NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 20, 2004

As medical science creates new treatments to keep us alive longer, the country will need ever more health-care personnel to avoid coverage gaps. Nurse practitioners are quicker and cheaper to train than doctors, and there is already a huge pool of registered nurses in the United States who could become practitioners with just a few years' study, say observers.

Indeed, some argue that nurse practitioners may be better suited than doctors to meet the growing needs of U.S. health care. More Americans are suffering from long-term illnesses like asthma, diabetes or hypertension, where lifestyle can play a vital role in treatment. Nurse practitioners are trained to place a strong emphasis on preventive care, asking patients about their habits and educating them about their choices.

According to a quadrennial survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

  • The number of people with the title of nurse practitioner rose from zero in 1965 to 20,000 in 1988.
  • By 1996, the number had doubled to 40,000, and by 2000 it had reached 62,373.

But those numbers don't reflect the full picture.

  • The total number of certified nurse practitioners in 2000 -- including many people who work as nurse practitioners but who don't have that specific title -- was 88,186.
  • While the 2004 number isn't available yet, nurse-practitioner organizations estimate the total is well over 100,000.

One problem that nurse practitioners still face, however, is image. No matter how much knowledge they acquire or what rave reviews they get from patients, for many people the image of a nurse is still that of a junior partner to the all-knowing physician, say observers.

Source: Andrew Blackman, "Is there a Doctor in the House?" Wall Street Journal, October 11, 2004.

For WSJ text (subscription required),,SB109717154929439394-search,00.html


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