Versatility of Nurse Practitioners Leaves Primary Care Call Unanswered

The scope of work and practice authority for nurse practitioners (NPs) varies widely across the United States. In some areas, NPs are restricted from prescribing medication, or can practice only under the supervision of a physician. In other states, like Oregon, NPs enjoy full practice authority. They can evaluate patients, diagnose, order tests, manage treatments, and prescribe medications.

On the surface, it would appear that Oregon’s laws and regulations have positioned NPs to play an important role in providing primary care for Oregonians. Yet, research released by the Oregon Center for Nursing (OCN), shows only 25% of Oregon’s NPs actually provide primary care.

“This is a good news, bad news story,” reflected OCN’s Executive Director, Jana Bitton. “On the positive side, our study illuminates how very versatile nurse practitioners are. Employers and organizations are recognizing the many different roles nurse practitioners can play. On the negative side, nurse practitioners, educated and qualified to provide primary care services, are taking advantage of other opportunities available to them.”

OCN’s study comes at a time when expanded access to primary care is a topic of conversation at a national and state level. Many advocates see nurse practitioners as a solution to the primary care physician shortage across the nation. But, Bitton warns, “before Oregon’s policy makers start relying on nurse practitioners to fill the primary care gap, we need to understand why so few nurse practitioners are currently practicing in primary care.”

Though there is anecdotal evidence about reasons practitioners avoid primary care, more research must be done about the barriers practitioners face. “Unless there is a focused effort to incentivize NPs to bring their skills and talents to primary care settings throughout the state, patients and communities are at risk of being underserved in years to come,” says Bitton.

The full report, “Primary Care Workforce Crisis Looming In Oregon,” is free to download on OCN’s website. In addition, OCN’s Research Director, Dr. Rick Allgeyer, will host a free informational webinar on Wednesday, July 29th. 

OCN is a nonprofit organization created by nursing leaders in 2002. OCN facilitates research and collaboration for Oregon’s nursing workforce to support informed, well-prepared, diverse and exceptional nursing professionals. Recognized by the Oregon state legislature as a state advisor for nursing workforce issues, OCN fulfills its mission through nurse workforce research, building partnerships, and promoting nursing and healthcare.  For more information about OCN, please visit

Media Contact:
Jana R. Bitton, MPA
Executive Director