The role of a nurse practitioner (NP) is one that is taking on greater significance as the demand for healthcare services increases. The nurse practitioner is an advanced practice nurse who has gone above and beyond a BNS degree (Bachelor of Science in nursing) to earn an MSN (Master of Science in nursing) or doctorate degree. Typically you'll find these individuals working at hospitals, nursing homes, health clinics, and private practices. Some even open their own practice apart from physician control.
In some cases nurse practitioners work in less traditional settings such as research institutes, pharmaceutical companies, colleges and universities, government institutions, and all four branches of the military. Their duties vary depending on where they work and what their specialty is.
Becoming a Nurse Practitioner
The first step in becoming a nurse practitioner is to get a degree and be licensed as a registered nurse. From there the candidate will enter a master degree program which will add another 2 to 4 years of education to what they've already accomplished. As part of that further education the candidate will study for his or her specialty.
Some master degree RNs go on to earn their doctorate degree before finally taking the NP licensing exam and going to work. Although this is not as common as one might think, there is a move underway within the industry to require all nurse practitioners to earn a doctorate degree. Those who do pursue a doctorate degree are adding another 3 to 4 years to their education. From start to finish the entire process could take as long as 10 years to complete. Along the way the nurse practitioner will learn not only the daily skills of being a nurse, but also more advanced skills and knowledge required by their specialty.
In order to begin on the path of becoming a nurse practitioner you must at least have a high school diploma or GED. Once you finish your bachelor program you will need to be able to demonstrate your proficiency as a registered nurse before you'll be allowed to enroll in a master program. It is very important that candidates for a master degree be able to demonstrate high levels of critical thinking. In most settings the nurse practitioner is only one step below the physician, so he or she must be able to think along the same lines as the doctor. The nurse practitioner candidate also needs to have excellent communication skills in both reading and writing.
The working conditions of the nurse practitioner can vary widely depending on the facility where he or she works. In a family practice setting for example, nurse practitioners typically find a more laid-back atmosphere with fulfilling interpersonal relationships between patients and staff. On the other hand the nurse practitioner in a busy, urban emergency room may find an atmosphere that is highly stressful and difficult to deal with on most days.
Adding to the stress in some settings is the fact that the nurse practitioner is in that "middle ground" between registered nurse and physician. That often makes her feel as though she is caught in the middle between the two parties. This can cause some measure of resentment if it's not dealt with. New nurse practitioners just graduating would do well to consider the fact that their chosen profession can be stress inducing if they don't handle themselves correctly.
Job Outlook and Salary
Every category within the medical profession is projected to grow significantly over the course of the next 6 to 10 years. The area of nurse practitioner is no exception. Right now demand is only slightly outpacing the number of graduates coming out of school, but that's going to change quickly. Between states giving nurse practitioners more authority, and the onset of retirement for a good number of America's baby boomers, you can expect to see the demand for nurse practitioners grow.
The latest surveys show the average salary for a nurse practitioner in the United States is approximately $75,000 per year. Those working in major metropolitan areas tend to make more than their more rural counterparts, and those with in-demand specialties will also earn better paychecks.
If you're willing to put in the long years of education required, becoming a nurse practitioner is a good career choice. It is stable work, it pays well, and you have the ability to help your patients live a better life. What more could you ask in a career?