What is a Nurse Practitioner?
A Nurse Practitioner (NP) is one of the roles of a broader group of nurses called Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs). Other APRN roles include: Nurse Anesthetist, Clinical Nurse Specialist, and Nurse Midwife. Although the scope of practice for an NP varies by state as defined by the State Board of Nursing, a Nurse Practitioner most commonly provides primary or specialty nursing care to deliver advanced care to patients and families.
The NP differs from a hospital, AD or BSN prepared Registered Nurse in that the scope of practice is typically much broader. The NP often works in an independent practice and, in addition to normal RN practice, may prescribe medications, order lab and x-rays, make medical diagnoses, and prescribe treatments.
The NP often elects to focus on a particular patient population. Some of these specialized NP roles include:
- Adult Nurse Practitioner – specializes in adults
- Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner – specializes in women’s health issues
- Gerontological Nurse Practitioner – specializes in aged adults
- Neonatal Nurse Practitioner – specializes in newborns
- Family Nurse Practitioner – specializes in general family health across all ages
- Pediatric Nurse Practitioner – specializes in children
- Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner – specializes in mental health
Quick Facts about Nurse Practitioners:
- 2015 Median Pay
- Number of Jobs in 2014
- Job Prospects from 2014-2024
- Much faster than average
- Projected Employment in 2024
- Projected Employment Change from 2014-2024
- Areas of Growth
- Rural, inner cities, medically underserved areas
Figure 1: Accessed online from Bureau of Labor Statistics July 2016
What does a Nurse Practitioner do?
The NP role is a blend of the traditional nursing role with a physician role. The NP has the diagnostic and treatment capabilities of the physician while maintaining a nursing focus on patient and family centered care. Depending on state-specific scope of practice, a Nurse Practitioner will do some or all of the following:
- Take medical and nursing histories from patients and families;
- Perform in-depth physical exams;
- Order tests based on the physical exam;
- Analyze results of tests;
- Diagnose nursing and medical problems based on the history, exam and testing;
- Create plans of care for patients and families based on the diagnoses;
- Prescribe medications and treatments based on the plan of care;
- Evaluate the individual’s response to the prescribed medications and treatments;
- Teach and collaborate with patients and families about the findings and plan of care;
- Consult with other members of the healthcare team;
- Conduct or participate in research studies.
Where do Nurse Practitioners work?
Nurse Practitioners can work in a wide variety of environments including acute care hospitals, physician offices, long term care facilities, hospice and palliative care, public health departments, surgery centers, outpatient clinics, and rehabilitation. Many NPs elect to go into private practice where they can create their own environment and maintain their own client lists. Again, it is important that you understand that NP practice is governed by each state’s Board of Nursing so it is critical to understand the rules and regulations in your state.
Practice Environment Percent of NPs Physician offices 48% Acute care hospitals 28% Outpatient centers and clinics 7% Education 3% Other offices 3%
Figure 2: Accessed online from Bureau of Labor Statistics July 2016
What qualities should a Nurse Practitioner have to be successful?
The most important quality for a successful Nurse Practitioner is to be an excellent Registered Nurse. The NP must have those basic skills as a foundation for advanced practice. In addition to great nursing skills, the successful NP will also have exceptional critical thinking skills. Since much of the work of the NP is independent, the ability to accurately assess and develop an appropriate plan of care is critical. Communication and interpersonal skills are vital for accurately relaying information to patients, families and other members of the healthcare team. A nurse practitioner must be attentive to details since they are often a patient’s primary healthcare provider and, consequently, must be able to detect even small changes in a patient’s condition. Finally, the NP must be compassionate and willing to understand that the patient and family are typically under a huge amount of stress when seeking care.
How much can I expect to earn as a Nurse Practitioner?
The great news is that, in addition to providing an essential service, the Nurse Practitioner can expect to earn a very good living. As of May 2015, the median annual wage was $98,190 with a range from $22,340 to $135,830. Of course, wages vary widely by state, cost of living, and need. In May 2015, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics showed the following as average wages by state:
Figure 3: Accessed online from Bureau of Labor Statistics July 2016
What are the job prospects for a Nurse Practitioner?
The need for Nurse Practitioners will grow much faster than other professions through 2024. Job prospects for Nurse Practitioners are excellent over the next 10 years as baby boomers age, begin to leave the work force and begin to develop health issues. As health insurance becomes more universal, NPs will offer a more affordable alternative to traditional physician directed healthcare. With more dollars in the average family for preventative care, individuals will turn to NPs.
In May 2015, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) showed the following as employment of NPS by state:
Figure 4: Accessed online from Bureau of Labor Statistics July 2016
How can I become a Nurse Practitioner?
A Nurse Practitioner must be a Registered Nurse before being eligible for this advanced degree. In order to earn an NP, you must earn a master’s degree (or higher) from an accredited program. Typically, this means that you must have a Bachelor’s degree in nursing first; however, if you have a bachelor’s degree in another health science, there are NP programs that will allow you to prepare for RN licensure at the same time you are studying for a Master’s degree in nursing. If you are a full time student in a Master’s program, you can expect to spend two to three years earning the Master’s degree that will prepare you to take the national certification exam for your chosen NP specialty.
Although state requirements are different for recognition of Nurse Practitioners, most states require certification by exam to use the NP title. Nurse Practitioners can work with diverse patient populations, so there are many different certifications available. Most Nurse Practitioners take a certification examination from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP).