About Nurse Practitioners
A nurse practitioner is an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) who can diagnose and treat illnesses or injuries either independently or as part of a medical team. Some nurse practitioners focus on disease prevention and health promotion, while others order, perform, and diagnose lab work, X-rays, and other tests.
Since nurse practitioners are registered nurses (RNs) who have completed a specialized graduate education, they may prescribe medication and perform tasks similar to those of a physician assistant. As such, nurse practitioners, or NPs, can perform tasks that physicians can, although their limitations vary by state.
Nurse practitioners must be supportive, dependable, analytical, and compassionate. They need excellent problem-solving skills, interpersonal relationship skills, and critical thinking skills. The best nurse practitioners are great listeners and communicators who are also good-natured enough to keep patients calm and well-informed.
Education and Experience Needed
You need to take several steps to become a nurse practitioner. First, you must become a registered nurse. You can become an RN by obtaining an associate or bachelor’s degree from an accredited program, or you may choose to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN) before getting your RN credentials. Either way, becoming an RN is often the first step.
If you didn’t complete your bachelor’s degree on your path to becoming an RN, you will need to do so now. Nurse practitioners need a higher education level than RNs or LPNs, so pursue a major in nursing or a related field.
One of the best ways to become a nurse practitioner is to enroll in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program upon graduating from high school, which essentially provides a direct route to a nursing career.
RNs can also opt for an RN-to-BSN bridge program that allows existing registered nurses to complete their bachelor’s degrees.
After getting your BSN, gain some experience in the nursing field. Some believe that going directly through nursing school to masters-level coursework is the best route, but this path can leave you less prepared for clinicals when you haven’t had many opportunities to work with patients.
When you’re ready, pursue your graduate degree. Many graduate schools require you to have some nursing experience before you’ll be accepted into the nurse practitioner program. Make sure you gain the experience you need before applying. At minimum, a nurse practitioner must have a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). However, a growing movement requires all nurse practitioners to obtain a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).
Another option is to earn a master’s degree in nursing and pursue a doctorate in a related field such as nursing education, health care administration, or research. You can choose to focus your studies on medical ethics, anatomy, and diagnosis subjects.
On average, nurse practitioners earn more than $97,990. Those who work in hospitals tend to earn the most. Salaries also vary by location, with metropolitan areas such as San Francisco, San Jose, and Panama City earning the highest salary.
The highest-paying non-metropolitan areas include the border region of Texas, northern New Hampshire, and parts of New Mexico.
Average Duties and Tasks
On any given day, a nurse practitioner may diagnose and treat illnesses, infections, and injuries; write prescriptions; order diagnostic tests, and record patient medical histories. They discuss medication side effects with patients, health management tips, and treatment plans.
Responsibilities will vary depending on where the nurse practitioner works. As a family NP, you may counsel family members on a wide range of health concerns, but as a pediatric nurse, you may spend most of your day administering vaccines and recording patient growth measurements. As a women’s health nurse, you may perform Pap smears, breast exams, and other procedures relevant to your patients’ health.
Becoming a nurse practitioner is often the highest level of nursing a professional may want to pursue, but opportunities for growth exist. For example, you may want to specialize in a certain area of medicine, becoming a nurse practitioner in gastroenterology, for example. If you prefer administrative roles, you may pursue a career as a clinical nurse manager or health care administrator.
Aside from specializing in a particular area of interest, some nurse practitioners are content with their level of education. These individuals are considered highly respected, highly trained nursing professionals who have reached the top of their careers. Individuals who would like to pursue various higher-paying opportunities should simply seek career positions in different geographic locations of the country and specialty areas.