The Issue

With more people expected to rely on the American health care system in the near future, there is an urgent need to develop new skills among the health care workforce and attract others to health care professions, especially in areas related to primary care.

Why It Matters

  • The United States population and health care workforce are aging. This aging population and workforce set the stage for shortages and a sweeping loss of experience in all health fields, particularly in nursing, as Baby Boomers retire over the next 20 years.
  • The Affordable Care Act (ACA) provides health coverage to more than 30 million previously uninsured Americans. The increased number of insured Americans will increase demand for primary care services that are already scarce in many areas.
  • America is increasingly racially and ethnically diverse, which challenges health care providers to deliver more culturally competent care in the near future.
  • Emerging diseases and technological and scientific innovations demand that health workers continually adapt and work in teams to learn and update the skills necessary to facilitate interprofessional collaboration.

Policy Context

Increasing and modernizing the health care workforce is a major goal of the ACA. The health reform law contains dozens of provisions related to health care workforce issues including strengthening primary care through payment reform, academic and financial assistance programs and examining the changing role of front-line health care workers like nurse practitioners who are increasingly providing primary care to medically undrserved communities.

Workforce Fast Facts

Nursing Education

In all, 36.8 percent of nurses have bachelor's degrees (up from 22.3 percent in 1980), while 36.1 percent of nurses have associate degrees (up from 17.9 percent in 1980).

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Shortage of Primary Care Practitioners

There are over 800,000 practicing physicians and residents currently in the United States, but only 32 percent designate themselves principally as primary care practitioners (PCPs), namely, practitioners of family medicine, general internal medicine, and general pediatrics.

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