College of Nursing Responds to Nationwide Primary Care Nurse Shortage with New Certificate

A movement to increase the number of nurses working in primary care settings is expanding across the nation. Today’s primary care workforce is responsible for the provision of primary and preventive care to a population that is increasingly demanding these services and nurses are in a pivotal place to make a difference in the lives of patients in these settings.

Currently, only about 10% of registered nurses work in the primary care field. And, with approximately half the population diagnosed with one chronic disease, and 25% suffering from multiple chronic conditions, the demand is great. For an aging population, here in Ohio and beyond, there is a significant need for more nurses to help with chronic disease management. 

To respond to this nationwide need, the College of Nursing recently introduced the online Registered Nurses in Primary Care certificate, created specifically to prepare registered nurses to work in the primary care setting. The curriculum educates nurses to work within interprofessional teams in community-based settings, with an emphasis on chronic disease prevention and control, including mental health and substance use conditions.

“As the nation’s healthcare culture continues to shift toward an integrated comprehensive approach to health, strengthening the core of primary care is critical to the delivery of better, safer, higher quality care,” said Margaret Graham, associate professor and College of Nursing Vice Dean. “These changes will require nurses to have an expanded skill set focused on wellness and population care, with a renewed focus on patient-centered care, care coordination, data analytics and quality improvement.”

“As the nation’s healthcare culture continues to shift toward an integrated comprehensive approach to health, strengthening the core of primary care is critical to the delivery of better, safer, higher quality care.” Margaret Graham, PhD, RN, FNP, PNP, FAAN

The College of Nursing hopes to enroll and educate at least 100 current RNs over four years, based on grant funding from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration. The grant provides tuition assistance to enroll current Ohio-based RNs in the certificate program with the goal of achieving a sustainable primary care nursing workforce, improving access to care and creating a healthier population in Ohio.

The Benefit to the Nurse

So, why might current registered nurses be interested in primary care? We talked to program graduate Kieonna Stewart to find out what prompted her to make the switch and how the certificate program is helping this career transition.

Nurses in search of better work-life balance may be drawn to primary care settings, as opposed to positions in hospitals that often come with long shifts and limited time off for holidays. For Stewart, the switch to a more consistent schedule in primary care meant she could spend more time with her family.

“When I worked in the hospital as a floor nurse, you were guaranteed to work at least one major holiday,” Stewart said. “But primary care allows you to have every weekend and holiday off. I love that I won’t miss those moments with my children and family.”

The certificate program itself is offered in a flexible, online format, designed to fit around the schedule of RN’s working full time.

Primary care also allows nurses to develop lasting relationships with patients. According to Stewart, working with the same patients over time makes her job even more fulfilling. 

“In primary care, you get the satisfaction of making a long-term change in a patient’s life,” she said. “You get to see the end result and the progress in their health.”

Wendy Bowles, assistant professor of clinical nursing and assistant dean for baccalaureate programs, also pointed out the fulfillment that comes from nurses reaching their highest potential and affecting the health of a population as a whole.

“The benefits to the nurse include operating in a more autonomous role at the top of their license with care management and really being able to make a first-hand difference in the lives of patients,” Bowles said. “Nurses in the primary care setting will expand and enhance a struggling healthcare system in Ohio with a holistic approach to addressing the needs of the population.”

“Nurses in the primary care setting will expand and enhance a struggling healthcare system in Ohio with a holistic approach to addressing the needs of the population.” Wendy Bowles, PhD, RN, APRN-CNP, CNE

This proved true for Stewart, who was looking for more than just a career change. She says the certificate helped her become a better nurse overall. Projects she completed in class had immediate applications to her nursing practice, such as a training on healthcare bias and a home assessment tool she developed.

“The program has given me so many valuable resources,” Stewart said. “It’s pushed me to think outside the box.”

Stewart also noted that the support of the faculty was vital for her and her classmates.

“The faculty members only want to see you succeed,” Stewart said. “Just as we try to meet our patients where they, the faculty meet us where we are, in each of our educational journeys.”

For more information on the Registered Nurses in Primary Care Certificate and other College of Nursing offerings, visit the Ohio State Online programs page.