The Growing Nurse Practitioner Workforce in Specialty Care

Lorinda A. Coombs, MSN, FNP-BC


Journal for Nurse Practitioners. 2015;11(9):907-909. 

In This Article

Specialty Care

The NP workforce in primary care has been well documented,[4–7] with much of the discussion focused on how the NP supply may alleviate the deficit of primary care physicians.[5] The demand of primary care is anticipated to rise with the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act.[5,8,9]

The majority of NPs continue to provide primary care; however, as demonstrated in the 2012 National Sample Survey of Nurse Practitioners (NSSNP), almond one third of the NP workforce is currently providing specialty care.[10] The NSSNP reported that, in 2012, there were 154,000 licensed NPs in the United States and, of that number, 48,000 were providing specialty care. The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners placed the total number of NPs in the US at 205,000 and also estimated the subspecialty proportion to be approximately 31%.[11] Because the 2 sample survey methodologies differed, a direct comparison is problematic, but they do offer similar results regarding the distribution of primary care and the large number of specialty NPs Figure.


Specialty of Practice/Facility for Nurse Practitioners Providing Patient Care.
Source: 2012 National Sample Survey of Nurse Practitioners.

The NSSNP was the first attempt by the Health Resources and Service Administration to identify the supply of NPs nationally in addition to geographic distribution and type of role: primary care or specialty care. The results of the NSSNP were released 2 years after the data were gathered, coinciding with the publication of the most recent report from the National Center for Health Workforce Analysis. The new report documents the current growth of non–primary care advanced practice nurses (APNs), defined in the report as NPs, clinical nurse specialists, certified nurse midwives, and certified registered nurse anesthetists, and also projects further increases. According to the report, between 2010 and 2025, the growth rate for APNs will outpace that of physicians by a wide margin: APNs at 141% compared with a projected growth of physicians at 21%.[12] Both reports have presented new information on the current roles of NPs in health care provision and also provided projections on significant growth in specialty areas (see Table).