Family Nurse Practitioners Serve Needs in Rural Communities

For decades, U.S. rural areas have experienced shortages of primary care providers. When there’s a lack of primary care providers in a community, citizens are more at risk for higher chronic disease, primary care shortages, and higher costs of care. 

About 84 million Americans reside in geographic areas or belong to population groups that are considered primary care shortage areas. In these areas, known officially as Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs), the supply of primary care physicians relative to the population falls below federally defined standards. An estimated 15,180 physicians are needed to close the gap. 

There is an urgent need for the expansion of rural health care, and Family Nurse Practitioners (FNPs) can help. BSNs who become Family Nurse Practitioners through online doctorate in nursing programs help those living in rural areas gain access to health care and may also benefit from more autonomy.  

Common Responsibilities of Rural FNPs

Rural FNPs are in high demand and are positioned to provide a full spectrum of care. Although FNP’s responsibilities vary depending on the facility, these are common services you’ll often provide rural patients: 

1. Chronic illness management

When rural patients visit a clinic they want to receive everything they need to manage their chronic illness because these patients don’t have regular easy access to healthcare professionals. Rural FNPs will monitor symptoms, write prescription refills, and may prescribe medication (depending on state laws).

2. Preventative Care

Preventative care may be one of the most important aspects of rural FNP responsibilities. Preventative care can help rural community members avoid potentially serious health conditions and/or obtain early diagnosis and treatment. Rural FNP care may include immunizations, vaccines, lab work, x-rays, and routine check-ups.   

3. Acute illness or Injury treatment

For everyday illness or injuries rural FNPs are available to treat patients; from the common cold and flu to smaller injuries like fractures and wounds. FNPs may take and interpret x-rays, order and interpret blood work, reset bones, and clean, numb, and suture wounds. 

4. Public Health

Education about public health is an important part of the FNP’s job, because a patient may not visit a healthcare professional for long stretches of time due to distance. Therefore, a rural FNP teaches patients how to maintain good health, as well as how to manage chronic illness (if applicable). 

The Benefits of Providing Rural FNP Care

States across the country have varying levels of regulations on FNP practice, ranging from:

  • Full authority (including the authority to prescribe medications) 
  • Reduced practice (restrictions on some elements of practice) 
  • Fully restricted practice (which requires NPs to be supervised by licensed physicians)

However, in the past two decades, states have increasingly removed barriers that have hindered the growth of FNP practice — allowing more autonomy for FNPs. 

In 2016, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs granted full practice authority to advanced practice NPs through all VA locations, including the rural areas of the U.S. As of 2021, 24 states and the District of Columbia allow full practice, 15 allow reduced practice, and 11 only allow restricted practices.

According to an article titled, “Issues at a Glance: Full Practice Authority,” published by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, there are 4 main benefits for full practice authority that impact the provider and the patient: 

  1. Decreased cost
  2. Improved access
  3. Streamlined care
  4. Protected patient choice

FNPs who have full practice authority in rural areas also benefit from more autonomy according to an article titled, “The Benefits of Being a Rural Nurse Practitioner,” published by the National Rural Health Association. This amount of autonomy ultimately leads to higher job satisfaction and FNPs remaining at their jobs. 

Education for the Aspiring FNP

At Messiah University, online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) – Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) students learn the essentials of working as FNPs, from evidence-based practices and pharmacology to health promotion and disease prevention — all from a Christian faith perspective. 

The university’s online DNP-FNP program provides students with the knowledge they need to help all communities, including the underserved population in rural America.

If you’ve earned your BSN and plan on earning your doctorate, visit our DNP-FNP overview page to learn more about taking the next steps in becoming a leader in rural communities.


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