All About the Nurse Practitioner Career

A nurse practitioner is an advanced practice nurse, likely with a master’s degree or beyond, who provides primary care services or specialized medical evaluation and treatment to a certain demographic of patients. NPs need a master’s degree because of the added responsibilities and privileges conferred upon them when they earn their nursing license. NPs can open up a family practice, and some can even prescribe medication, though this requires extra education and government certification.

There Are Many Categories of Nurse Practitioner

Though there are general tasks that most nurses will have to do regularly in their careers, daily routines can vary widely from nurse to nurse. Nurses in the following specialties see patients in very different circumstances:

  • Family Practice: Providing general primary care to families is a common choice for nurse practitioners. This entails doing regular checkups as well as treating acute and chronic illness and injury. Family nurse practitioners may work in the private practice of an MD, or may open their own private practices.
  • Midwifery: A nurse midwife is a type of advanced practice nurse who works mostly with pregnant women. Nurse midwives help mothers stay healthy during pregnancy, and are often present to assist with the birth of the child.
  • Anesthesiology: Nurses who specialize in anesthesiology usually work with an MD to provide the proper anesthetic for patients who undergo surgery.
  • Clinical Nursing Specialty: Clinical nurse specialists work not only to improve the health of patients, but to improve the efficiency of the nursing system itself. A CNS’s job includes examining the workflows of the facility where they are employed, and suggesting changes in methodology to improve the quality of care and the number of patients that can be treated.

All of the above are career options for nurses with master’s degrees that will be much more difficult to pursue for RNs with only a bachelor’s degree or less.

Nurse Practitioner Education Programs

The programs that prepare students to get licensed as nurse practitioners vary from school to school, and the content of the courses depends heavily on which specialty each individual student chooses, but there are a few core nursing principles that are baked into any good, accredited nurse practitioner degree program. Some of the courses you’ll likely see in any nurse practitioner curriculum include:

  • Patient/Provider Relationships and Communication: NPs providing primary care to patients who return regularly need to be good at managing relationships and understanding the communication styles of a large cohort of patients. A study by the National Institutes of Health revealed patient/provider communication as one of the most important subjects of study in nurse practitioner programs.
  • Primary Care: The NIH study mentioned above also mentioned the importance of primary care education for nurse practitioners as well. Since NPs provide primary care in some places where MDs are not as accessible or affordable, their ability to meet the medical needs of a diverse community is crucial.
  • Electronic Information Systems: The whole medical industry has been making the somewhat painful transition from paper records to electronic ones over the past decade, and anyone working in a medical facility now needs to know how to safely store and transmit medical records electronically while keeping them private.

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

An RN who wants to be a nurse practitioner will typically work in a hospital for a few years immediately after earning their bachelor’s degree and nursing license, and then start looking around for master’s programs in the nursing fields they are most interested in.

Nurse practitioner programs usually include some hours of clinical practice, and getting this experience at a high-quality, recognizable hospital or clinic can be a good way to make a name for yourself in the profession. Ultimately, though, all of the clinical practice and classroom hours are aimed at making you a qualified medical professional who can safely treat patients and earn and maintain a license.

After finishing school and earning a license, finding a job as a nurse practitioner shouldn’t be too difficult. There has been a media frenzy about nursing shortages over the past few years, and The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that many states have ample employment opportunities and generous salaries for nurses in all capacities.

Further Growth Opportunities for Nurse Practitioners

Nurse practitioners have a lot of career mobility. They are in demand in most parts of the U.S., and even internationally, and can practice independently or be employed by a hospital or private clinic. Since all nurses are required to take continuing education classes, there are always opportunities for nurses to learn new skills or point their career in a new direction. For NPs this is doubly true, because their master’s degree allows them to practice in ways that general RNs cannot. All of these factors add to the flexibility of a career as a nurse practitioner.

The longer that you work as an RN or NP, the more chances that you’ll have to find new job opportunities and make professional and social connections. The highest number of nurses with full time employment fall in the 45-54 age bracket. The graph below, from the Health Resources and Services Administration, shows the distribution of employed nurses at various levels of education.

Nurse Practitioner Salaries, Benefits, and Other Job Data

NPs are in high demand now, and as highly educated medical professionals, they can earn great salaries under the right circumstances. Three factors that can influence the salary of an NP are:

  • Geographic Location (Country, State, City)
  • Type of Facility
  • Years of Experience

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the average annual salary of RNs in the U.S. at $69,110, but the national average doesn’t necessarily predict what an NP earns in any given location. Metropolitan areas tend to have better salaries for NPs, but also higher competition for employment. Hospitals may pay differently than private family practices, and naturally, an NP with years of experience will earn more than one right out of school.

The “Nursing Shortage” and What it Means for Student NPs

There has a been a lot of media buzz over the past few years about nurse shortages in various areas of the country due to an aging nurse workforce and increasing treatment needs overall. This coverage has been overblown in many respects, but there are elements of truth in it. Many nurses are retiring, or will retire in the coming decade, and that adds demand to the already high need for new nurses.

Data gathered by The BLS shows that the nursing industry is poised to see 26 percent job growth by 2020, which is about 10 percent faster than average job growth across other industries in the U.S.

To encourage new students to enter the nursing field and offset the shortage, the U.S. government offers many scholarships and loan-forgiveness-for-service programs for healthcare workers, especially those working in Health Practitioner Shortage Areas (HPSAs), which are tracked by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Student NPs can take advantage of special scholarships available to them in addition to the regular financial aid offered to all students by the U.S. government, making it easier than ever to pay for a nursing education. Even students who have to take on some debt to finish nursing school will likely earn enough to pay off their loans quickly, as nursing salaries are only going up as demand for new nurses increases.

Deciding Which Nurse Practitioner Programs to Apply For

Choosing a nurse practitioner program, and getting the right mix of online courses, in-person instruction, and clinical practice hours, can make the difference between enjoying school and struggling to finish. Important factors to consider when weighing programs are:

  • Accreditation Status: No nurse with a degree from an unaccredited school will be offered a license to practice nursing anywhere in the U.S. Accreditation is a crucial way for nursing schools to prove that they provide high-caliber education. Unaccredited schools have nothing to offer.
  • Cost vs Potential Salary: Look at the median annual salary for RNs in the area where you want to live, and look at the cost of the programs you might apply to. Make an estimate of how much debt you’ll have to acquire, and how long it will take to pay off with your expected salary. Is it worth it for you?
  • Schedule Flexibility: If you’ve got other responsibilities in life aside from school, you probably don’t want to drop everything to finish your degree. You need balance, and finding that can be hard, but a combination of online college and courses at a local community college or four-year institution can provide the right blend for you. It will take some searching, but there are a lot of flexible scheduling options for nurse practitioner programs.

The schools linked to on this site are all accredited, and offer a variety of nursing programs both online and on campus.

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.

Walden University RN to MSN: Adult Gerontology Primary Care NP
RN to MSN: Adult Gerontology Acute Care NP
RN to MSN: Psychiatric Mental Health 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.
South University MSN: Adult-Gerontology NP
RN to MSN: Family NP
RN to MSN: Nurse Education
South University - The South University Master of Science in Nursing program features a Family Nurse Practitioner specialization designed for Registered Nurses that wish to advance their skills, manage their patients care, and make critical decisions using evidence-based information. The program is conveniently offered online. For RNs looking to make a career jump, South University also offers an accelerated RN to MSN program with specialized tracks in adult health and nurse education.
Purdue University MSN
MSN: Nurse Administration
MSN: Nurse Education
MSN: Nurse Informatics
Purdue University - The Purdue University MSN and BSN 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.
Liberty University DNP
Liberty University - The Doctor of Nursing Practice specialization at the Liberty University is designed around a conceptual and clinical framework. Graduates learn advanced nursing methodologies, including clinical practice, teaching, research, and scholarship. The degree program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools.
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.
Georgetown University MSN: Midwifery and Women's Health
MS: Family Nursing Practice
MS: Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nursing Practice
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.
Catholic University of America Doctor of Nursing Practice
Catholic University of America - At the Catholic University of America, students in the Doctor of Nursing Practice program will participate in an online format that confers an advanced degree in the management of healthcare. Graduates leave CUA with the education and confidence to tackle the most pressing medical management challenges.
Grand Canyon University MSN: Nursing Education
MSN in Nursing Leadership
MSN/MBA in Leadership
MSN in Nurse Informatics
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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