Family nurse practitioners can improve healthcare in rural North Carolina

The past two years have revealed how much our communities rely on nurses and nurse practitioners to provide quality care. Amid a COVID-19 pandemic that has devastated clinics, hospitals and other facilities, those in the healthcare industry have rushed to the front lines, doing everything they can to ensure that we stay healthy and safe.

Unfortunately, however, many “healthcare deserts” exist in our state, where fewer and fewer healthcare professionals live and work. These areas, often rural, are medically underserved, with little or no access to healthcare via hospitals, clinics or doctors.

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In North Carolina, the growing number of healthcare deserts has reached a concerning level, with too many residents living miles away from potentially life-saving health services. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 87 of North Carolina’s 100 counties are designated as primary care deserts, impacting 6.7 million residents.

Jan Jones-Schenck and Ben Coulter

In these areas, family nurse practitioners (FNPs) have emerged as crucial providers of care. Family nurse practitioners are similar to regular nurse practitioners (NPs), with the primary difference in their training.

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NPs receive education in specific areas and usually work with a designated age group or health condition. FNPs are trained to treat whole families, covering a range of age groups from infancy to elder care, and typically serve as the primary care provider for those family members. Providing care for different groups makes FNPs essential in healthcare deserts without equitable access to care or the kinds of specialists one might find in more populated areas of North Carolina.

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