As politicians and Supreme Court justices debate the Affordable Care Act (ACA), known as “Obama Care,” Mennonite College of Nursing (MCN) is preparing students for the increase in demand of primary care providers, namely family nurse practitioners.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, an estimated 49.9 million uninsured Americans will be coming into the health care system under ACA.
“The question becomes, who is going to care for them?”asked Denise Wilson, associate professor of nursing and leader of the college’s Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) Sequence. The program prepares students to provide primary care for patients across their lifespan.
“Family nurse practitioners generally can take care of about 80 to 85 percent of the types of patients physicians see, freeing the physicians to see the patients with the most complex needs,” Wilson said. The demand for nurse practitioners is growing, especially in light of the new health care act.
“The American Academy of Family Physicians projected that to meet the expected increase of patients, medical schools will need to graduate more than 4,400 primary care physicians a year by 2020,” Wilson said. “Currently medical schools are graduating just over 1,000 general practitioners a year—a decline from 2,300 per year in 1997.”
Primary care practitioners provide more than referrals to specialists. “They are the point person for patient care,” she said. “Primary care pulls it all together, acts as an advocate, and works closely with patients to help them achieve optimal health.” Even as demand increases for primary care providers, “the majority of medical school students are choosing to specialize more and more.”
In her own active clinical practice, Wilson works with many patients on nutrition and preventative care. “So many of the problems we are seeing— hypertension, diabetes—come from unhealthy lifestyles leading to such problems as obesity. I can offer patients the tools to help them improve their health, but there also has to be a relationship with the patient to understand the many factors affecting their life and health.”
All FNP candidates at MCN have a bachelor’s nursing degree and are licensed registered nurses. Currently, the FNP Sequence is a master’s degree program, though plans are in place to raise the requirements to a doctoral level. Wilson projects the demand for FNP graduates will only rise.
“Our students are successful in finding FNP positions,” she said. “Mennonite has a wonderful reputation—our FNP pass rate for first-time takers on the national certification examination is over 98 percent, compared to a national pass rate of 82 percent. Employers recognize the quality of our students.”