HRSA Study Finds Uptick of Nurse Practitioners Working in Primary Care

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
Health Resources and Services Administration
Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Almost half of recently licensed U.S. nurse practitioners (NPs) are joining the ranks of the nation’s primary care workforce, reversing a two-decade decline, according to a report released today by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

The report, the National Sample Survey of Nurse Practitioners, shows that in 1992, 59 percent of graduating NPs worked in primary care, decreasing to 42 percent of NPs between 2003 and 2007.  However, the new survey shows that 47 percent of the very newest NPs – those graduating since 2008 – have entered primary care.  

“We are encouraged by the national growth of primary care nurse practitioners, and HRSA is committed to continuing this trend to ensure an adequate supply and distribution of nurses for years to come,” said HRSA Administrator Mary K. Wakefield, Ph.D., R.N., at a meeting with major nursing groups in observance of National Nurses Week.

The report documented the impact nurse practitioners have in filling critical primary care roles using survey data collected from nearly 13,000 randomly- selected licensed NPs in 2012.  Study results showed:

  • 94 percent of that total NP workforce held a graduate degree in some field.  The majority (86 percent) had a master’s degree in nursing as their highest degree, while 5 percent held a doctoral degree in nursing;
  • 76 percent of the NP workforce maintained certification in a primary care specialty (family, adult, pediatric, or gerontology), with nearly half having a family NP certification; and
  • More than half of the NP workforce worked in ambulatory care settings, with nearly a third practicing in hospitals.

The full report, Highlights From the 2012 National Sample Survey of Nurse Practitioners, by HRSA’s National Center for Health Workforce Analysis, provides complete results from the national survey, which HRSA designed in close collaboration with national nursing stakeholder groups and workforce researchers.

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The Health Resources and Services Administration is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. HRSA is the primary Federal agency responsible for improving access to health care services for people who are uninsured, isolated, or medically vulnerable. For more information about HRSA and its programs, visit

Date Last Reviewed:  March 2017