Studies are predicting that there will be a significant shortage of primary care physicians in the US by the year 2020. Some estimates say there will be a reduction of 91,500 total physicians, with 45,000 plus in the field of primary care and the remaining in specialties. The nation will be facing a serious issue with a population that is aging and growing. Another important factor is that our doctors are aging too. It’s estimated that one-third of practicing physicians will be retiring in the next decade. Add to that the changes implemented by way of the Affordable Care Act, and the numerous states that have removed barriers regarding what nurse practitioners can and can’t do without physician assistance, and you have a landscape that is changing rapidly and dramatically for the profession.

The nurse practitioner’s role will undoubtedly evolve and intensify. Many patients will require the assistance of NPs to help them manage acute and chronic illnesses. The American Medical Association and the doctors they represent are still hesitant to expand the role of NPs, according to a 2013 survey published in the New England Journal of Medicine. In several states, NPs are able to open up their own primary care practices, prescribe drugs, and perform routine medical procedures. In other states, NPs are actively campaigning for legislation that would allow them to open practices.

Many advocates for patients feel that NPs can fill the void created by the physician shortage. However, some physician groups oppose these changes, arguing that safety will be an issue because NPs do not have the same extensive training.

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The battle continues to play out with the doctor shortage looming and increasing. Perhaps instead of fighting it out, the two sides could converge and put together a solid plan. The plan would help NPs be more independent, and put in place regulated guidelines and best practices for treating patients and prescribing. This would be a means to satisfy any concerns and address the shortage so that patients can continue to get quality care.


  1. Physician shortages to worsen without increases in residency training. Association of American Medical Colleges website.
  2. Norton A. Doctors reluctant to expand nurse practitioner’s role: survey. U.S. News website. May 15, 2013.
  3. Nurse practitioners to the rescue! Medical Bag website. April 4, 2012.