Nurse Practitioner Guide: Education, Salary and Scope of Practice

Nurse practitioner programs take two or more years after earning a bachelor of science in nursing. On average, nurse practitioners earn $115,800 per year. They have a wider scope of practice than nurses without masters degrees and are able to prescribe medicine. 

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Nurse practitioners are sort of like a cross between a nurse and a doctor. They are typically nurses with advanced degrees, so they can provide more services and procedures than a nurse with just a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN. Their nursing background and hands-on experience gives them an insight into how to care for patients, while their licensing allows them to perform duties normally reserved for physicians. 

How do you become a nurse practitioner?

While state board requirements may vary across the country, the general path to becoming a nurse practitioner is straightforward.

First, you’ll need to earn your BSN. This degree is a prerequisite for becoming a nurse practitioner. If you have a non-nursing undergraduate degree, you can apply to a bridge program to obtain a BSN in less than two years. After you’ve earned a BSN, you need to earn your RN certification by taking - and passing - the National Council for Licensure Examination (NCLEX).  Once you pass the NCLEX, you’ll begin working as an RN in the specialized field of your choosing. You can get certified in your field of focus by passing national certification exams and completing related fieldwork. 

After that, it’s back to grad school to earn your Master of Science (MsN) degree or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). There are nearly 400 nurse practitioner programs. When choosing a nurse practitioner program, consider the following factors: 

  • Choose a program that offers your preferred learning style—online learning, on-campus learning or or some combination of the two
  • Find a program that offers training with your desired populations. For example, you might want to specialize in gerontology, family or pediatrics
  • Consider the program’s graduation certificate rate, reputation and accreditation. Ultimately, you want to easily find your dream job after you graduate 

After all this schooling and training and testing, you have just a couple more hoops to jump through: nurse practitioner certification and licensure. You can get certified with a number of organizations, like the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB), American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN), Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB), American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), and National Certification Corporation (NCC). On the other hand, you need proof of schooling and certification in your field before you can get licensed.

Once you’ve cleared those, all that’s left to do is find a job. Keep in mind that for as straightforward as this career path is, it’s going to take you six to six and a half years to get there. 

What does a nurse practitioner do?

In the U.S, nurse practitioners help fill the needs gap in the health care system left by a shortage of primary care physicians.  Nurse practitioners most commonly provide primary care, which covers a range of medical duties including counseling, long-term health monitoring, and care for common diseases. 

92% of the 192,000 credentialed primary care nurse practitioners in the U.S. are actively practicing. They perform a common set of duties despite the demographic they serve, such as care coordination, health promotion, continuing management of acute and chronic conditions, and first response care for a host of undifferentiated conditions. NPs are more likely to practice in rural areas compared to other primary care disciplines; 18% of NPs practice in communities of less than 25,000 people. This prevalence in rural communities may be owed to the fact that NPs provide care that is equal to or better, yet cheaper than other comparable services. The 2010 Institute of Medicine (IOM) Report, “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health,” states that Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs), which includes NPs, have a proven track record of providing care across demographics and settings. The strength of this fact is likely to be demonstrated in the rising demand for elderly care in the U.S., a call that NPs, with their extensive training and licensing, can answer.

While nurse practitioners can specialize in pretty much any medical sub-field, many tend to choose pediatrics, mental health, family care, and geriatric care. Nurse practitioners can also prescribe medications (including controlled substances) in all 50 states except Washington D.C. Furthermore, nurse practitioners have full practice in 20 states, which means they do not have to answer to a doctor while working.

How much do nurse practitioners make?

The idea of spending the better half of a decade in nursing school might be softened by the fact that the average salary for a nurse practitioner is $115,800. Furthermore, the job prospects for nurse practitioners are looking pretty good. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for nurse practitioners will increase by 26% over the coming decade.—his translates to increased job security.

Interestingly, salaries between RNs, nurse practitioners, and primary care physicians vary considerably. RNs can earn anywhere between $57,000-$113,000, depending on the state, while the average salary for a nurse practitioner is well over $100,000. According to Payscale.com, salaries for nurse practitioners also vary from specialty to specialty, and the average salaries for some of these specialties falls below $100,000. For example, the average salary of a pediatric care nurse practitioner is $88,558, while for a women’s health nurse practitioner it’s $90,047. Similarly, the average salaries of primary care physicians also varies according to specialty, such as pediatricians, whose average salary is $184,000. However, primary care physicians still make the most among these three types of healthcare professionals, with their average salary topping out at $195,000.

Because of nurse practitioners’ unique blend of schooling, training, and licensing, they are able to reach a group of people that varies widely in demographic and socioeconomic status. This makes them an indispensable facet of the medical workforce, who will only become invaluable  as the U.S. population demographic continues to shift in the coming decades.

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