Q: The AANP and yourself have had a challenging couple of years: the COVID-19 pandemic, high rates of burnout among health care workers, and legislative wins and losses. Was there any point during your presidency when you thought I can’t do this anymore; what kept you going?
Dr Kapu: It’s been a very challenging [few years] for our country. There are over 100 million Americans who lack access to primary care and over 163 million Americans who lack access to mental health services. According to Mercer report, there is estimated to be a shortage of 3.2 million health care workers by the year 2026.
This is certainly a nationwide challenge. The good news is that we have over 355,000 nurse practitioners (NPs) and we’re growing to meet this need. With the continued growth of the NP profession and nurses stepping up and getting that advanced education and that training — their master’s degree, their doctorate —so that they can provide that care; patients are going to benefit.
It has been challenging but I’m definitely up to the challenge and want to make sure that I do everything I can as president to support those nurse practitioners so that they can support the patients and the communities that they serve. I’m very, very proud to be able to represent the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) because we, as an organization, advocate for full and direct access for nurse practitioners. [That would mean] that patients in every single state will have access to the high-quality care that nurse practitioners provide. That’s what drives me every day.
Q: Despite all the challenges. The NP profession grew by 9% between 2021 and 2022. How do you account for the continued popularity of the profession?
Dr Kapu: For the last 2 years in a row, NPs have been ranked the #1 job in health care, according to the US News and World Report, and the #1 job that helps people.
Many people are choosing to see NPs. We have over 1 billion visits to NPs every year. That’s exciting because we are meeting the demand of patients who are seeking that care. We continue to grow as a profession, in fact, we are estimated to grow by 46% by the year 2031. It’s a great time to be an NP.
Q: What would you say has been your proudest moment as president of AANP?
Dr Kapu: There have been so many moments. I have supported NPs throughout most of my career. Moving into the role of president of AANP, I felt I would be able to do that on a much larger scale. I have had the honor of being able to do that but it has been very humbling. I have met so many NPs across the US and have gotten to know what they do on a day-to-day basis in practice and the patients they serve. Whether I’ve met NPs in El Paso, who are driving a mobile clinic out to communities in need; an NP in Wyoming, where you can’t access a hospital within 100 miles; who is providing care for the ranching community; or an NPs serving in an urban setting like Washington DC, New York, or here in New Orleans, I have just been proud to be part of such a wonderful profession and just to know so many amazing NPs.
Q: Can you pick out one place that you have visited that you’re going to always remember?
Dr Kapu: Over the last 2 years, I’ve been so fortunate to be able to meet with over 3000 NP students and faculty at over 42 nursing schools and universities across the US. It has been exciting to see all the different schools and what they’re doing today. The students are so bright and they’re ready to get out there and start caring for patients.
One of the most spectacular moments was at the Hahn School of Nursing at the University of San Diego. I gave a presentation to the students and faculty. After my presentation, I asked if we could get a big group photo. All the students stood up and on the back of their chairs, they had draped their white lab coats. I’m standing there at the front and had a very surreal moment where I saw these students step up and put on their white lab coats for a picture. But to me, they were saying “We’re ready.”
After meeting so many students and faculty, I can tell you, I know without a shadow of a doubt that our next generation of NP students — they are ready.
Q: What do you think will happen in the next 5 years?
Dr Kapu: We will continue to see the growth of NPs, including practicing in many different spaces across the United States, both within health care and outside of health care. We will continue to see NPs working in executive positions as chief nursing officers, chief executive officers, etc. We have our first NP in Congress, so we expect to see more taking on legislative roles.
We will also be seeing many more states modernize their laws to where the people in those states have full and direct access to NP care. In those states, we’ve seen an increase in the NP workforce. We have seen more NPs working across all communities within those states. In every state that has adopted Full Practice Authority (FPA), where NPs can practice to the fullest extent of their education and training, we have not seen [the states] go back. So, we’re very excited about stepping up and seeing the high-quality care that we provide; seeing the impact on access to care and those states adopting FPA.
We’re going to see an increase in access to care including mobile clinics, brick-and-mortar clinics out in every community, NP seeing patients in the home, and telehealth will continue to rise. People will have access to the care that they need and deserve. We’re going to see more, accessible care and more person-centered care because that’s the care that nurse practitioners provide: person-centered, comprehensive, high-quality health care.
To read more interviews with Dr Kapu from the past year:
Visit Clinical Advisor’s meetings section for more coverage of AANP 2023.