July 29, 2022
Making Primary Care a Priority
Despite spending more per person on healthcare than any other country in the world, there are still tens of millions of people in the United States with limited—or no—access to primary care.
Primary care is where wellness happens. Ideally, primary care encompasses not just treating illnesses and injuries, but also preventing them. Primary care is where diabetes, obesity, asthma, cardiovascular disease, cancer, mental illness, and other chronic illnesses and life-threatening risks can best be identified, assessed, addressed, and in many cases prevented. It is far less costly in both economic and human terms to prevent disease than it is to treat it. And when disease does occur, it is far less costly in both economic and human terms to treat it at the earliest possible time. Primary care could accomplish those goals.
But we will only reach that goal if people have equitable access to such care, and that will only happen when we have more—many more—primary care practitioners.
In the United States, there are 4.2 million registered nurses, many of whom are or could be primary care providers by virtue of educational attainment, clinical knowledge, and inclination. There are just over 1 million physicians, of which only 30 percent are engaged in primary care, with a declining percentage of new doctors choosing that option annually. If the intent is to make primary care accessible and thus equitable, it will be by leveraging the education and capabilities of nurses to provide such care.
There are simply not enough primary care providers, and there won’t be without widespread education and deployment of nurses. Study after study has shown that nurses with postgraduate educational preparation can offer primary care that is capable and compassionate combined with high patient satisfaction.
The UW School of Nursing is working hard to do just that. We have one of the nation’s leading doctor of nursing practice programs—the highest educational attainment in nursing. These graduates, as well as many nurse practitioners with master’s degrees, are providing an ever-increasing share of primary care nationally.
The first step in the educational process is obtaining a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Already the largest educator of new registered nurses in the state, the UW School of Nursing is increasing our capacity by admitting an additional Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) cohort next spring. The ABSN program is a fast-track program designed for applicants who already have a bachelor’s degree and are seeking a career in nursing. The program spans four back-to-back quarters of instruction, including clinical training.
The expansion was made possible by legislative funding to increase BSN graduates. A large portion of the legislative funding will be used for student scholarships and recruitment efforts focused on attracting diverse applicants from historically underrepresented backgrounds. The remaining funds will be dedicated to optimizing the ABSN curriculum by leveraging technology, simulations, hybrid-online education, and expanding clinical training opportunities.
We are working, in every way possible, to make primary care more accessible, more equitable, and more affordable. Continued advocacy and increasing support for nursing education can help to solve the issues of health, healthcare, and wellness in the United States.