There are a few different career paths a nursing student can take once they earn their associate’s or bachelor’s degree. While many become Registered Nurses (RNs), some choose to become Nurse Practitioners (NPs).
NPs are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), alongside nurse anesthetists and nurse midwives. This is a very fast-growing career track, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting 26% job growth by 2028 – and an average annual salary of $115,800 per year. Here’s what you need to know about a career as a nurse practitioner.
What Does a Nurse Practitioner Do?
Nurse practitioners provide a full range of preventive, diagnostic and specialty health care services. NPs are unique because they have been trained first to see patients from a nursing aspect and then they have the ability to blend in medical care .There are several states in the US where nurse practitioners can practice on their own without the supervision of a medical doctor. Not only do they treat current health concerns, they also work on promoting better health and preventing diseases through education and counseling.
Some typical duties of a NP include (but are not limited to):
- Analyzing and interpreting patients’ health histories and current symptoms: NPs take time to sit with their patients and discuss any concerns they might have about their health, noting any preexisting conditions/risk factors (like diseases that run in the family or existing susceptibilities) and current symptoms.
- Ordering, performing and interpreting diagnostic tests: If deemed appropriate, NPs can order and perform diagnostic tests (like X-rays, biopsies, bloodwork, etc.), as well as interpret the results to draw a diagnosis.
- Diagnosing and treating acute and chronic conditions: NPs have the credentials to both diagnose and treat acute conditions (e.g. pneumonia, strep throat, broken bone) and chronic conditions (e.g. diabetes, hypertension, autoimmune disorders).
- Prescribing medications and creating treatment plans: As part of a treatment plan, NPs can prescribe medications and come up with the appropriate and individualized treatment plan with the patient. If needed, therapeutic intervention may be applied. This is one of the primary differences between an NP and a registered nurse (RN): An RN is not able to prescribe medications or directly diagnose patients.
- Educating patients on disease prevention and healthy lifestyle habits: As many healthcare professionals will agree, prevention is better than a cure. NPs advocate for their patients’ overall health by educating them on disease prevention and healthy lifestyle choices.
NPs take the time to evaluate their patients and address any concerns, supporting their emotional well-being as much as their physical. They also monitor progress and make adjustments in treatment plans if needed.
Additionally, NPs often serve as advocates for their patients, ensuring they have access to the treatments and medications they need, and turning to therapeutic intervention if needed.
Nurse Practitioner Specialties
The most common specialization NPs choose is family nurse practitioner (FNP). FNPs account for more than 65% of all NPs. These practitioners often work under medical doctors (MDs) or physicians, and like other primary care doctors, FNPs can treat patients for a variety of reasons throughout their lifespan.
Because NPs have similar diagnostic and prescriptive privileges as physicians, some families who have limited access to an MD in their local area may choose to see an NP for their primary care needs.
Other popular NP specialties include:
- Acute care (ACNP): NPs with this specialization treat sudden-onset or emergency conditions, like respiratory distress and heart attacks, in a variety of settings.
- Adult/adult-gerontology (AGNPs): These NPs treat adolescents through adulthood and into advanced ages, cultivating a foundation of trust and respect.
- Neonatal (NNP): NNPs often assist with the delivery and treatment of newborns.
- Pediatric (PNPs): PNPs treat children into adolescence, focusing on any pediatric-related concerns/ailments, as well as acute and chronic conditions (from asthma to diabetes).
- Women’s health (WHNP): As the name suggests, NPs with this specialization address women health concerns/maintenance throughout their lifespan, including puberty and menopause.
- Psychiatric mental health (PMHNPs): Taking a holistic approach, NPs with a specialization in psychiatric mental health address their patients emotional needs/mental health concerns in relation to their physical health.
- Hospice/palliative care: NPs with these credentials assist adults of advanced ages or terminally ill individuals in comfort/end-of-life care.
These specialties can overlap, and some NPs choose more than one. For instance, some AGNPs also specialize in hospice/palliative care; and some FNPs earn a specialization in psychiatric mental health.
Where Do NPs Work?
Some of the most common employers of nurse practitioners are:
- Physician’s office
- General medical/surgical hospital
- Outpatient care center
- College/university or professional school
- Specialty hospital
- Residential intellectual and developmental disability, mental health, and substance abuse facilities
Where an NP works may also depend on their specialization. For example, ACNPs often work in emergency rooms, critical care units, operating rooms, or walk-in clinics, while FNPs can practice in pediatric offices, specialty clinics, and school-based health centers.
The medical setting you choose to work in will directly impact your hours, pay, and responsibilities on the job. Consider your preferred pace and nature of work, as well as your salary and hourly shifts.
There’s a reason NPs earn a much higher salary than other nursing professions — to become one, you must earn at least a master’s degree (doctorate is recommended), be licensed in your state, and pass a national certification exam.
In addition to the national certification, NPs are required to complete advanced clinical training beyond their RN preparation (while adhering to a code of ethical practices) and undergo clinical outcome evaluations and periodic peer review.
If you choose to specialize in a specific practice, like one of those mentioned above, you will also have to fulfill unique requirements for your specialization, like additional exams and fieldwork related to your area of focus. Your national and state licensures should reflect the specialization(s) you chose.