Cancer is the most common diagnosis in adults older than 65 in the United States. As the older adult population increases and drives up malignancy diagnoses, nurse practitioners’ (NPs) and physician assistants’ (PAs) contributions to their care need to be better identified. In the results of a study published in conjunction with the 2018 American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting, researchers reported on their exploration of the role of NPs and PAs in the oncology workforce.

Researchers measured the proportion of NPs and PAs who cared for older adults with cancer compared to other providers and examined the clinical and patient characteristics of those who received care from NPs. National Provider Identifier taxonomy codes were used to identify clinicians, and all malignancies were included. According to the study findings, NPs represented 4,806 (3.7%) of the total workforce, compared with 3,767 (2.9%) for PAs. More female patients than male patients received care from NPs or PAs (56% vs 44%), and average patient age was 70–75 years.

Researchers also noted that patients who lived in rural areas were most often treated by NPs and PAs; although rural cancer providers represent only 10% of the total workforce of cancer providers, NPs and PAs made up almost half of that number.

“Accurate portraits of the NP and PA cancer workforce have been confounded by a sole reliance on self-reported measures and lack the ability to identify their specialty care,” the authors explained. “Our study is the first attempt to quantify their efforts to care for older adults with cancer.”

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