Home Medical profession Family nurse practitioners are key to improving Alabama’s health care deserts

Family nurse practitioners are key to improving Alabama’s health care deserts

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Kimberly K. Estep

The past two years have revealed how much our communities rely on nurses and nurse practitioners to provide quality care.

Amid a COVID-19 pandemic that has devastated clinics, hospitals and other facilities, healthcare industry players have rushed to the front lines, doing all they can to protect themselves. ensure we stay healthy and safe.

But in many areas of our state, called “health care deserts,” there are fewer and fewer health care providers to answer the call.

These are areas, often rural, that are medically underserved, with little or no access to healthcare through hospitals, clinics or doctors. In Alabama specifically, the growing number of healthcare deserts has reached a concerning level, with too many residents living miles from potentially life-saving healthcare services. According to NurseJournal.org, our state has fewer than 12 nurses per 1,000 people — a stark statistic that shows just how serious inequality in access to health care has become.

It is in these areas that family nurse practitioners (FNPs) have become essential care providers. Family nurse practitioners are similar to regular nurse practitioners (NPs), with the main difference being their education. NPs receive training in specific areas and typically work with a designated age group or health condition. FNPs are trained to treat entire families, spanning a range of age groups from infancy to elderly care, and typically serve as the primary care provider for these family members. The ability to provide care to different groups makes FNP essential in rural areas and isolated healthcare deserts without equitable access to care or the kinds of specialists you might find in the more populated areas of Alabama.

FNP are an increasingly important backbone of the healthcare system in rural areas, which is why we must invest in resources and programs to promote and empower those seeking to obtain an FNP license. Providing more of these highly trained professionals will increase the quality of care in our state while reducing costs. In Alabama alone, openings for nurse practitioners are expected to increase 24% by the end of 2032, creating about 920 jobs.

The online non-profit Western Governors University College of Health Professions has launched a new Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) program aimed at providing this necessary training. Our hope is that anyone who wishes to become an FNP sees this as a viable route to gaining an accredited education and ultimately making a meaningful contribution to the health and well-being of the community.

By increasing the number of FNPs in the state, we are expanding access to care. The solution starts with the education pipeline. We must equip students, nurses and other adults who wish to become FNP with the accessible and cost-effective education needed to facilitate their degrees. As a result, we can help break down barriers to care for Alabamians in every corner of the state.

Kimberly K. Estep, Ph.D., is Vice President of the Southeast Region at Western Governors University (WGU).