to the Advanced Nursing Education Workforce Program to increase the number of primary care nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, and certified nurse midwives trained and prepared to provide primary care services, mental health and substance use disorder care, and/or maternal health care.
And $30 million will be going specifically to grow the numbers of NPs through the Advanced Nursing Education-Nurse Practitioner Residency and Fellowship Program (ANE-NPRF), with the aim of increasing the number of trained advanced practice nurses in primary care.
Some of the funding will also go to help incentivize nurses to teach as faculty to grow the future nursing workforce, so low-interest loans and loan cancellations will be offered. Aspiring NPs or those interested in teaching future NPs can check the full list of awards here.
The bottom line is that NPs are going to be desperately needed over the next decade and the government is helping nurses interested in serving as NPs make that career advancement happen, so if you are interested in becoming an NP, there has never been a better time to try.