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Dean Villarruel: Grant PA nurse practitioners full authority

In this Op-ed, Dean Antonia Villarruel and nursing Deans from Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh advocate for policy change to improve health by granting nurse practitioners full practice authority.

There is no better time to grant nurse practitioners in Pennsylvania full practice authority, and, in doing so, help individuals, families, and communities to reach their highest levels of health by improving their access to primary health care across the state.

There is overwhelming evidence that full scope of practice for nurse practitioners would improve health in Pennsylvania. A study by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute and Duke University concluded that granting Pennsylvania’s nurse practitioners full practice authority would benefit Pennsylvanians by increasing access to comparable or better health care at lower costs and would save Pennsylvanians at least $6.4 billion within the next ten years.

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) representing Pennsylvania consumers, the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Rural Health Association, and the Federal Trade Commission, among others, support Pennsylvania Senate Bill 717 and House Bill 765 to allow full practice authority for nurse practitioners.

Nurse practitioners are registered nurses (RNs) who have earned a master’s or doctoral degree and who have advanced clinical expertise. The majority of us receive some of our health care from nurse practitioners. They are in doctor’s offices and in easy access clinics in your community pharmacy. They are available outside of standard work hours when care is often needed and without you having to miss work or school.  Studies have consistently demonstrated that nurse practitioners deliver high quality, patient-centered care and chronic illness management.

Pennsylvania is a national leader in the education of nurse practitioners. Yet, because of our state’s regulations restricting their practices in ways that interfere with good care, many of the nurse practitioners educated in our state leave to practice in other states to the detriment of residents of Pennsylvania. Of recent graduates from the nine schools of nursing in the Greater Philadelphia Region, 20% left the state because they could not practice to the full extent of their license.

The National Academy of Medicine recommends full scope of practice for nurse practitioners because of evidence like that provided in research by The University of Pennsylvania’s Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics documenting that patients are better off in states with full practice authority for nurse practitioners–they have better access to primary care, and prices are lower. Thus, relaxing regulations constraining nurse practitioner scope of practice is in the public’s interest. Further, states with full scope of practice for nurse practitioners in comparison to restrictive states like Pennsylvania have significantly more nurse practitioners working in primary care medical practices with physicians; significantly more nurse practitioners in rural areas where access is limited; and physician practices with a nurse practitioner are more likely to accept Medicaid patients, which meets a substantial need, especially with the recent Medicaid expansion in Pennsylvania.

There could be no better way for Pennsylvanians to honor the work and commitment of nurses this week than to join the 21 other states across the country that have improved health in their communities by allowing full practice authority for nurse practitioners.

Antonia M. Villarruel, PhD, RN, FAAN
Dean, University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing

Jaqueline Dunbar-Jacob, PhD, RN, FAAN
Dean, University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing

Paula Milone-Nuzzo, RN, PhD, FHHC, FAAN
Dean, Penn State College of Nursing