A nurse practitioner is a healthcare professional that has more responsibilities than a registered nurse. Currently, nurse practitioners are healthcare professionals that are experiencing increasing demand across the US for various reasons. A shortage of primary care physicians coupled with an aging population has led to more nurse practitioners being employed to provide primary care to patients and ensure the smooth and continuous running of the healthcare industry. In twenty-two US states, nurse practitioners have more autonomy than registered nurses, as they are awarded full practice authority, which allows them to diagnose, treat, and prescribe medication to patients without the need for supervision. Nurse practitioners can also earn a significantly higher salary than registered nurses. With all these benefits, it’s no surprise that working as a nurse practitioner is one of the most popular options for registered nurses who want to progress in their careers.
What Exactly is a Nurse Practitioner?
A nurse practitioner is an advanced healthcare professional who has earned an advanced degree in nursing such as an MSN or the BSN to DNP FNP programs available from Marymount University. Some nurse practitioners have also earned specialist postgraduate certificates that are designed to prepare them to work as a nurse practitioner in their chosen specialty area. Nurse practitioners are given a high level of advanced training in order for them to be fully prepared for a role where they are taking on many of the same decisions, responsibilities, and tasks of a primary care physician. Typically, nurse practitioners will work in either primary or specialty care. Family nurse practitioners are more likely to take on primary care roles and are often hired in place of a family doctor to provide many of the same services. Other nurse practitioners may specialize in a range of different healthcare areas including pediatric, neonatal, adult-gerontology, and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners.
Nurse Practitioner Roles and Responsibilities:
Nurse practitioners are typically given more responsibilities compared to registered nurses. In states where nurse practitioners have full practice authority, they are permitted to run their own clinics and practices without requiring supervision from a primary care physician. Unlike registered nurses, this ultimately means that nurse practitioners are also able to start their own businesses as clinics that either offer primary care to patients or provide specialist care in a range of areas. Nurse practitioners will also work in a range of other healthcare environments including hospitals, doctors’ offices, outpatient clinics, urgent care centers, retail clinics, and more.
Types of Nurse Practitioners:
There are various specialty areas that nurse practitioners can choose to get into. These include:
- Family Nurse Practitioners: This type of nurse practitioner treats patients of all ages. They will typically work in a primary care role, alongside a physician in a doctor’s office or running their own clinic in a state where they have full practice authority.
- Retail Health Nurse Practitioners: These nurse practitioners tend to work exclusively in retail clinics, a new and emerging type of healthcare service that is becoming increasingly popular. Retail clinics are often situated in superstores, drugstores, pharmacies, and other retail settings, allowing patients to get healthcare advice for minor complaints while running other errands.
- Pediatric Nurse Practitioners: These nurse practitioners work exclusively with children. They will often specialize in diseases that tend to affect children rather than adults and can be found working in pediatric hospitals and clinics.
- Neonatal Nurse Practitioners: One of the most highly-skilled and best-paid nurse practitioner roles, neonatal nurse practitioners work in the NICU where they provide care to newborn babies who need to stay in hospital after birth due to illness, birth defects, or premature birth.
- Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioners: These nurse practitioners work with adults, often seniors and older adults.
- Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners: These are specially trained nurse practitioners who work with patients with mental health issues. They work in psychiatric hospitals, outpatient clinics, rehab and treatment centers, and many other settings.
How Much Do Nurse Practitioners Earn?
Nurse practitioners can earn significantly more than registered nurses, with an average salary of around $30k more per year. The annual average salary for a nurse practitioner is $115k per year, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, the salary can vary depending on the specialist area of the nurse practitioner and the state in which they work. Some states pay nurse practitioners significantly more, and some nurse practitioner roles such as neonatal nurse practitioner, are more highly paid than others.
How to Get into a Career as a Nurse Practitioner:
There has never been a better time than the present to consider becoming a nurse practitioner, with these healthcare professionals in higher demand than ever before. If you are interested in pursuing this career path, these are the steps that you will need to take to become a nurse practitioner:
· Become a Registered Nurse:
The first step to becoming a nurse practitioner is to become a registered nurse if you are not already working in this field. You can become a registered nurse with an associate’s degree in nursing, but bear in mind that most MSN programs and nurse practitioner degree programs will require a minimum of a BSN, so you may need to return to study in the future if you decide to take this route. Once you have earned a nursing degree, you will then need to pass the NCLEX to become a registered nurse in your state.
· Getting a BSN:
A BSN is the best degree option to consider if you are just starting out in your nursing career and want to work as a nurse practitioner in the future. Not only is it often easier for BSN-educated nurses to find work since more employers are actively looking to hire nurses that are educated to this level, but it is also usually the minimum requirement to get onto the advanced training programs that are needed for you to become a nurse practitioner. Accelerated BSN programs are available as a good option for career changers since they allow anybody who is already qualified with a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing subject to build on the knowledge, skills, and experience that they already possess to get stuck into learning what they need to know to become a nurse.
· Get Nursing Experience:
While a BSN will usually qualify you to get onto the MSN programs and other advanced degree programs required to be a nurse practitioner, you will also usually be required to have some nursing experience before you will be able to get started with your advanced training. Once you have qualified as a registered nurse, passed the NCLEX, and gained a license to practice in your state, you will usually need to work as a nurse for a few years to gain the experience you will need to move up into an advanced position. Working as a nurse in various different departments and getting experience in different specialty areas will also make it easier for you to decide what kind of nurse practitioner you would prefer to be based on your real-life work experience with patients.
· Get a Graduate Degree:
To work as a nurse practitioner, you will need to get a graduate degree in nursing such as an MSN or DNP. You can choose from a wide range of degree programs to get you started in a nurse practitioner role. There are bridge programs available that are designed to help you build on your knowledge from getting a BSN and the experience that you have already gained as a nurse. If you decide to get an MSN to become a nurse practitioner, there are various postgraduate certificates to consider that are designed specifically to train you for the various nurse practitioner roles that you may choose to get into.
What Skills Do Nurse Practitioners Need?
While the advanced education necessary to become a nurse practitioner will help you develop a range of important skills, nurse practitioners are also required to develop a range of soft skills that will help them succeed in this role. Nurse practitioners will often need to possess a specific skill-set. Some of the main skills that nurse practitioners need include:
· Communication Skills:
Working as a nurse practitioner requires excellent communication skills. Active listening skills are especially important for nurse practitioners since they will spend a lot of time listening to patients’ concerns and using the information that they gain to make an informed decision regarding a diagnosis or treatment. Nurse practitioners are often trusted to diagnose and treat patients on their own, so they need to be able to carefully listen to and observe patients in order to make an accurate diagnosis and ensure that the right treatment is provided.
Many nurse practitioners get into this role from being a registered nurse because they prefer the idea of working in a role where they are able to continue providing direct care to patients. To work in a nurse practitioner role where you will be speaking to patients on a daily basis and listening to their concerns, you will need to be a highly empathetic person. Nurse practitioners need to be compassionate and caring individuals.
· Critical Thinking:
Good decision-making and critical thinking skills are crucial to success as a nurse practitioner. Nurse practitioners need to be able to think critically in various different areas of the role, particularly when it comes to treating patients and making important decisions on their behalf. In various settings where nurse practitioners work, the critical thinking required is often similar to or even more than what is required of registered nurses since things can change at any moment when it comes to patients, and nurse practitioners need to think critically to make the right decision often in high-pressure and high-stress situations.
· Attention to Detail:
Much like other nursing and healthcare professionals, nurse practitioners need to have strong skills when it comes to paying attention to detail. Nurse practitioners are trusted and relied on to make the best decisions on behalf of their patients and pay attention to symptoms, needs, and more. In states where nurse practitioners have full practice authority, they are required to possess even stronger attention to detail skills since there is no physician to sign off their decisions or make sure that everything is as it should. In this role, it’s important to be an observant type of person who is able to notice and pay attention to details which others may often overlook.
Working as a nurse practitioner often means that there are lots of different changes to deal with on a regular basis. Nurse practitioners not only have to deal with changes to their work environment and often sudden changes in the condition of patients, but they will also need to adapt to changes in healthcare as a whole, with various constant changes happening in the healthcare system. From policy improvements to new medications and treatments, new strategies, machinery and equipment, and new emerging diseases to get to grips with quickly such as COVID-19, no two days are the same in the role of a nurse practitioner, and the ability to welcome change and adapt to it on your feet is a crucial skill to have.
· Willingness to Learn:
Along with all of the changes that are occurring in the healthcare industry today comes a need for nurse practitioners to be ready to learn new things on a regular basis. For many nurse practitioners, the job that they are doing now is not the same as the job that they got into when they first started. Nurse practitioners do not stop learning when they get their advanced degree; there is always going to be something new for them to master, so being willing to learn new things is an essential quality for anybody going into this career path to have.
Nurse practitioners are some of the most in-demand healthcare professionals right now, with more nurses getting into this highly specialized clinical role offering more responsibility, higher salaries, and various specialty areas.