Health 2 Wellness

Becoming a Nurse Practitioner: What You Need to Know

Becoming a Nurse Practitioner: What You Need to Know

Many nursing professionals strive to progress their careers, and becoming a nurse practitioner is the ideal career goal for most. This increasingly popular profession requires advanced training and knowledge, and registered nurses with the right qualifications and experience can enjoy many advantages of becoming a nurse practitioner.

These nursing professionals benefit from working in the best job in healthcare, they earn a high salary, and they enjoy a high level of job autonomy that many other nursing professions cannot offer. There is also a growing need for qualified nurse practitioners, which means picking this career will give you good job security. Nurse practitioners can also choose to specialize in a specific area, and they can work in a range of environments outside of the typical healthcare and medical setting. Here is a thorough guide to the role of a nurse practitioner, how you can become certified, and other important things you need to know when pursuing this career.

The Role of a Nurse Practitioner

According to Gallup’s annual Most Honest and Ethical Professions Poll, nurses have held the top spot since 2003. With the occurrence of the coronavirus pandemic in the last couple of years, this is quite a feat. As one of the most trusted groups of professionals in the United States, it is no wonder working nurses want to step up to take on more responsibility as a nurse practitioner. Nurse practitioners (NPs) are advanced practice registered nurses who have achieved advanced qualifications and experience. They deliver primary and preventative patient care, and their duties include assessing and diagnosing patients, ordering tests, and prescribing medication.

Nurse Practitioners Are Advanced Practice Registered Nurses

As mentioned above, nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), which means they have a wider scope of practice due to the advanced degree they have obtained and the extensive experience they have gained over the years. These nurses are highly competent in what they do and can provide comprehensive care to patients. APRNs can choose to specialize as nurse practitioners, a clinical nurse specialist (CNS), certified nurse midwife (CNM), and certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA). With specific training and education, they can specialize further within these professions.

Nurse Practitioners Can Pick a Specialty

According to the U.S News and World Report’s 2022 Best Health Care Jobs, the role of the nurse practitioner tops the list. Besides a high salary and the opportunity to grow, nurse practitioners can narrow their focus and pick an area to specialize in. These specialties are often chosen as part of a student’s advanced degree program. Here are a few top roles for advanced practice registered nurses.

1. Family Nurse Practitioner

The role of a family nurse practitioner (FNP) involves providing primary and preventative healthcare for individuals, families, and communities with a family-centered focus. These healthcare professionals are often the first point of call for their patients, and they provide care to their patients for a long period of their life. FNPs have the advantage of developing meaningful connections with their patients, which makes this specialism particularly rewarding. Besides assessing and diagnosing patients, they also offer advice and help educate their patients about healthy lifestyle choices and disease prevention. FNPs share similar responsibilities with physicians and work in a range of settings.

2. Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner

Adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioners (AGACNPs) provide comprehensive care for adults ranging from late adolescence to adults in the later stages of life. As people age, their healthcare needs become more complex, and their chance of getting chronic conditions, such as diabetes, obesity, and hypertension, increases. The acute care AGACNPs provide involves treating chronic and complex illnesses and injuries and helping patients manage their conditions. Older people with multiple chronic and complex conditions are often given several kinds of medication to address all of their issues. Unfortunately, polypharmacy can increase a person’s risk of health complications. AGACNPs are trained to identify these complications and help patients remain in a stable condition. There are online AGACNP programs for nurses who want to specialize in adult-gerontology acute care. In addition to obtaining an accredited degree, nurses also need at least 500 hours of supervised clinical experience and the right certification.

3. Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

  • Pediatric nurse practitioners (PNPs) provide care for young people ranging from infants to those in young adolescence. Nurse practitioners in pediatrics can specialize further by service or by body system. PNPs are responsible for assessing and examining their patients and diagnosing health conditions and illnesses. Nurse practitioners who specialize in pediatric care can expect to earn a median wage of $110,000 per year.

4. Psychiatric and Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

  • As the title suggests, psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) focus on helping people of all ages with psychiatric and mental health problems. PMHNPs are one of the most well-paid certified nurse practitioners in healthcare. They can earn around $125,000 per year. Responsibilities of a PMHNP include treating patients with behavioral problems, psychiatric disorders, and substance abuse issues. Certified nurse practitioners can also prescribe medication where necessary or choose to use therapeutic means to help their patients get better.

Full Practice Authority

One major attraction of becoming a nurse practitioner is the opportunity to practice in a full practice authority (FPA) state. Nurse practitioners who work in these states have the autonomy to practice independently in a nurse-led, private practice clinic. This licensure law enables NPs to examine, diagnose and treat the public and order and interpret tests without the supervision of a doctor. FPA states with independent nurse practitioners benefit from a boost in healthcare access, high-quality patient care, and efficient delivery of care. Nurse practitioners have proven they can meet a high level of care quality and safety standards within these full practice states.

Fast Growth Rate for Employment

From 2020 to 2030, the growth rate for NP employment is 45 percent, which is much higher than the average for all other jobs in the United States. This means that prospective nurse practitioners can rest assured that they can gain employment once they have finished their studies and gained the right certifications. The favorable job growth also means that nurse practitioners can negotiate benefits with their employers. The perks of becoming a nurse practitioner include increased wages, excellent vacation time, fair scheduling, and retirement contributions.

Growing Demand

The nurse practitioner role is one of the fastest-growing professions in the United States. As mentioned above, they boast an expected growth rate of 45 percent, which is expected to last until 2030. The growing demand for qualified nurse practitioners is down to a projected deficit of physicians in the upcoming years, the cost-effective care NPs can provide, and the aging population within the states.

1. Doctor Deficit

According to the statistics from a study made by the Association of American Medical Colleges, by 2033, there is a projected deficit of up to 139,000 doctors. The reasons behind the shortage include the rising number of aging patients with complex conditions and the inevitability of physicians reaching retirement age. Although this is natural, it is predicted that the number of physicians reaching retirement far exceeds the number of physicians entering the field. Additionally, burnout due to a high-stress position in healthcare and changes in career are also reasons behind the predicted deficit of doctors. Luckily for advanced nurses, this means that there is a huge opportunity for employment. Certified nurse practitioners can step in and help alleviate the doctor shortage issue.

2. Cost-Effective Care

Throughout the years, there have been many studies that suggest qualified nurse practitioners are cost-effective professionals within the healthcare and medical industry. When compared to physicians, research shows that nurse practitioners and physician assistants can provide excellent patient care but at a reduced total cost. Not only can nurse practitioners offer both primary and preventative care, which can help keep patients healthy, nurse practitioners also provide cost-effective consultations for patients in need.

3. Aging Population

In today’s world, humans are living longer than ever before thanks to the ever-improving and ever-evolving healthcare system. Statistics show that by 2034, older people will outnumber children aged 18 years and under. Although these statistics are commendable as they reflect the innovation of the healthcare and medical industry, the healthcare system currently in place cannot handle the growing older population. Qualified nursing professionals are needed more than ever to help address these issues and fill in the gaps that will be left due to the physician shortage. To help alleviate the issue, registered nurses are urged to gain advanced qualifications and step up as advanced practice registered nurses.

High Salary

Information gathered by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the average median wage per year for nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, and nurse-midwives is approximately $117,670. This favorable wage can also be much higher depending on where you wish to practice and your chosen specialty. Additionally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the average salary for registered nurses per annum is $75,330. The difference is substantial, and the high salary is a major attraction for nursing professionals looking to progress their careers. With over $40,000 more per year, it is no wonder that more registered nurses in the United States are looking to step up as nurse practitioners.

Steps to Become a Nurse Practitioner

As previously mentioned, nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses, and to become an NP, you must follow a few specific steps. Along the way, you can choose the type of advanced practice registered nurse you want to be, and you can also choose your specialty too.

1. Become a Registered Nurse

The first step to becoming a nurse practitioner is to become a registered nurse. To do this, you need to obtain an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) and then pass the NCLEX-RN examination.

2. Get an Advanced Degree

With an entry-level degree and a registered nurse license, the next step is to get an advanced degree that will equip you with the in-depth knowledge you need to succeed in an advanced practice role. You can choose between a master of science in nursing (MSN), a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree, or a PhD in nursing.

  • A master of science in nursing (MSN) is the most popular degree program for registered nurses. This program will help you gain the right set of skills to thrive in a clinical, educational, and administrative nursing profession. An MSN gives students insight into advanced nursing and behavioral, medical, and social sciences.
  • A DNP is one of the two doctoral degrees you can obtain. This degree prepares nurses for leadership positions and careers in clinical, education, and research settings too. Many people choose this degree program if they want to move on to executive positions in the field, such as chief nursing officer.
  • A PhD in nursing is also a doctoral degree, but this one places more focus on academia and scholarly research and less on clinical practice. This degree can take approximately seven years to achieve. Nursing professionals with a PhD can find careers within educational institutions and research labs.

3. Gain Relevant Experience

During your degree program, you should obtain clinical hours within a healthcare setting to gain first-hand experience in the field. This experience needs to take place in a supervised environment, and it should be relevant to the role you wish to take on in the future and the specialty too. The number of hours you need varies depending on the role. For example, to become an adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner, you will need at least 500 hours.

4. Certification and Licensure

Once you have graduated with an advanced degree and gained the necessary clinical hours for the type of role you wish to take on, you can then take the correct national certification examination for your specialty and obtain the relevant state license.

Working as a Nurse Practitioner

NPs can practice in a number of work environments. Once qualified and certified, nurse practitioners can provide care in hospitals, clinics, physicians’ offices, patients’ homes, and more.

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