A Comprehensive Guide to the Role of a Nurse Practitioner

Whether you are at the beginning of your nursing career and are looking at possible routes to take or a well-seasoned nurse who wants to progress in your career, becoming a nurse practitioner (NP) is a rewarding and potentially lucrative path to take. NPs are a type of advanced practice registered nurse, and this profession is a popular career choice for certified nurses. With an advanced degree, registered nurses can level up to become an NP and enjoy a range of benefits, including a wide scope of practice and a higher earning potential. Here is a comprehensive guide to the role of a nurse practitioner to help you decide if it is the best choice for you.

An Introduction to Advanced Practice Registered Nurses

An advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) is a registered nurse who has obtained an advanced degree, received specialist training and experience, and can practice at an advanced level. With advanced training, APRNs are legally able to provide a higher level of care to patients. Nurse practitioners are a type of APRN, as well as certified nurse midwives (CNMs), certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), and clinical nurse specialists (CNSs). Nurses who work in these roles provide specialist care.

  • Certified nurse midwives specialize in primary care for women. Services can include reproductive health, obstetric health, and gynecologic care.
  • Certified registered nurse anesthetists provide anesthesia to patients before, during, and after a surgical procedure, and they offer anesthesia-related care.
  • Clinical nurse specialists are APRNs who manage patients and diagnose and treat them. They also encourage patients to practice good health, help people manage illnesses, and work with patients to prevent risk behaviors and diseases.

So, What is a Nurse Practitioner?

As mentioned previously, nurse practitioners are a type of APRN. They have been educated to a more advanced level than a typical registered nurse and have undergone specialist training. They have also obtained specific licensure and certification in order to practice as an NP legally. Just like a registered nurse, they have a patient-facing role that requires providing care to different types of patients. However, a huge difference between a registered nurse and a nurse practitioner is that an NP is able to provide preventative and primary patient care without the supervision of a physician (depending on the state). They have better job autonomy and share similar duties with physicians. The daily responsibilities of an NP include assessing, examining, and diagnosing patients and prescribing medication and treatment. However, a nurse practitioner’s duties can vary vastly depending on the area they specialize in.

Nurse Practitioners Can Choose a Specialty

One major advantage to becoming a nurse practitioner is the fact that you can choose a degree program that will allow you to practice in a specialty. Specialties are often decided at the advanced degree level, and with a specialized degree program, RNs are able to broaden their knowledge in their field of choice and pick up new skills.

Overall High Earning Potential

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurse practitioners, along with nurse anesthetists and nurse midwives, earn a median annual wage of $117,670. This is around $40,000 more than the average annual salary of a registered nurse. However, a nurse practitioner’s salary can vary depending on where they practice and what they specialize in.

Popular Nurse Practitioner Specialties

Specialties can vary greatly. A few popular specialties include family health, psychiatric and mental health, women’s health, pediatric and neonatal.

Family Nurse Practitioner

Many nursing professionals choose to specialize in family health. Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) are family focused and offer care to individuals, families, and communities. FNPs are often the primary caregiver for many people over an extended period of time. Nurses in this role find this specialty very rewarding as the nature of the role allows them to develop deeper relationships with their patients over the course of their lifetime.

Psychiatric and Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

Nursing professionals who choose to specialize in psychiatric and mental health can expect to earn a high wage. Psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) are the most well-paid NPs with a median salary of $125,000 per year. As the title suggests, PMHNPs help people with psychiatric and mental health issues, and their duties include treating patients with psychiatric disorders, substance abuse disorders, and behavioral issues. PMHNPs have the ability to use therapeutic techniques to help their patients, in addition to prescribing medication.

Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner

NPs who specialize in women’s health provide healthcare services geared towards women. The services place focus around women’s health, and they include reproductive health services, obstetrics, and gynecology.

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

Pediatric nurse practitioners focus on children’s health, and their patients can range from infants to young adults. These nurse practitioners are able to specialize further by service or body system. For instance, pediatric nurse practitioners can choose to focus their practice in surgery or in pediatric cardiology.

Neonatal Nurse Practitioner

As opposed to pediatric nurse practitioners, neonatal nurse practitioners provide care to premature babies and infants born with health issues. Neonatal NPs assess the health of their patients, diagnose them and create treatment plans to help improve their health. Neonatal nurse practitioners can also prescribe medication if necessary and are sometimes involved with delivering their patients.

How Registered Nurses Can Become Nurse Practitioners

Registered nurses with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (BSN) can become nurse practitioners with further education, clinical experience, and the correct certificate and license. With either an ADN or a BSN, RNs can go on to obtain a relevant advanced degree, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree, or a PhD in Nursing.

Which Degree Program Should I Choose?

The degree program you choose will entirely depend on what you want to gain from the experience and the type of practitioner you wish to become. An advanced degree will provide you with a deeper understanding of the area you wish to specialize in, and it will give you the fundamental knowledge and skillset required to practice in your specialty. For many registered nurses, an MSN is sufficient, but those who are thinking about branching out in education or research may want to choose a PhD program. Before enrolling onto a program, make sure you check that it is accredited by a reputable institution, such as the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, or the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission.

Get Your Degree Online

Registered nurses who want to learn on the job should choose an online degree program from a trusted institution. These types of degrees can be completed in your own time, and they often cost less money too. The Wilkes University provides an online RN to NP program for working nurses who want to obtain their MSN without disrupting their current timetable. Prospective nurse practitioners who choose to learn with Wilkes have above average pass rates on board certification exams. With their online program, you can study off-campus and gain a degree in just 36 months.

Gain Clinical Hours

In addition to getting an advanced level degree, registered nurses also need to gain clinical experience. Acquiring the right amount of clinical hours in a supervised setting is compulsory for people who want to become nurse practitioners. Working in a clinical environment gives registered nurses the chance to gain practical, hands-on experience and pick up the relevant knowledge and techniques that will help them succeed in their prospective careers.

Nurse Practitioner Certification

It is mandatory for prospective nurse practitioners to pass the correct national certification exam if they want to practice legally. To become a certified nurse practitioner, RNs must seek out the right certification for the concentration they wish to specialize in from a trusted organization.

Nurse Practitioner State Licensure

In addition to passing the correct national certification exam, prospective nurse practitioners need to obtain the right license before they can provide care as an NP. State licenses are granted by individual states. This license you need completely depends on the state you wish to practice, and it is essential that you do your research and choose the correct license if you want to become a certified nurse practitioner and practice legally.

Positive Career Outlook

A huge advantage to becoming a nurse practitioner is the positive career outlook for professionals in this field. The employment outlook has a predicted growth of up to 45 percent from 2019 to 2029, which far exceeds the national average for other jobs in the United States. With an aging population in the United States, there is a growing need for health care services, such as preventative care. Furthermore, research conducted by the Association of American Medical Colleges suggests that there will be a shortage of doctors in the future. The projected deficit is approximately 139,000 physicians by 2033. To help alleviate this issue, there is a growing need for healthcare professionals who have the ability to provide primary and preventative patient care.

Predicted Deficit of Doctors Means Growing Demand For NPs

The predicted deficit of doctors across the United States opens up more opportunities for certified nurse practitioners. According to survey polls, nurses are the most trusted group of professionals in the states, and advanced practice registered nurses with specialist training are able to provide high quality care to patients. With a growing demand for certified nurse practitioners, NPs can enjoy stability in their careers. Furthermore, when working for an organization, NPs can negotiate certain benefits such as vacation time, wages, and scheduling.

Practice in a Wide Array of Settings

Nurse practitioners can provide care in a range of healthcare and medical settings. NPs have the option to practice in traditional settings such as large hospitals and clinics. Alternatively, they can choose to work for third-party agencies and organizations, in an educational setting, in private practices, or in patients’ homes.

Independent Practice

Job autonomy is a valuable asset for many nurse practitioners, and in some states, NPs have the ability to practice independently in nurse-run clinics. This is a huge draw for registered nurses who want the career freedom that comes with a wider scope of practice. In many states, NPs have the ability to make patient healthcare decisions without physician supervision. In turn, this helps make healthcare accessible for more people across the states. NPs who practice independently have more flexibility in their work hours, which can positively impact their work-life balance.

Best States for Nurse Practitioners

With an increase in demand for healthcare across the nation, there is a growing need for nurse practitioners all over the states. With a higher employability rate, registered nurses with advanced training can choose to practice in many different states, and the outlook in some states is more favorable than others. For example, in California, there is a need for around 1,200 NPs per year, and they can expect a high median salary of $145,970 per year. In New York, there is an opening for approximately 1,640 NPs per annum, and in New Jersey, NPs can enjoy an annual median wage of $130,890.

Leadership Opportunities

Registered nurses who want to take on more responsibility in terms of leadership and management can enjoy more opportunities as a nurse practitioner. Nursing professionals with specialist training and experience use their knowledge and experience to lead teams in education, academia, policy advocacy, and research. In education and academia, NPs have the ability to progress to teaching, instructor, and administration professions. Alternatively, NPs can choose to delve deep into policy advocacy and research to help make a difference in their line of work.

Provide Healthcare Overseas

Registered nurses who want to take their job overseas have plenty of opportunity to do so with further education and training. Nurse practitioners have the advanced knowledge to make a significant impact on people in other countries as they can provide comprehensive care to communities around the globe. Nurse practitioners can make a difference by delivering enhanced patient care and improving patient outcomes in different countries.

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