Nurse practitioner roles are growing in demand, with these professionals often enjoying higher salaries and having more responsibility and career autonomy compared to registered nurses. In many states, nurse practitioners are permitted to practice independently from a primary care physician, allowing them to diagnose patient conditions, prescribe medication, and provide treatment without the need for supervision. As the growing shortage of primary healthcare physicians threatens a healthcare crisis in the US, nurse practitioners are stepping in to fill the gap and ensure that patients are provided with the best standards of care. Whether you are already working as a registered nurse and want to progress in your career or your ultimate goal is to become a nurse practitioner in the future, here’s what you can expect from the pathway of studying to get there.
What is a Nurse Practitioner?
Nurse practitioners are advanced practice nurses that have typically earned either a master’s degree in nursing or a specialist nurse practitioner degree program like these online NP programs. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, they earn an average of $115,000 per year. Nurse practitioners undergo additional advanced training in order to gain the additional authority compared to registered nurses when it comes to diagnosing and treating patients. In most states, nurse practitioners are awarded full practice authority, allowing them to work without the supervision of a doctor and run their own medical practices. Some nurse practitioners work in retail clinics, which are a growing type of healthcare service often located in superstores and shopping centers to provide additional convenience to patients.
What is the Nurse Practitioner Job Description?
Nurse practitioners will typically have more responsibilities compared to registered nurses. The work that they do will depend on the type of nurse practitioner role and the healthcare environment that they work in. Family nurse practitioners tend to work in healthcare clinics offering health services to the general public in a similar way to a primary care physician, either on their own or alongside a medical doctor. Adult-gerontology nurse practitioners specialize in older patients, while pediatric and neonatal nurse practitioners work with children and babies. Psychiatric or mental health nurse practitioners may work in mental health wards and clinics or within other healthcare environments, specializing in the psychiatric care of patients.
The Steps to Becoming a Nurse Practitioner
If working as a nurse practitioner is an appealing career idea for you, there are several steps that you will need to complete in order to get there. These include:
- Become a Registered Nurse:
The main prerequisite to becoming a nurse practitioner is that you are a registered nurse. In most cases, nurse practitioner programs and Master of Nursing degree programs that will put you in a position to work as a nurse practitioner will require you to hold at least a BSN or bachelor of science in nursing. Most do not accept associate’s degrees in nursing, and if you hold this degree, you might want to consider a bridging course that is designed to build on the knowledge that you already have in order to gain your BSN faster compared to taking the traditional 4-year degree route.
- Gain Nursing Experience:
Most nurse practitioner programs will expect candidates to have nursing career experience and to have determined what field that they would like to go into based on the experience that they have gained so far. Since the career of a nurse practitioner brings with it a high amount of responsibility and autonomy, it is not usually possible for newly qualified nurses to get onto nurse practitioner training programs, and they will first need to gain a certain number of years of experience in the field in order to fully prepare them for the role. Working as a registered nurse in a range of different healthcare environments and with a diverse range of patients is the best way to get the experience that you need to prepare for your chosen role as a nurse practitioner. In addition, the more experience you have, the easier it will be for you to decide which type of nurse practitioner role you would like to work in.
- Get a Graduate Degree:
There are two main graduate degrees that you can earn in order to get into a career as a nurse practitioner. A Master’s Degree in Nursing is an advanced degree that you can often find with specialist courses available for nurse practitioner training. One benefit of getting this degree is that it is designed to cover all areas of advanced nursing and can be used in the future to change your career to a different area of the field if you change your mind about being a nurse practitioner. On the other hand, nurse practitioner training programs are also an excellent choice; these degree programs are designed to prepare you for the role and are often available online, making them the ideal choice for nurses who are looking to upgrade their knowledge and skills while continuing to work full-time.
- Get Licensed:
Once you have earned a graduate degree that qualifies you to work as a nurse practitioner, the last step is to get your license to practice in this career. The requirements for licensing for nurse practitioners will vary depending on the state that you plan to work in. It’s important to become familiar with the requirements, which usually involve passing an advanced exam, similar to the NCLEX exam that you will have taken in order to become a registered nurse.
Once you have completed all of the above steps successfully, you will be qualified and prepared to work as a nurse practitioner in your chosen state. The next step is to start searching for your perfect career opportunity as a nurse practitioner or even begin the plans to open your own independent health clinic. Nurse practitioners can find work in a variety of different healthcare environments from hospitals to outpatient clinics, doctor’s offices, and retail clinics, to working within the community depending on the type of work that they want to do.