Nurses No Substitute for Physicians, AAFP Says

Laura Joszt

The country may be facing a physician shortage, but stop-gap efforts like substituting nurses for physicians aren't the way to solve the shortage; team-based care is a better option, according to the AAFP.

Although the U.S. is facing a major physician shortage, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) cautions against substituting nurses for physicians, according to a new report.

The AAFP report Primary Care for the 21st Century makes it clear that nurse practitioners are no substitute for physicians as a stop-gap answer to the primary care physician shortage. Instead, the report says, team-based care will transform primary care in the U.S.

“Wholesale substitution of non-physician health care providers for physicians is not the solution, especially at a time when primary care practices are being called upon to take on more complex care,” Roland Goertz, MD, MBA, chair of the AAFP Board of Directors, said in a statement. “Patients need access to every member of their health care team — starting with a primary care physician, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and all the other professionals who provide health care.”

The AAFP is promoting patient-centered medical home (PCMH) model where a physician leads a team to provide efficient care to patients. Plus, according to the report, a survey by the American Medical Association (AMA) revealed that 75% of patients preferred to be treated by a physician.

Furthermore, 90% of respondents to the AMA survey said a physician’s years of education and training are vital to the best patient care. The AAFP report takes care to point out a primary care physician completes 21,700 hours of education and clinical training over 11 years, while a nurse practitioner completes 5,350 hours of education and clinical training during five to seven years.

“Together, the physician and nurse practitioner comprise an extraordinary team of professionals whose expertise supports and complements each other in the patient-centered medical home,” Goertz said.