The Untapped Potential of the Nurse Practitioner Workforce in Reducing Health Disparities

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The growing nurse practitioner (NP) workforce represents a significant supply of primary care providers, who if optimally utilized, are well-positioned to improve access to health care for racial and ethnic minorities. However, many barriers affect the optimal utilization of NPs in primary care delivery. These barriers may also prevent NPs from maximally contributing to efforts to reduce racial and ethnic health disparities. Our review of the empirical and health policy literature sought to elucidate factors that affect NPs’ potential and ability to narrow or eliminate health disparities. We found that restrictive state scope of practice regulations, disparate reimbursement policies, lack of NP workforce diversity, and poor organizational structures in NP practices may limit NPs’ contributions to current efforts to reduce disparities. Our results led to the development of the nurse practitioner health disparities model which identifies barriers to and opportunities for optimal use of NPs in reducing racial and ethnic disparities. State and federal policymakers and administrators in health-care settings should take actions to remove legislative and organizational barriers to enable NPs to deliver high-quality care to racial and ethnic minorities. Researchers can use the nurse practitioner health disparities model to produce empirical evidence to reduce health disparities and improve population health.

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