June 13, 2023
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Why Nurse Practitioners in Rural Areas are Essential — Three Key Insights

With over 355,000 Nurse Practitioners (NPs) in the U.S., their significance is growing, especially in rural areas.

Yet, there remains a projected demand for 30,200 NPs annually, as per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

So, why are nurse practitioners important in rural areas?

This post will explore three reasons why rural healthcare relies heavily on nurse practitioners to fill service gaps and overcome geographic barriers to care.

Versatility and Autonomy: The Dynamic Role of NPs

Nurse practitioners (NPs) play an important role in US rural areas where resources are limited. They offer relief to primary care shortages and work autonomously.

A nationwide study utilizing claims- and EHR data from 2017 paints a vivid picture of this autonomy.

According to the data, rural nurse practitioners (NPs) tend to have their own patient panels and operate with less physician oversight. They also have the authority to prescribe Schedule II controlled substances, indicating their expanded role.

Nurse Practitioners (NPs) are essential in rural areas, where they provide not only emergency care and primary healthcare but also handle complex and long-term cases.

Their versatility and expertise are visible in the multiple responsibilities they take on, leading to a greater sense of professional satisfaction.

Addressing Health Professional Shortages: The Necessity for NPs

Rural America is home to over 61 million residents or 18% of the U.S. population. These communities often consist of older and unemployed individuals experiencing both educational and health inequities.

In fact, the life expectancy for rural Americans is, on average, two years less than their urban counterparts. Their struggles also extend to accessing healthcare, benefits, and services, further exacerbating the existing health disparities.

Amplifying these challenges is the shortage of healthcare professionals:

  • Over 80 million Americans, including those in rural areas, live where healthcare professional shortages exist.
  • By 2030, an anticipated shortfall of over 120,000 providers looms over the healthcare sector.
  • Shockingly, only 11% of physicians serve in rural areas.

As we face these difficult challenges, Nurse Practitioners (NPs) are becoming a symbol of hope.

In the face of alarming healthcare shortages, particularly in rural regions, Nurse Practitioners are stepping up to bridge the gap.

With roughly 18% of all U.S. NPs committed to serving in rural zones, they’re not only filling a crucial void but are also offering care tailored to the needs of these areas.

Empowering through Education: Preparing NPs for Rural Practice

Given the considerable autonomy in rural practice, educational programs that prime NPs for these unique challenges are crucial.

These programs are designed to arm NPs with not just the necessary clinical skills but also the readiness to work independently, which rural settings often require.

Recognizing this, some academic institutions are revising their curricula. Washburn University, for example, has centered its efforts on preparing NPs for rural practice via its advanced educational nursing workforce grant.

This targeted education and support strengthens NPs’ capabilities in rural settings, ensuring they’re well-equipped to address the distinctive healthcare needs of these communities.


Nurse Practitioners undoubtedly form the bedrock of rural healthcare.

They bring a diverse skill set, autonomy, and a willingness to serve in areas many other healthcare professionals might find challenging. They stand in the breach where healthcare access is limited, and with the proper education and support, they are well-armed to meet the unique challenges of rural healthcare practice.

As the NPs of tomorrow, you need to appreciate this dynamic, as it offers a glimpse into the impact you’re set to make in the healthcare landscape.

Let’s continue to explore this narrative, recognizing and valuing the immense role of NPs in enhancing access to and the quality of healthcare in rural America.

In understanding why NPs are so important in rural areas, we can better appreciate the profound influence that your chosen profession wields in shaping the future of healthcare.

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