Kathy Peterson knew it was time to reinstate a nurse practitioner degree program at The College at Brockport upon reviewing local and national trends.
“People are aware of the need for nurse practitioners,” says Peterson, who chairs the college’s nursing department. “The supply isn’t keeping up with the demand.”
In fact, demand for both nurse practitioners and physician assistants is expected to grow at a much faster rate than the average for all jobs due largely to a physician shortage in many regions and an aging population that requires more healthcare services, area experts say.
Local schools are responding to that growing demand for non-physician providers.
Brockport did offer a nurse practitioner degree program in the early 1990s, but decided to discontinue it at the time and focus more on its four-year registered nursing degree program.
Peterson says now is the time to offer the advanced degree again with the profession gaining in popularity.
Demand for nurse practitioners is estimated to grow by 31 percent from 2016 to 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The master of science program in nursing at Brockport prepares practicing registered nurses for advanced practice roles as family nurse practitioners. The program takes two-years to complete full time.
The first class of just under 20 students entered the program in the fall of 2018 and will graduate in the spring of 2020.
Some of the students have already received job offers, Peterson says, adding there is a need for nurse practitioners in the field locally, especially in more rural areas.
To better accommodate students, the college began offering part-time options and advanced study certificate programs, as well, Peterson says.
Plans are also underway for a doctor of nursing practice degree at Brockport. The college is waiting on final state approval for the program and, if successful, could start offering it as early as next fall, she says.
St. John Fisher College has some 270 students enrolled in the masters and doctoral level nursing programs there. Fisher first offered a family nurse practitioner degree program in the mid-1990s.
The number of those seeking their nurse practitioner degrees has more than doubled since roughly five years ago, says Colleen Donegan, graduate program chair of the Wegmans School of Nursing at Fisher.
Marilyn Dollinger, executive associate dean of the Wegmans School of Nursing at Fisher and who was in the first graduating class of the school’s program, says demand for such a program was the driving force in implementing it.
Also driving demand for nurse practitioners was the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which gave more people access to healthcare, and the need for more providers, she adds.
Students can earn both a master’s degree and post-graduate certification through Fisher’s graduate-level nursing program.
The graduate level program offers five options for students to specialize. They are: primary care family nurse practitioner, adult/gerontology primary care nurse practitioner, adult/gerontology acute care nurse practitioner, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner and adult/gerontology clinical nurse specialist.
Most of the students are women who already work full time, so they typically attend the programs part time, taking 2½ years, or two classes each semester, to finish, the educators say.
Nurse practitioners play a vital role in healthcare today, Dollinger says, noting they often perform many of the routine wellness exams at primary care offices.
Nurse practitioners take a holistic approach to care and are focused on prevention and wellness, which is the direction healthcare is going, Dollinger says.
“Those in healthcare now recognize the holistic approach and see the value it,” she says.
Nurse practitioners can provide 80 percent of the care that physicians do, and they may even excel at some of that care, given their traditional focus on patient education and teaching, she adds.
Having nurse practitioners working on the preventative care visits also frees up the doctors to focus on complex cases, Dollinger notes.
The University of Rochester offers a number of nurse practitioner degree programs.
Craig Sellers, professor of clinical nursing and the director of master’s programs at the University of Rochester School of Nursing, has said nurse practitioners are constantly in demand locally, especially in the areas of primary care and mental health, and nearly all UR grads immediately move into a nurse practitioner role upon graduation.
Heidi Miller, director of the physician assistant BS/MS program at Rochester Institute of Technology, says physician assistants have been working in the Rochester area since the 1970s, but, like nurse practitioners, the profession has more recently grew in popularity.
RIT’s Physician Assistant Program officially began in September 1993 with 54 students. Miller says 500 PAs have graduated from the program over the last 25 years.
The physician assistant major is offered as a bachelor/master degree program, which allows students to earn both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in five years.
Due to the interest in the program, RIT converted the program to a master’s degree level in 2013 and increased class size to 36 from 25, Miller notes.
The RIT program remains competitive by focusing on providing quality instruction that is current with the standards in the medical community, she says.
RIT’s physician assistant program prepares students to elicit medical histories, conduct physical examinations, order laboratory and radiological testing, diagnose common illnesses, determine treatment, provide medical advice, counsel and educate patients, promote wellness and disease prevention, assist in surgery and perform casting and suturing, she adds.
“Our students our well trained and prepared to enter clinical practice after graduation,” Miller says.
The popularity of the profession is due to a number of factors, including personal satisfaction and the flexibility to work in different fields, along with good salaries, she notes.
U.S. News & World Report ranked physician assistant as the top job in healthcare in 2019.
“It’s an attractive option for a lot of people,” Miller says.
Area educators agree that the healthcare landscape today is made up of a number of providers, including physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and other specialists.
They describe it as a collaborative, team-based effort.
Miller likens the model to a wheel, with the medical providers as the spokes and the patient as the hub.
“The patient is always at the center,” Miller says.
Andrea Deckert is a Rochester-area freelance writer.s