Highlights of the 2012 National Sample Survey of Nurse Practitioners

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  • The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) conducted the 2012 National Sample Survey of Nurse Practitioners (NSSNP) to provide accurate national estimates of the NP workforce and to profile their education, certification, and practice patterns. Surveys were completed by nearly 13,000 randomly selected licensed NPs, a 60.1-percent response rate.
  • There were an estimated 154,000 licensed NPs in the United States in 2012. Of these, more than 132,000 worked in a position requiring an NP credential ("the NP workforce"). Within the NP workforce, about 127,000 NPs were providing patient care. 22,000 licensed NPs were not working in an NP position at the time of the survey; of these, approximately 11,000 were working as RNs.
  • About 94 percent of the total NP workforce held a graduate degree in some field. The majority (86 percent) held a master's degree in nursing as their highest degree, 5 percent held a doctoral degree in nursing, and 3 percent had a graduate degree in a non-nursing field. Of the 6 percent without a graduate degree, most (69 percent) were individuals who were trained before 1992. States have increasingly moved to requiring a graduate degree for entry to the profession, with NPs holding less than a master's degree "grandfathered in."
  • Nearly the entire NP workforce (96 percent) reported having received formal certification from a national certifying organization at some point in their careers. The majority (76 percent) received certification in what is generally considered a primary care specialty (family, adult, pediatric, or gerontology). The most widely held certification is family NP, reported by almost half of the NP workforce.
  • In 2012, the NP workforce was largely homogeneous in gender and race/ethnicity. About 86 percent were white and non-Hispanic, 3 percent were Hispanic/Latino (any race), 5 percent were Black (non-Hispanic), and 6 percent were of other non-Hispanic groups. Approximately 7 percent were male. According to a U.S. Census Report, (2013, Landovar, L.C., "Men in Nursing Occupations), in 2011, 9.7% of NPs were male.)
  • The average age within the NP workforce was 48 years. The largest-age cohort of NPs, 55 to 59 year olds, represented nearly 18 percent of the NP workforce, and those 60 years of age and older represented 16 percent. At the same time, there was a healthy representation of younger-age categories: 14 percent of NPs were under 35, 12 percent were between 35 and 39 years of age, 13 percent were in each of the 40 to 44 and 45 to 49 age groups, and another 15 percent were between 50 and 54 years of age.
  • More than three-quarters of NPs reported providing the following services for most patients: counseling and educating them; conducting physical examinations and obtaining medical histories; prescribing drugs; and ordering, performing, and interpreting diagnostic studies. Fewer NPs reported performing procedures, and making referrals.
  • In the HRSA report, specialty of practice was defined for those in patient care as the reported specialty of the practice or facility in which NPs work in their main NP position. Three-quarters of the NP workforce reported having been certified in a primary care specialty. Approximately half of those in patient care (48 percent) worked specifically in a primary care office or facility. More than 16 percent were in internal medicine or pediatric subspecialties, almost 9 percent were in surgical specialties, and 6 percent were in psychiatry/mental health. Neonatal (3 percent), emergency care (3 percent), and palliative care/pain management (2 percent) were the most frequently reported specialties in the "other" category.
  • NPs in the workforce reported practicing in a large variety of settings. Over half worked in ambulatory care settings in their principal NP positions, including private physician or NP practices and private or federal ambulatory clinics. 4.1% worked in a private NP office/practice and 0.6% worked in a nurse managed clinic. Nearly one-third of the NP workforce practiced in hospitals, and the largest share of this group worked in inpatient units.
  • Salary varied substantially across the NP workforce depending on role, setting, and specialty. NPs in patient care earned a median of $87,500 annually in 2012; those in surgical specialties earned the most (median salary $100,000). NPs in administrative roles requiring an NP credential earned a median salary of about $104,000, while NPs in faculty roles requiring an NP credential had a median salary of about $80,000 in 2012.