Kristin Fitchpatric remembers exactly when she decided to become a nurse.
She was 21, and her mother was in the intensive care unit of a local hospital. The prognosis wasn’t good. “The interactions with the nurses in the hospital went far beyond patient care. They prayed with me, hugged me and loved on me,” she said. “It takes a very special person to be a nurse – someone with a nurturing nature who wants to be there for people.”
Although Fitchpatric’s mother passed away, the impact the nurses made on her then lives on in her decisions today. Now a registered nurse, Fitchpatric is halfway through her Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program at the College of Nursing at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.
“I decided to pursue advancement in the profession as a nurse practitioner because I admire everything the profession represents – from the professionalism, compassion, and leadership, to the strong desire to improve outcomes through advocacy and research implementation,” she said.
National Nurse Practitioner Week, which runs through Saturday, is an appropriate time to recognize the increasingly important role of the nurse practitioner in a changing and challenging health care environment.
The American Medical Association predicts a shortage of between 21,000 and 55,200 primary care physicians nationwide by 2032. Fewer physicians are choosing to serve in primary care specialties. But a large number of nurse practitioners serve in primary care roles.
In 2017, more than 22,500 nurse practitioners graduated from primary care programs. Among medical school graduates nationwide, however, 2,730 medical school graduates chose primary care residencies in 2018. More than 270,000 nurse practitioners are licensed in the U.S., and more than 72 percent of all nurse practitioners deliver primary care, according to the National Association of Nurse Practitioners.
The UTHSC College of Nursing is ranked in the top 25 Doctor of Nursing Practice programs by U.S. News & World Report and produces the largest number of DNP graduates in the state. A DNP is a doctorally-prepared nurse practitioner.
This summer, the College of Nursing received a $2.8 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to improve health care with an emphasis on maternal and obstetrical services for underserved and rural populations in the Delta region. Led by members of the faculty, the Advanced Nursing Education Workforce for Healthy Delta Moms and Babies program will educate the advanced nurse practitioner workforce to better meet the needs of mothers and babies in West Tennessee and northern Mississippi.
Through this grant, students trained in this DNP program will commit to being health care providers in rural clinics and underserved areas. A commitment of three years will guarantee DNP students enrolled in the program free tuition, books, and a small stipend.
Access to primary care is strongly linked to overall population health. Multiple studies show that nurse practitioners provide care that is patient-centered, effective, affordable and comparable in quality to that of their physician colleagues.
UTHSC was the first College of Nursing in Tennessee to launch a DNP program. The college offers seven DNP concentrations and two dual concentrations. One of those DNP concentrations is psychiatric mental health, which is the program that Fitchpatric is in and hopes to complete in May 2021.
She looks forward to being able to increase access to care and to making a difference in the lives of people who suffer from mental health disorders.
“I want to educate people about it and be there to say, ‘This is a real thing. It is OK to talk about it,’ and to be able to provide effective treatment for these people,” she said.