Becoming a Nurse Practitioner: Here’s What You Need to Know

The career of nurse practitioner is one of the hottest in the healthcare industry right now. There are a number of reasons for this, not the least of which is the fact that nurse practitioners (NPs) are enjoying greater freedom and flexibility as they are taking on more responsibilities once reserved only for general practice physicians. All over the country we are seeing more NPs working in doctors’ offices, hospitals, neighborhood pharmacies, schools, and even setting up independent practices.

Nurse Practitioner

If you are considering a career as a nurse practitioner, you are considering a career that offers long-term stability, excellent pay, and the opportunity to make a genuine impact in the lives of others. It is a great career choice for those who want to be involved in the healthcare sector at the level of direct patient care.  In order to help you make an informed decision, however, there are some things you need to know about this career choice and what it involves.

Nurse Practitioner Definition

The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) defines the nurse practitioner as a clinician whose job combines expert diagnosis, treatment of illnesses and injuries, preventative medicine and health management. Simply put, the NP is an advanced practice nurse able to do many of the things the family physician can do without needing an advanced medical degree.

The nurse practitioner can:

  • conduct routine medical exams
  • offer a diagnosis for most routine illnesses and injuries
  • establish a treatment plan for patients
  • prescribe most medications.

Nurse practitioners are licensed in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. However, earning a license in one state does not necessary qualify an NP to work in another state. Each state regulates NPs according to their own laws. The good news is that moving to a new state does not require nurses to undergo an extensive education program to earn a new license. Simply passing a written exam will suffice.

There is a number of nationally recognized certification organizations offering credentials recognized in multiple states. The AANR is but one example. However, as previously stated, licenses are issued through State Nursing Boards according to individual policies.

Education and Training

NPs are considered advanced practice nurses so, as such, must earn a master’s or doctoral degree. Many nurse practitioners start by earning an associate or bachelor degree so they can begin working as a registered nurse while they continue their education to become an NP. A typical three-level education plan would be as follows:

  • Bachelor Degree – Most nurse practitioners begin by earning a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree through a nursing school or a hospital-based program. They then go to work as registered nurses while they continue their studies.
  • Master’s Degree – The next level of education is the Masters of Science in Nursing degree. This degree program can usually be completed in about three years, after which the NP can take a state licensing exam to begin work or continue on to the third level of education.
  • Doctoral Degree – The final program is the Doctor of Nursing Practice, a two to three-year program that results in a doctoral degree for the successful student. Most nurse practitioners conclude their education here unless they want to move on to a specialty requiring additional training.

From start to finish, the entire educational process can run from seven to 10 years. Once the NP is licensed, he or she will have to undergo continuing education in order to periodically renew a license. This requirement is necessary in order to keep clinicians up to date on what is going on in their practice.

Working Environment

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), advanced practice nurses – this includes nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners – held more than 151,000 of the total healthcare jobs in the U.S. in 2012. Approximately 47% of those jobs were found in the offices of private physicians. An additional 28% were jobs in local, regional, state, and private hospitals.

These statistics show how vitally important NPs are to the functioning of routine medical care offered by family doctors and general practice physicians. The nurse practitioner comes alongside the doctor and reduces his or her workload by handling as much of the routine work as possible. This frees up doctors to deal with more serious cases that would require an advanced medical degree to diagnose and treat.

Having said that, the role of the nurse practitioner is changing in America thanks, in part, to the implementation of healthcare reform. With more people expected to access the healthcare system thanks to the availability of insurance, the industry fully expects that general practice physicians will be unable to keep up. That has resulted in a number of states giving NPs more freedom and flexibility in their practice.

We are now seeing states allowing NPs to set up their own practices separate from a local physician. We are also seeing local pharmacies and big-box retail locations opening neighborhood clinics that provide routine care through the combination of a nurse practitioner and licensed pharmacist. Advocates are hopeful that more regulatory changes in the future will allow NPs to provide even greater levels of care.

Job Availability

The BLS expects job availability for nurse practitioners to grow by about 31% between now and 2022. With a Master’s degree, the median salary should remain around $96,000 annually with benefits included. And of course, a current shortage of jobs around the country means there are plenty of jobs available right now.

Health Jobs Nationwide can help you find nurse practitioner jobs that are open and waiting to be filled. As one of the leading online resources for both workers and employers, we provide users of our website all the tools necessary to find the most attractive jobs out there. We invite you to log onto our site today to see what we have to offer.

Your career as a nurse practitioner begins when you make the decision to pursue your education. If you are already licensed and practicing, your career advancement may lie in finding a new job. In either case, Health Jobs Nationwide is here to assist you with a wide range of online tools and extensive, detailed information.