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How Family Nurse Practitioners (FNPs) Meet Health Needs in Underserved Communities

Disadvantaged communities often struggle with limited access to healthcare providers and services, issues exacerbated by socioeconomic challenges and geographic isolation. Areas with these obstacles are known as health professional shortage areas (HPSAs).

The resulting disparities manifest in higher rates of chronic diseases, unmet health needs and shorter life expectancies. HPSA designation can include a specific geographical area, facilities like prisons and certain medical facilities with provider shortages, and financially disadvantaged populations, such as migrant workers, low-income families or those experiencing homelessness.

Designation and Unique Characteristics of Health Professional Shortage Areas

HPSA designation stems from a growing recognition of the uneven distribution of healthcare services across the U.S. dating back to the 1970s. Due to shortages of health professionals, these underserved communities faced significant barriers to accessing quality healthcare. This prompted federal efforts to identify and classify these areas as HPSAs. To date, over 74 million people live in HPSAs across the U.S.

HPSAs represent a distinctive approach to addressing healthcare disparities, especially compared to other healthcare strategies. Unlike broader healthcare initiatives focusing on technology or policy changes at a national or global level, HPSAs are identified explicitly by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) as having insufficient primary care, dental or mental health providers.

This targeted designation allows focused efforts and resources to provide access to health services for these underserved communities. Incentive programs and increased reimbursement rates from CMS and Medicaid are also available to healthcare providers willing to provide care in HPSAs.

Increased Demand for FNPs and NPs: Addressing Primary Care Needs Across the U.S.

Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) and NPs are increasingly valued and recognized for their ability to offer comprehensive healthcare services. These advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) received extensive training to manage various health conditions, offering preventative care, diagnosis, treatment and patient education at all levels of the healthcare continuum. Over 200,000 licensed NPs in the U.S. work in primary care.

FNPs are trained in clinical and psychosocial aspects of care, allowing them to holistically address various health needs. In the online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) – FNP program at St. Thomas University (STU), students learn to care for diverse populations across the lifespan. For example, the Advanced Practice Nursing Integration course helps students incorporate prior nursing knowledge and skills with those obtained in the MSN – FNP program to promote health, prevent disease and manage acute and chronic illnesses.

The Role of FNPs And NPs in Health Professional Shortage Areas

As the fastest-growing profession, FNPs and NPs fill HPSA gaps with a unique combination of clinical expertise and compassionate care, often serving as the primary or sole healthcare providers for these communities. Their extensive training enables them to perform comprehensive health assessments, order and interpret tests, diagnose illnesses, prescribe medications, supervise clinical staff, initiate treatment, coordinate care and manage chronic conditions effectively. They treat acute and chronic illnesses and focus on preventive care by educating patients on health maintenance and disease prevention.

FNPs and NPs are known for their patient-centered approach to healthcare. They spend time understanding the social determinants of health that influence patient health outcomes. This empathetic approach fosters trust within the community, encouraging more individuals to seek medical care. By providing high-quality primary care services in HPSAs, FNPs and NPs are essential in reducing health disparities and improving the overall well-being of these underserved areas.

Graduates of STU’s online MSN – FNP program can use their specialized skills and knowledge to create personalized care plans, incorporating social health determinants and patient preferences to achieve optimal outcomes and deliver accessible and holistic care that positively impacts these populations.

Overcoming Challenges and Making a Difference: FNP Contributions to Underserved Communities

FNPs are critical in bridging the healthcare gap within underserved communities. FNPs employ innovative strategies to deliver comprehensive care despite limited financial resources, staffing shortages and cultural barriers. However, recruiting challenges, high turnover and low retention rates have caused increased workloads and extended work hours for FNPs in HPSAs. Vacancies can often take months to recruit and fill, increasing the strain on existing providers and causing job dissatisfaction and burnout, with many leaving these areas for more desirable work environments.

Additionally, restrictive licensure laws in many states limit NPs’ scope of practice, further decreasing the number of providers available to service HPSAs. As the nationwide physician shortage increases, demand for NPs and FNPs will grow exponentially, placing additional strain on HPSA providers nationwide. These scope of practice restrictions must be addressed if there is any hope of meeting the needs of these vulnerable populations.

Learn more about STU’s online Master of Science in Nursing – Family Nurse Practitioner program.

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