Nurse Practitioner Work: What You Need to Know

Becoming a nurse practitioner means that you’ll qualify for a higher starting salary than a general registered nurse (RN) no matter where you find a job. However, along with that higher pay rate, you need to be prepared for advanced responsibilities. So as a nurse practitioner, what do you need to know about the work?

Regular Duties of Registered Nurses and Nurse Practitioners

Many of the tasks you’ll do on a day-to-day basis as a nurse practitioner are not much different from the tasks you’d do if you were just a regular registered nurse. You’ll still be responsible for taking patient histories, checking vital signs, helping patients prepare for treatments, talking to families, teaching patients home care instructions, relaying information to doctors, and doing other tasks for which you’ve long since received training.

Other daily tasks depend on the facility where you work. For example, if you work at a nursing home, your tasks could include helping patients bathe and eat, while if you work at a clinic, your tasks could include educating patients on medical conditions and disease prevention.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Unlike registered nurses, you can diagnose and treat patients who are dealing with minor medical problems. The extent at which you can treat patients depends on the state where you work, but all nurse practitioners are qualified to be the “point of entry” person at a health care facility. That means that you are the first person to see and evaluate a patient, making a decision as to whether or not the problem is serious enough to warrant seeing a doctor.

Not every medical condition can be treated by a nurse practitioner, of course. However, nurse practitioners are able to write prescriptions, and in most locations, nurse practitioners are qualified to treat fractures and lacerations, along with more significant medical problems.

Specialization and NP Work

One of the great things about becoming a nurse practitioner is that you’ll be able to devote at least some of your education to a specialization that you enjoy. Some of the most common specializations for nurse practitioners include:

  • Acute Care: Working with patients with an acute illness or injury which can be fully cured through temporary treatment.
  • Geriatrics: Working with elderly patients.
  • Adult Care: Working with adult patients.
  • Neonatal Care: Working with infants who were just born, and their parents.
  • Women’s Health: Providing both acute and chronic treatment and health-maintenance advice to women of all ages.
  • Mental Health: Providing recommendations for the treatment of psychological illness or discomfort.

With your specialized education, you’ll learn how to treat more advanced medical conditions specific to patients in your area of medicine. This makes you even more valuable in the workforce, as you’ll be able to recognize and treat these problems, even when other nurse practitioners can’t.

Owning Your Own Business

In some states, nurse practitioners are able to operate their own practices, independent of medical doctors completely. These facilities can’t treat all problems, but can serve to treat patients with minor medical conditions, often at a much lower fee than found with physicians. As a nurse practitioner, you can also open a consulting business, where you work with a number of area medical facilities to improve health care in your community.

Continuing Education Requirements for Nurse Practitioners

Nurse practitioners must be licensed in the state where they practice, and to maintain their license, they must continue to take nursing classes throughout their career, to keep their knowledge and skills fresh, and to learn about new treatments or practices in the field.

The basic requirements for maintaining a nursing license vary from state to state, and 24 of the states have joined the Nurse Licensure Compact, meaning that a nurse with a license from one state may practice in the other Compact states without getting a new license. The general requirements for licensure eligibility are:

  • Degree, Diploma, or Certificate: A credential from an accredited nursing school is a must.
  • Passing NCLEX Score: Every state requires nursing license applicants to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). This is a comprehensive standardized test of nursing knowledge and skills, and is notoriously difficult. Nursing schools recommend that their students study exam materials and take practice tests for several months before attempting the real exam.
  • Continuing Education: This requirement comes into play when an already licensed nurse wants to renew their license for another term. Licenses must be renewed every two years, and most states require nurses to complete a certain number of contact hours, usually between 12 and 30, of continuing education before they can renew their license.

Nurses seeking to enter a new field of practice usually need to take some extra classes as well. There are always opportunities for nurses to grow their skills, but it takes a dedicated worker to continue taking advantage of these options.

Possibilities for Career Advancement in Nursing

For safety and efficiency reasons, medical organizations have rigid hierarchies of authority so that patients and treatments don’t slip through the cracks and paperwork doesn’t get muddled and lost. This makes leadership and communication skills very important for nurses, and one of the major ways to get ahead as a nurse is to show leadership qualities. RNs can move into supervisory roles and get managerial experience and better wages, and eventually, an RN can become a nurse practitioner and open his or her own practice, if desired.

Another possibility for career advancement is to earn a more advanced degree and go into nursing education. All over the U.S. there are nursing schools that don’t have enough teachers, which means they have to turn away qualified nursing students, and the workforce suffers. If you’re willing to put in the time to earn a Master of Science in nursing, or even a PhD, then you could become a professor and make money while also helping build a new generation of qualified nurses.

Even if you aren’t looking for a promotion, shifting into a different employment setting can be a good way to diversify your nursing experience. Most RNs work in hospitals, but there are other options. The chart below, from the Health Resources and Services Administration, shows the spread of employment setting possibilities for RNs.

Breaking Into Nursing: Your First Job

Even though the job market is great for nurses, and is predicted to get even better by The Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is still a lot of work to do to land your first nursing job. Once you’ve passed the licensure exam and submitted all your paperwork, you might be able to get a provisional job at a hospital, which would end immediately if your licensure didn’t go through, but could continue if you became licensed.

One of the best ways to find out about jobs and evaluate whether they will be a good fit for you is through your own network of professional contacts and friends. People you meet in nursing school, including professors, will likely have more knowledge than you about which hospitals and clinics offer the best wages and benefits. Finding a social connection to a potential job massively increases your chances of landing the job, as long as you are licensed and have a good track record. Some ways you can increase your chances of making these connections are:

  • Reach out to your classmates and professors outside of class. Offer to help someone with homework or help the professor do paperwork. Helping someone out will go a long way to make sure that they remember you positively, and will recommend you to their colleagues.
  • Volunteer at a local hospital or clinic. You don’t have to volunteer as a nurse, just get inside the building and make sure you’re helping someone, then you can work on getting face time with people who might be able to help you out later on.
  • Obviously, get good grades and test scores. No prof wants to recommend someone who was a low performer in class for a job in a hospital, taking care of people’s health!

It’s a Long Road, But Worth Every Step

Getting a degree to become a nurse practitioner isn’t easy. It takes a lot of work, time, and dedication. The reward of working in an exciting and changing field that helps people live healthier lives is one of the biggest motivators to focus on when you’re struggling through homework or clinical rotations. The payment and benefits aren’t bad either, and when you consider the great nursing job market, in the midst of the terrible employment market in most other fields, nursing starts to sound like a pretty great path to start down. The links to colleges on this site are a good place to start your journey. You can contact the schools by clicking, and they’ll send you all the info you need about the nursing programs they have available, including scheduling, pricing, and admission requirements.

The Best Online Nurse Practitioners Degrees

A nurse practitioner is an advanced practice nurse who provides primary and specialty care to patients. A nurse practitioner is responsible for administering both nursing and wider healthcare services; and, they are licensed to prescribe medications. Becoming a nurse practitioner requires the completion of a master's degree program. Below are the most popular colleges offering online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degrees.

Kaplan University MSN: Nurse Practitioners
RN to MSN
MSN: Nurse Administration
MSN: Nurse Education
MSN: Nurse Informatics
Kaplan University - The Kaplan University MSN for Nurse Practitioners and RN to MSN programs offers students the opportunity to explore nursing methods in a dynamic healthcare environment. Courses include Advanced Nursing Roles, Theoretical Foundations of Advanced Nursing, and Health Promotion and Disease Prevention in a Diverse Community. MSN specializations are offered in nurse administration, nurse education, and nurse informatics.
Simmons College MSN: Family Nurse Practitioner
RN to MSN: Family Nurse Practitioner
Simmons College - For students who want to advance their careers and quickly accomplish life goals, Simmons College offers two degrees to help students become nurse practitioners. The first allows students to specialize as Family Nurse Practitioner while the second program is an accelerated option for registered nurses interested in family nurse practice. Both degrees are accredited and through online courses, they can be accomplished in two years.
Bradley University MSN to DNP: Nursing Leadership
Bradley University - Bradley University confers an MSN to DNP in Nurse Leadership degree that allows for customization in non-nursing specialties, including disaster management, accouting, finance, organizational behavior, and more. Graduates of this program typically enter careers as nurse educators, nurse executives, health case managers, or managed care consultants, to name a few.
Walden University Doctor of Nursing Practice
RN to MSN: Adult Gerontology NP
RN to MSN: Adult Gerontology Acute Care NP
Walden University - The Walden University Doctor of Nursing Practice degree program offers study in the advanced methods of practicing nursing throughout the healthcare industry. Registered nurses with bachelors in nursing are able to obtain their diploma in an accelerated format. Students can also specialize in various aspects of nursing, including Adult Gerontology, Adult Gerontology Acute Care, and Nurse Leadership.
Georgetown University MSN: Midwifery and Women's Health
Georgetown University - Graduates of the Georgetown University online MS of Nursing in Midwifery and Women's Health will have more than just a degree to their name upon completion. Students will have the skill and knowledge to help advance their profession, and medicine as a whole, while serving as sponsors of the well-being and overall health of each of their patients.
Grand Canyon University MSN: Nurse Leadership
MSN/MBA: Nurse Leadership
Grand Canyon University - The Grand Canyon University College of Nursing and Health Sciences provides students with a variety of master's programs tailored to meet the students specific interests. Specializations include Education, Leadership in Health Care Systems (also available as an MBA).

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