Context: Rural hospitals in the USA are often served by Advanced Practice Nurses, due to the difficulty for such facilities to recruit physicians. In order to facilitate a full range of services for patients, some states permit Advanced Practice Nurses to practice with full independence. However, many states limit their scopes of practice, resulting in the potential for limited healthcare access in underserved areas. The COVID-19 pandemic temporarily upended these arrangements for several states, as 17 governors quickly passed waivers and suspensions of physician oversight restrictions.
Issues: Physician resistance is a primary hurdle for states that limit Advanced Practice Nurse scopes of practice. Longstanding restrictions were removed, however, in a short period of time. The pandemic demonstrated that even governors with strong political disagreements agreed on one way that healthcare access could potentially be improved.
Lessons Learned: Despite longstanding concerns over patient safety when Advanced Practice Nurses practice with full autonomy, governors quickly removed practice restrictions when faced with a crisis situation. Implied in such behavior are 1) policymakers were aware of Advanced Practice Nurses’ capabilities prior to the pandemic, but chose not to implement full practice authority, and 2) governors appeared to disagree as to whether to temporarily waive specific restrictions or suspend restrictions entirely, consistent with their political affiliation. We propose more research into understanding whether or not such changes should become permanent.