Nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and physicians in community health centers, 2006-2010

Healthc (Amst). 2015 Jun;3(2):102-7. doi: 10.1016/j.hjdsi.2014.06.002. Epub 2014 Aug 14.


Purpose: Community health centers (CHCs) fill a vital role in providing health care to underserved populations. This project compares characteristics of patient visits to nurse practitioners (NPs), physician assistants (PAs), and physicians in CHCs.

Methods: This study analyzes 2006-2010 annual survey data from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey CHC sample, a representative national sample of CHC providers and patient visits. We examine trends in provider mix in CHCs and compare NPs, PAs, and physicians with regard to patient and visit attributes. Survey weights are used to produce national estimates.

Results: There were, on average, 36,469,000 patient visits per year to 150,100 providers at CHCs; 69% of visits were to physicians, 21% were to NPs, and 10% were to PAs. Compared to visits to NPs, visits made to physicians and PAs tended to be for chronic disease treatment and for patients whom they serve as primary care providers. Visits to NPs tended to be for preventive care.

Conclusions: This study found more similarities than differences in characteristics of patients and patient visits to physicians, NPs, and PAs in CHCs. When statistical differences were observed, NP patient and visit characteristics tended to be different from those of physicians.

Implications: Results provide detailed information about visits to NPs and PAs in a setting where they constitute a significant portion of providers and care for vulnerable populations. Results can inform future workforce approaches.

Keywords: Community health centers; Health workforce; National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS); Nurse practitioners; Physician assistants.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Community Health Centers*
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Humans
  • Nurse Practitioners*
  • Patient Care
  • Physician Assistants*
  • Physicians*