A nurse practitioner (NP) is a step above a registered nurse (RN), and is an individual who possesses either a Master of Science in Nursing degree or a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree in addition to an APRN (advanced practicing registered nurse) license and board certification. A nurse practitioner has more responsibilities and can perform more activities than an LN or RN, and earns a higher salary as a result.
The field of nurse practitioners was originally created in order to meet the needs of individuals during the 1960s, when there was a shortage of MDs. Although a nurse practitioner is not a doctor – even if they have a doctorate nursing degree – they are able to diagnose many conditions and diseases, make prescriptions based on their diagnosis, and serve as a primary health care provider; this level of involvement in the medical field makes nurse practitioner licensing an appealing choice for those who want to be involved with patients without becoming an MD.
Career prospects for a nurse practitioner are very good, with growing demand as the medical field expands, as well as high salaries and long-term employment opportunities. Nurse practitioners can find employment in many fields, including hospice care, hospitals, private medical practices, clinics, nursing homes, universities, public and private K-12 schools, and more.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, registered nursing occupations in general are growing at a faster than average rate, and demand will continue to increase. Because NPs require more advanced degrees than general RNs, there is less overall competition for NP job opportunities, making it more appealing to those who want a long-term, high-paying job without having to spend months searching for an available position.
Nurse practitioners can specialize in several different fields, including: psychiatry, obstetrics, geriatrics, pediatrics, neonatal, emergency care, and acute care.
Nurse practitioners have a wide range of responsibilities including and up to that of a primary care provider. An NP will take medical history, ask patients questions about their symptoms and concerns, evaluate the patient and perform medical examinations, make a diagnosis based on the information they have gathered or order additional tests and procedures, and write prescriptions. In many cases, a nurse practitioner will function as the primary care provider for their own patients, and may even work in their own practice, depending on the laws in the state. Every state has its own series of responsibilities and regulations regarding NPs.
Nurse practitioners are APNs (Advanced Practicing Nurses) who have an APRN (Advanced Practicing Registered Nurse) license. In order to receive an APRN, the nurse must attend graduate school and earn a Master’s of Science in Nursing degree or a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree; a few states only require a Bachelor’s of Nursing degree, although these minimal requirements are quickly changing, and will likely no longer be applicable in the next few years.
Individuals who became a registered nurse via an ADN program rather than a BSN program can enroll in an ADN-MSN program rather than progress from ADN to BSN to MSN, which will take longer and cost more. ADN to MSN programs aren’t as widely available as BSN programs, however, and you may not be able to find one in your local area, requiring you to pursue most of it online and travel to complete the rest of it.
There is a growing controversy about the line between a nurse practitioner (NP) and a medical doctor (MD), particularly now that a doctorate degree is available for nursing. While NPs with a DNP degree are technically doctors, in that they possess a Ph.D, the term is used in the medical field to refer to individuals who possess a medical doctor degree. Because some states allow NPs to work independently of physicians, and because many individuals use an NP as their primary care provider, the line between a NP and an MD is becoming increasingly blurred.
The AACN (American Association of Colleges of Nursing) is currently advocating for a doctorate level graduate nursing degree to be the minimum requirement necessary to become licensed and certified as a nurse practitioner. For this reason, many aspiring NPs are pursuing a DNP rather than an MSN, although the majority of NPs currently hold masters degrees rather than Ph.Ds.
The starting salary for a nurse practitioner depends on whether the nurse is working for a private company or hospital, how many years they have been in practice, their job history and references, and even the state in which they are working. According to Payscale, the average starting salary for an NP is approximately $75,000 per year. Raises and bonuses are available regularly, and some NPs earn a salary in excess of $125,000 annually.
Becoming a nurse practitioner can be very rewarding, both in terms of finance and career satisfaction. Depending on the state, you can open your own practice and work independent of a physician, with your own roster of patients who come to you for their general medical needs. By holding the advanced degree required to become an NP, you’ll also be able to switch into other APRN fields, such as becoming a nurse anesthetist.