A nurse practitioner career is a nursing vocation that’s becoming increasingly popular as the U.S. seeks to fill a huge hole in the health-care system, caused by the low number of medical doctors who are choosing to become general practitioners, or what most people think of as family physicians. Graduates of America’s medical schools are increasingly choosing to focus on a specialization, such as oncology, urology, internal medicine, etc. While having more highly trained specialists in these areas of health care is a good thing, the resulting shortage of general practitioners is causing many areas of the country to face a severe lack of primary healthcare providers. People who choose a nurse practitioner career are helping to fill this void, and this medical position is becoming increasingly popular.
A nurse practitioner (NP) is a registered nurse who has gone on to complete at least a master’s degree in an advanced nursing specialty such as family nursing, neonatology, acute care, pediatrics, gerontology, oncology, emergency medicine, etc. Even though many NPs choose to specialize in something other than family medicine, they are still, in many cases, the primary provider of medical care. In some areas, they are the sole provider. Each state has its own licensing rules and regulations, but in many states, NPs have nearly the same authority as medical doctors, and can provide medical care on their own. In other states, they must have a working relationship with a physician who is responsible to for overseeing the quality of care they provide. Common duties include providing prenatal care, prescribing prescription drugs, performing EKGs, lab tests, and x-rays, diagnosing and treating common illnesses (including both acute and chronic diseases) prescribing physical therapy, etc. They provide these services in a wide variety of settings; – some work independently in their own private clinics, others work in larger clinics as part of a medical team, some work in doctor’s offices, and others work for HMOs. Hospitals and hospice care facilities are also places where NPs can be found, as are nursing homes and government health agencies.
While most nurse practitioners have a master’s degree in their specialty, an increasing number of them are choosing to earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice in their area of specialization. This will require a longer time spent in school, but generally NPs with a doctorate have more responsibilities and earn higher salaries than NPs who only possess a master’s degree. As of this writing, for anyone planning on a nurse practitioner career, doing so with a master’s degree is probably out of the question.
The two groups that certify most NPs:
the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners and
the American Nurses Credentialing Center
They require all NP candidates to possess a Doctor of Nursing Practice beginning in 2015. It’s quite likely that at some point, all currently licensed NPs who don’t have the doctorate will be required to earn it in order to keep their license to practice. At this point in time, it’s best for all prospective candidates to plan on earning the DNP. Beyond schooling, there’s also a required nurse practitioner certification test, —the Nurse Practitioner Exam, —given in the various nursing specialties, which the candidate must pass in order to work as a nurse practitioner.
Nurse practitioner salaries are very much above average. They vary, of course, based on factors such as location and specialty. The median salary for all nurse practitioners is approximately $90,000, which means that half make more than that, and half make less. The bulk of them make between $80,000 and $100,000 a year. It should be noted that some areas of the country that are in dire need of medical professionals will repay a nurse practitioner’s student loans if he or she agrees to practice there for a given number of years. Job prospects are excellent, and should increase much faster than average for the next several years, as the shortage of doctors, and a growing need for health care, combine to drive up demand. It’s an excellent time to embark on a nurse practitioner career.