Nurse practitioners are becoming vital to health care in Minnesota, which is seeing the demands of aging patients outpace the supply of doctors.

The number of licensed nurse practitioners has increased from almost 3,900 in 2014 to more than 5,600 this year, the Star Tribune reported . The growth comes after state lawmakers enacted licensing standards for advanced practice registered nurses.

"This is all about continuing to build the workforce," said Connie Delaney, dean of the University of Minnesota's School of Nursing. "In about another dozen years, 20 percent of Minnesotans are going to be over 65. That's scary."

Nurse practitioner is the seventh fastest growing profession in Minnesota, according to the state Department of Employment and Economic Development.

The career's growing popularity is raising safety concerns because doctors complete up to 10 times more hours of clinical practice during their education than nurse practitioners. Two recent medical errors that gained attention involved nurse practitioners.

The Montana-based Center for Interdisciplinary Health Workforce Studies published a study last week about the differences between doctors and nurse practitioners. The study found that elderly Medicare recipients were less likely to be readmitted to the hospital if their primary care is provided by a nurse practitioner, but more likely to receive good chronic disease management if they see a doctor.

Medical groups should employ both doctors and nurse practitioners to complement each other, said Peter Buerhaus, the center's director and lead author of the study.
Doctors and nurse practitioners are trained to know the limits of their ability and often work together in clinics, said Judith Pechacek, who directs the university's doctor of nursing practice program.

"We understand where our scope starts and stops and where we need to be in partnership with another profession," she said. "None of us can live in isolation."