Nurse practitioner students and practicing nurse practitioners alike often wonder what the standard is when it comes to how many patients NPs should be expected to treat per hour. New grad FNPs want to know what to expect as they apply for positions. Practicing nurse practitioners want to be sure they are keeping up with expectations but aren’t being overworked by an employer. So, is there a magic number when it comes to the standard patient load for family nurse practitioners?
The number of patients nurse practitioners are expected to treat per hour varies depending on the practice setting and type of patients most commonly treated in the practice. For the sake of this article, we will look at the most common settings for family nurse practitioners, primary care clinics and urgent care/walk-in settings.
Primary Care Nurse Practitioners
Most commonly, primary care clinics schedule patients at 15 minute intervals for episodic and follow-up visits. Complete physical exams, well child visits and new patient appointments are typically allotted a longer, 30 minute visit. So, based on this scheduling schema, family nurse practitioners working in the primary care setting can expect to treat about four patients per hour or fewer depending on the classification of the patient’s appointment.
While 15 minute time slots are cited as the norm in the primary care setting, other factors affect nurse practitioners’ patient load. Clinics that are not busy may have open appointments throughout the day, leaving the FNP’s schedule less taxing. Other clinics treat patients with more complex medical illnesses and multiple comorbidities. These clinics may adopt the standard of setting longer appointments, perhaps requiring nurse practitioners to treat patients in 20 minute increments.
Urgent Care Nurse Practitioners
Urgent care and walk-in clinics don’t always have the luxury of scheduling patients evenly throughout the day. Nurse practitioners may find themselves treating six patients per hour in the mornings and evenings when the clinic is busy and few patients in the mid-afternoon. Alternately, a busy urgent care clinic may not experience downtime. The NP may treat four or more patients per hour throughout the entire work day.
In most urgent care clinics, the expectation is that the nurse practitioner be able to handle a patient volume of about four patients per hour similarly to the primary care setting. Urgent care and walk-in clinics with very high volumes may advertise their workload expectation in a job posting. For example, some clinics expect FNPs to be able to keep up with treating at least five patients per hour. Clarifying these expectations in a job interview is perfectly acceptable. You want to set yourself up for success rather than accepting a position that’s not the right fit for your experience and personality.
New Graduate Considerations
New graduate nurse practitioners often expect that they will be slowly onboarded into a new practice or expected to manage a reduced patient load. This isn’t always the case. Practices that have not hired new graduates in the past or that are strapped for providers expect new nurse practitioners to hit the ground running. Feel out the company culture in your job interview to see if a gradual intro into a full patient load is the norm for the practice. If not, think through the implications of jumping into a full patient load immediately after graduation.
Polling by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners indicates that 69.5% of nurse practitioners see three or more patients per hour. So, family nurse practitioners should anticipate that this will be the case in their own practice. There is no ‘magic’ number when it comes to the workload nurse practitioners should anticipate but, four patients per hour or one appointment every 15 minutes, is a good reference point to start from.
How many patients do you treat per hour in your practice?
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