Understanding the Nursing Shortage: The Most Medically Underserved Areas in the U.S.
What Is a Health Professional Shortage Area?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services designates any area “in which residents have a shortage of personal health services” as a Medically Underserved Area (MUA). An MUA may fall into one or more of three Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA): Primary Care, Mental Health and Dental Care. A deficit in Primary Care can be especially significant to advanced practice nurses who are in a unique position to help mitigate the shortage due to their high level of education and training. The ranking of states with the greatest health professional shortages (below) is based on a cumulative cross-referencing of the number of health care professionals required to remove all HPSA designations in each state as of January 31, 2012. Please note that HPSAs are designated by county and zip code; the states listed below contain many HPSAs, but not all areas in the state are HPSAs.
Five States with the Greatest Health Professional Shortages in the US
1. Florida (1,657)
Florida has the second greatest shortage of primary care professionals in the United States, by far the greatest shortage of dental care professionals and the fifth greatest shortage of mental health professionals. Overall, Florida’s Health Professional Shortage is equal to that of New York and Illinois combined.
2. California (1,354)
California has the greatest shortage of primary care professionals and the second greatest shortage of mental health professionals. Overall, its Health Professional Shortage is about 80 percent as severe as Florida’s, and the two states may have comparable nurse shortages based on these statistics. California also boasts the highest average Registered Nurse salary.
3. Texas (1,293)
Texas ranks third in shortage of both primary care and mental health professionals.
4. Illinois (803)
Illinois ranks fifth in shortage of primary care professionals, and fourth in dental and mental health professional shortages.
5. New York (709)
New York barely makes this list, but does so mainly because of its shortage of primary care professionals. New York also boasts the third highest average Licensed Practical Nurse salary.
HPSAs and Educational Debt
Nurses working in Health Professional Shortage areas may be eligible for two federal loan repayment programs. Nurses working in HPSAs may be eligible to have up to $60,000 of educational debt repaid by the National Health Service Corp over two years. Nurses working toward advanced degrees such as a master’s in nursing may also be eligible for scholarships through NHSC in exchange for committing to two to four years of service in an HPSA upon graduation. Another federal program that benefits nurses working in HPSA’s is the Nursing Education Loan Repayment Program. Some states also sponsor additional programs that benefit nurses working in these areas.
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