Whether you have been a registered nurse (RN) for years or if you’re a prospective student looking to understand what a career in nursing would entail, you might be wondering what exactly a nurse practitioner (NP) does and what steps are necessary to become one.
What Does a Nurse Practitioner Do?
According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, NPs are trained, licensed, and independent healthcare clinicians who concentrate on managing patients’ health conditions by treating injuries and illnesses, as well as supporting injury and disease prevention. Advanced practice registered nurses who have completed a graduate degree in nursing, in addition to the training and certification required for an NP license, hold significantly more responsibility in the healthcare field than RNs. In fact, their responsibilities are comparable to those of medical doctors.
Nurse practitioners are more than just nurses. They are leaders in health care who conduct research, mentor nurses and staff, and fill the shortage of primary care in the U.S.—ultimately lowering the cost of health care for patients. NPs provide primary care services to patients as well as specialty health care services in numerous areas, such as family health, gerontology, pediatric health, and acute care. Because of the urgent demand for medical professionals, NPs are currently the fastest growing sector of primary health in the U.S.
How to Become a Nurse Practitioner
Becoming a nurse practitioner does require a commitment to the field of nursing and health care, and although the road may not always be easy, it is relatively straight-forward. Before becoming an NP, you need to hold a current RN license through your state, obtain a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing, and then obtain national certification in a specified field of nursing practice.
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Because of the commitment, most people earn their associate degree in nursing or bachelor’s degree in nursing and work as an RN for a few years before pursuing the education necessary to become an NP. It is not unheard of, however, for a nursing student to go directly into a master’s or doctoral program. Fortunately, whether you are interested in earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree, nursing schools are fully equipped with faculty, staff, and mentors who are well-versed in the nursing practice world and will be able to guide you toward completing your education and obtaining an NP license, making the journey into your new career attainable.
How Health Care is Changing
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the U.S. will be facing a shortage of 122,000 medical doctors by the year 2032, primarily because of the country’s aging population. The lack of medical doctors in rural parts of the U.S., which have higher percentages of residents aged 65 and older, has led more than 24 states to grant authority of full practice to licensed nurse practitioners. Because nursing practice also focuses on holistic, accessible health care, nurse practitioners are expected to fill this void and reduce overall costs for our healthcare system and patient populations.
Nursing Practice Career Outlook
Nurse practitioners are rapidly becoming an integral part of our national health care system because they lessen the burden of medical doctors across the country. In California, NPs have restrictions on the care they can provide (they are required to work under the supervision of a medical doctor), however, NPs in California receive the highest compensation over every other state with an average of $138,000 per year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurse practitioners across the U.S. earn $115,000 per year on average, out-earning RNs on average by more than $30,000 per year. The field is expected to continue to grow by 26 percent over the next 10 years.
As a nurse practitioner, your role in patient care will hold much more responsibility than an RN. Although the scope of practice depends on the state you work in, as an NP, you will be expected to diagnose and treat illnesses, infections, and injuries; prescribe medications; order tests; and provide general health guidance to your patients.
Studies have shown that nurse practitioners are especially skilled at listening to their patients’ needs and regularly receive incredibly high ratings in patient satisfaction. Spending more time with patients is central to the role of an NP, and it is because of this practice and the resulting preventative care that patients of NPs have fewer hospital visits than patients of medical doctors.
The career of a nurse practitioner requires extensive education and substantial time in a position of leadership within your hospital, clinic, or other place of work. The rewards from such a career are immense knowledge and experience that can be passed on to future nurses. With a graduate degree in nursing, NPs may begin teaching at the college level, playing a critical role in continuing the education of many health care workers. Staying in, or returning to, the world of academia is also a common way for NPs to stay up-to-date with research in the field of nursing, which may provide further opportunities to put their research into practice.
Next Steps to Become an NP
Nurse practitioners help patients in need of care. As an NP, you will have numerous options and opportunities to perform this rewarding work in the health care setting to which you feel called, whether that is teaching at a college or university, leading a department at a hospital, running clinical trials for a new life-saving drug, or working in public health to serve your community.
About the Author
Wendy Cloherty is a former editor for PLNU's Viewpoint magazine and a contributing freelance writer.