A Comprehensive Look into the Role of a Nurse Practitioner

Updated on November 26, 2021

A traditional career in nursing is all about providing excellent care for your patients, and it can be an incredibly rewarding career route to go down. The natural next step for many registered nurses is to become a nurse practitioner. A nurse practitioner still provides care for patients, but they have a wider scope of practice and can enjoy many more benefits. With the demand for nurse practitioners soaring every day across the United States and the accessibility of online advanced nursing programs, more and more nurses are taking steps to further their careers. Here is a comprehensive look into the role of a nurse practitioner to help registered nurses decide if it is the right career move for them.

What is a Nurse Practitioner?

A nurse practitioner (NP) is a registered nurse who has been educated to an advanced level and has received training to provide comprehensive patient care. Nurse practitioners can provide primary and preventative care autonomously or alongside healthcare professionals depending on where they practice. In many instances, they share similar responsibilities to doctors. The responsibilities of a nurse practitioner depend on the specialty they pick at the advanced degree level. In general, duties can include examining and assessing a patient’s health, ordering diagnostic tests, and prescribing any necessary medication and treatment.

Nurse Practitioner Specialties

There are many different degree programs for prospective nurse practitioners to choose from, which give NPs specific training in a specialty. When a specialty is chosen at the beginning of a nurse practitioner’s educational journey, they are better able to deepen their knowledge in the chosen field and acquire a skills set to help them succeed. Nurse practitioner specialties can be incredibly diverse. They include, but are not limited to, psychiatric and mental health, pediatric, family health, acute care, and neonatal.

Where Do Nurse Practitioners Provide Care?

Certified nurse practitioners can work in a number of medical and healthcare settings, depending on their specialty. Nurse practitioners can work in typical settings, such as hospitals and clinics. They can also work in private practices, such as for government agencies and non-profit organizations, or in educational settings like at universities or with children in schools. Alternatively, nurse practitioners can also provide care to patients in their own homes or work independently at a nurse-run clinic.

Practice in Independent Clinics

With a wider scope of practice than registered nurses, NPs are able to practice independently in certain states across the US. The career freedom and job autonomy is a huge draw for many NPs as they have the power to make important healthcare decisions for their patients without doctor supervision. With authority to practice freely, nurse practitioners can work in their own independent clinics to make healthcare more accessible to US citizens. This gives nurse practitioners the flexibility to work hours that suit them, which is a huge contrast to the typically long and unpredictable shift work nursing professionals must take on in a hospital or surgical setting.

Earning Potential

The Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that the average annual salary for a certified nurse practitioner is $117,670, which is a huge paycheck rise when compared to the average annual salary for a registered nurse ($75,330). The difference in pay is just over $40,000 per year on average.

How Can I Become a Nurse Practitioner?

Registered nurses have to undergo advanced training, gain relevant experience, and obtain the correct certification and licensure to become an NP. First, they must obtain the initial nursing qualifications, which can either be an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (BSN). Prospective nurse practitioners can then proceed to gain a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree, or a PhD in Nursing. An advanced degree provides registered nurses with a deeper understanding of their field and equips them with the knowledge and skills to practice in a specialty. Although you can gain any of these advanced degrees to become an NP, nursing organizations are endorsing the requirement of a DNP degree over an MSN degree. Furthermore, a PhD often places focus on research and education and can take a lot longer to obtain than an MSN or a DNP.

Online Learning

Becoming an NP is the natural next step on the career ladder for a registered nurse, but some people may not want to spend time and money to take this step. However, working nursing professionals can take advantage of advanced degree programs that are taught completely online. These online degrees are designed to fit around the life of a busy, working nurse and can help RNs balance their already packed lives. Online DNP programs can be used to help registered nurses achieve more in their careers. Enrolling in an online program allows nurses to advance their careers by studying at home instead of in a classroom.

Choose an Accredited Degree Program

There is a growing number of degree programs for individuals to choose from, and it is important to do your research and enroll in a program offered by a reputable education provider. At the very least, a degree program should be accredited by a trusted organization such as the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing,  the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission, or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

Clinical Experience

Working the correct number of clinical hours in a relevant setting is a must for prospective NPs. Supervised experience in a clinical environment allows registered nurses to pick up practical knowledge and hands-on experience. This experience prepares students for their chosen careers.

Nurse Practitioner Certification

It is essential for students to pass the relevant national certification exam in order to become a certified nurse practitioner. The type of certification depends on the specialty area chosen and is granted by reputable organizations.

State Licensure

Finally, after becoming certified, a prospective nurse practitioner must get the correct state license, which is dependent on where they want to practice in the future. Licensure is granted by individual states and must be obtained to legally provide care as a nurse practitioner.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurse

Nurse practitioners are classed as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). The ‘advanced practice’ part of the name applies to the level of practice rather than the type of specialty. These advanced practice nurses must all reach an advanced training and educational level before they can provide care legally. With a wide scope of practice, APRNs take on more responsibility than registered nurses. In addition to nurse practitioners, there are three other types of APRNs; nurse anesthetist (CRNA), clinical nurse specialist (CNS), and certified nurse midwife (CNM).

  • Certified registered nurse anesthetists are the highest-paid advanced practice specialists, with salaries reaching $203,730. Their role revolves around providing anesthesia to patients and anesthesia-related care
  • Clinical nurse specialists are responsible for diagnosing and treating patients, promoting good healthcare, helping patients manage diseases, and preventing risk behaviors and illnesses
  • Certified nurse-midwives provide primary care services to women, such as gynecologic care, obstetric and reproductive health

Career Outlook for Nurse Practitioners

The career outlook for nurse practitioners is predicted to grow up to 45 percent from 2019 to 2029. This projected growth exceeds other jobs and is partly down to the increasing demands of the aging US population who require preventative care services. Furthermore, the Association of American Medical Colleges has predicted a shortage of around 139,000 doctors by 2033. The projected deficit coupled with an aging population paves the way for certified nurse practitioners to provide primary and preventative patient care across the United States. Advanced practitioners are needed to help alleviate the problem derived from the predicted deficit of doctors.

Growing Demand For Nurse Practitioners

The growing shortage of physicians opens more doors for nurse practitioners. Nurse practitioners are part of the most trusted group of professionals in the United States and are the health provider choice for millions of US citizens. Nurse practitioners have the qualifications and experience to provide comprehensive care and a wide range of healthcare services for their patients with advanced training. The growing demand for advanced nursing professionals means that registered nurses who become nurse practitioners have good job security. NPs who work for an organization can negotiate good employment benefits, like vacations, scheduling, retirement contributions, and salary.

Best States for Nurse Practitioners

The increasing demand for healthcare services and care means that there is a surge for certified practitioners across the US. The outlook is particularly sunny in states such as California, New Jersey, and New York. There is an opening for approximately 1,200 nurse practitioners per year in California, and NPs working in the Golden State can expect an average salary of $145,970 per year. Over in New Jersey, nurse practitioners can earn a median annual wage of $130,890, while the high rate of growth in the big apple means that there are an estimated 1,640 openings for NPs per year.

Leadership and Management

Nurse practitioners can take advantage of the plethora of leadership and management opportunities available to professionals with advanced training. In academia, education, research, and policy advocacy, nurse practitioners are able to use their abilities and lead with confidence. Nurse practitioners are able to take on teaching, administration, and instructor roles in academia and education, while some may wish to conduct valuable research in aid of patient education. Alternatively, nurse practitioners can also help make important changes in policy advocacy.

Opportunities Abroad

Registered nurses who want to make a difference in another country can provide healthcare to multicultural communities around the world with specialist training. With expert knowledge and a range of tools gained from advanced programs, nurse practitioners can help improve healthcare in diverse areas and offer primary and preventative care services.

Popular Nurse Practitioner Roles

As mentioned earlier, registered nurses can choose to specialize in a specific field to help prepare them for a specialist nurse practitioner profession. There are many different areas for NPs to choose from. Here are some of the most favorable nurse practitioner roles.

Family Nurse Practitioner

Many prospective students choose to specialize in family health and aim to provide care as a family nurse practitioner. These specialist nursing professionals provide family-focused care to families, communities, and individuals, and they often become the primary care provider for their patients over the course of a lifetime. Family nurse practitioners often find their role in healthcare extremely fulfilling as they are able to get to know their patients over an extended period of time.

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

As opposed to family nurse practitioners, pediatric nurse practitioners specialize in care for children. Their patients range from newborns to young adults, and they are able to further specialize by body system or service. For example, a pediatric nurse practitioner can work solely in pediatric cardiology or surgery. With an average annual salary of $110,000, pediatric nurse practitioners are one of the highest-earning NP professionals.

Psychiatric and Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

Beating pediatrics to the paycheck, psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) earn $125,000 per year on average, making them the most well-paid nurse practitioners out of all the specialties. PMHNPs provide care to people of varying ages, and they help their patients with mental health issues. The role involves treating people with psychiatric disorders, behavioral issues and substance abuse disorders. In addition, they can prescribe medication, and they can also use therapeutic methods to help patients.

Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner

Women’s health nurse practitioners provide comprehensive health care to women. As the name suggests, the role centers around women’s health, and it focuses on gynecology, obstetrics, and reproductive health.

Neonatal Nurse Practitioner

Neonatal nurse practitioners have specialist knowledge that gives them the ability to care for premature babies and newborns that are sick. These specialist nurse practitioners assess and diagnose their patients, and they are also responsible for prescribing medication and putting together treatment plans to improve the health of their patients. In some instances, neonatal nurse practitioners help deliver their patients.

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