Opportunities abound for nurse practitioners (NPs), medical professionals who are vital in all areas of health care. Their efforts enable affordable and accessible care for many types of patients.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an astounding outlook of 45 percent for nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, and nurse midwives between 2020 and 2030. By comparison, the outlook across all industries is a mere 8 percent. This huge demand has prompted many health care employers to provide generous wages and benefits to qualified NPs. This is reflected in BLS data, which reveals that this position provided a median annual salary of $111,680 in 2020.
Demand is high across many types of NP specialties. Prior to choosing a specific career path, however, it is important for aspiring NPs to understand which opportunities are available and how they can prepare accordingly while seeking a Master of Science in Nursing.
What Do Nurse Practitioners Do?
Nurse practitioners offer a variety of high-level nursing services for their patients. Their licensure requirements and scope of work can differ considerably based on their specialty, but most are involved with assessing patients and developing strategies for improving their health. They may also be called on to prescribe medications, order lab work, or refer patients to other facilities for additional care.
How to Become a Nurse Practitioner
While nurse practitioners enjoy a streamlined training process as compared to other high-level medical professionals, significant commitment is still required to succeed in this career track.
First, aspiring NPs must become registered nurses. Along the way, they must earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Many complete this requirement by enrolling in RN to BSN programs.
As they seek the requisite academic credentials, nurses who hope to take the step up to NP must also obtain significant on-the-job experience. Typically, RNs work in the field for multiple years prior to pursuing graduate-level coursework.
Once they’ve gained sufficient experience, RNs can apply for and enroll in Master of Science in Nursing programs. These graduate degrees are often offered online, so busy nurses can continue to gain experience in the field.
The final step to becoming a nurse practitioner: earning certification through the relevant board. This means passing an exam related to the aspiring NP’s preferred patient population. Upon passing, NPs can apply for state licensure. This must be periodically renewed by completing continuing education credits.
Types of Nurse Practitioner Specialties
Nurse practitioners are often associated with family and primary care, but they are also heavily involved in nearly every area of the modern health care industry. Their influence is expected to further expand in the future. As such, aspiring NPs may want to consider getting involved in one of these specialties:
Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGNP)
While this label includes the term gerontology, the role actually encompasses care across the span of adulthood. It’s a broad-based practice that involves assessing, diagnosing, and treating patients ages 13 and up. Throughout this continuum of care, AGNPs focus on disease prevention. Their efforts help patients establish healthy practices with the long-term goal of avoiding chronic ailments or managing them more effectively.
Often, AGNPs are responsible for prescribing medications and performing reconciliations for patients with multiple prescriptions. Depending on the scope of their patients’ diagnoses, these NPs may also need to make referrals to specialists or acute care facilities.
Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
As with the role of AGNP, the scope of work for a family nurse practitioner can be vast. This career track involves primary care for patients of all ages. Typically, FNPs provide care within family practices where they enjoy a high degree of autonomy. The comprehensive nature of their work means that they can play an authoritative role in patient management.
Many FNPs find their efforts with patient management fulfilling not only because they hold a position of respect, but also because they are able to maintain strong relationships with their patients. In other areas of the medical profession, these connections often take a backseat as professionals climb the career ladder.
Education plays a critical role in the day-to-day work of the modern FNP, who may need to not only provide insight for patients but, also, coaching and instruction for RNs and other health care staff members.
Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
Mental health care is a critical component of the medical field. Psychiatric nurse practitioners receive targeted training that allows them to accurately assess, diagnose, and treat patients with a variety of mental health concerns. These range from depression to anxiety and may also encompass substance abuse or eating disorders.
Mental health nurse practitioners may be employed in a variety of settings, such as psychiatric hospitals or outpatient clinics. Depending on where they work or which patient populations they serve, they may be needed to assess or treat patients in crisis. As NPs, they are allowed to prescribe medications when necessary.
Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
Committed to working with young children, pediatric nurse practitioners (PNPs) fulfill many of the same roles as pediatricians. Their work also holds some overlap with the previously discussed FNPs. As pediatric specialists, however, these nurse practitioners work exclusively with infants, young children, adolescents, and young adults. Their work encompasses a variety of tasks, but the following are especially common:
- Conducting developmental screenings
- Administering immunizations
- Performing school physicals
Emergency Nurse Practitioner
As one of the most demanding nurse practitioner specialties, emergency care means responding to urgent concerns that, if not properly treated, could result in long-term harm or even death.
Due to the changeable nature of the ER setting, no two days look quite alike for emergency NPs. Often, however, they are tasked with the following:
- Performing procedures such as incisions & drainage (I&D) or suturing
- Completing first reads on x-rays
- Ordering lab work and clinical tests
- Overseeing crisis management, including agitated patients
- Collaborating with attending physicians or specialists
Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP)
Nurse practitioners who are passionate about women’s health care concerns — especially as they relate to reproductive or maternal health — are often an excellent fit for the WHNP specialty. This niche emphasizes preventative care for women throughout their lifespan. Their work typically takes place within primary care facilities, although other settings may include specialty clinics, assisted living facilities, or hospitals.
While WHNPs can provide a range of services, they are often called on to perform Papanicolaou (pap) tests or breast cancer screenings. They may also conduct fertility evaluations or pregnancy tests. Many work extensively with patients undergoing menopause.
While providing targeted, female-oriented care, WHNPs make a point of educating their patients on reproductive health — an area in which many lack basic knowledge or awareness. Through providing empathetic and informative care, they hope to make patients more attuned to and invested in their own reproductive health.
Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP)
APRNs with extensive experience caring for newborns may have the opportunity to become neonatal nurse practitioners. Responsible for providing postnatal care for vulnerable newborns, NNPs design targeted treatment plans to address a wide range of issues.
The role of NNP may encompass both acute and preventative care. This often takes place within hospital-based newborn intensive care units (NICUs), although some NNPs work in clinics. Often, they are also involved in managing or attending home health checkups.
Regardless of their work setting, NNPS are often responsible for:
- Interpreting laboratory tests
- Conducting diagnostic procedures
- Coordinating discharge from the hospital
- Assisting midwives or physicians with resuscitation efforts
Take the Next Step Towards Becoming a Nurse Practitioner
A variety of opportunities enable nurse practitioners to navigate the career ladder in a way they find personally fulfilling. All of these roles require an elite education level and years of training — but there’s no reward quite like making a positive difference in the lives of patients and their loved ones.
Interested in pursuing a fulfilling career as a nurse practitioner? A strong education will get you on the path to success in this growing field. You’ll find exceptional training when you enroll in one of the NP programs at the American Sentinel College of Nursing & Health Science at Post University. Contact us today to learn more about our degree programs.
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