But just like with primary care physicians, there is a shortage of nurse practitioners and physician assistants in the state.
Two recent studies released by the University of Nebraska Medical Center reveal that the state will need 21 more primary care nurse practitioners and 23 more physician assistants by 2014 to meet the anticipated need created by health care reform.
"Increasing the number of primary care physician assistants and nurse practitioners is one option to addressing the expected demand for health services as the population ages and more people gain access to health care," said Jim Stimpson, Ph.D., director of the Center for Health Policy in the College of Public Health at UNMC and co-author of the studies.
But educating those physician assistants and nurse practitioners to fill that gap takes time, Dr. Stimpson said.
It takes six years, four at an undergraduate university and two more years through an accredited physician assistant program, to obtain a physician assistant degree. And nurse practitioners spend roughly six to eight years in school to obtain either a master's or doctoral degree in nursing.
Both work under the supervision of a doctor and provide much of the same services.
Physician assistants can perform diagnostic testing, procedures and provide treatments, while nurse practitioners are generally educated to provide primary care with a specialization in adult health, family health, pediatrics, psychiatric/mental health, gerontology or women's health.
Dr. Stimpson reviewed workforce data from 2007-2011, which revealed there are currently 293 primary care nurse practitioners and 327 primary care physician assistants in Nebraska.
Other results of the study show:
· The vast majority of primary care physician assistants and nurse practitioners work for family physicians;
· The majority of primary care physician assistants, 61.5 percent, practice in rural counties compared to only 38.5 percent practicing in urban counties.
"Given the recent evidence that Nebraska is facing a shortage of primary care physicians it is important to look for other ways to fill the gap in health care services," Dr. Stimpson said.
Through world-class research and patient care, UNMC generates breakthroughs that make life better for people throughout Nebraska and beyond. Its education programs train more health professionals than any other institution in the state. Learn more at unmc.edu.
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