May 24, 2024

Nurse Practitioner Career Guide: Steps & Benefits

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Nurse Practitioner Career Guide: Steps & Benefits

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.

Importance of a Nurse Care Practitioner 

  1. Bridging the Gap in Primary Care: Nurse Practitioners play a crucial role in addressing the shortage of primary care providers. With their advanced training and skills, NPs can provide comprehensive healthcare services, including preventive care, diagnosing and treating common illnesses, managing chronic conditions, and promoting overall wellness. By serving as primary care providers, NPs help improve access to healthcare services, particularly in underserved areas where there may be a shortage of physicians.

  2. Patient-Centered Care: NPs are known for their holistic and patient-centered approach to care. They focus on building strong relationships with their patients, actively listening to their concerns, and involving them in decision-making processes. This patient-centric approach helps foster trust, enhance communication, and ultimately leads to better health outcomes. NPs prioritize preventive care, health education, and empowering patients to take an active role in managing their health.

  3. Collaborative Practice: NPs are well-integrated into the healthcare team and work collaboratively with other healthcare professionals. They collaborate with physicians, specialists, nurses, and other allied health professionals to provide comprehensive and coordinated care. This team-based approach ensures that patients receive the most effective and efficient healthcare services, leveraging the expertise of each team member.

  4. Continuity of Care: NPs often develop long-term relationships with their patients, providing continuity of care across different healthcare settings. They can follow patients from primary care clinics to hospitals, nursing homes, and home care settings, ensuring seamless transitions and comprehensive care management. This continuity helps improve patient outcomes, reduce hospital readmissions, and enhance overall patient satisfaction.

  5. Cost-Effective Care: Studies have shown that incorporating NPs into healthcare teams can lead to cost savings without compromising the quality of care. NPs can provide high-quality care at a lower cost compared to physicians, making them valuable assets in managing healthcare costs. Their focus on preventive care, health promotion, and chronic disease management can help prevent costly hospitalizations and interventions.

  6. Meeting Diverse Healthcare Needs: NPs are trained in various specialties, including family practice, pediatrics, geriatrics, women's health, and mental health. Their specialized knowledge allows them to address the diverse healthcare needs of different populations and age groups. NPs can provide targeted care to vulnerable populations, such as children, the elderly, underserved communities, and individuals with complex healthcare needs.

‍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. Nurse practitioner education typically involves completing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree as the foundation. This undergraduate program provides students with a solid understanding of nursing principles, anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and patient care. 

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.

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.

Responsibilities and Duties of Nurse Practitioners (NPs) in Healthcare Settings:

  1. Performing Comprehensive Assessments: NPs are responsible for conducting thorough patient assessments, including physical examinations, medical histories, and gathering relevant health information. They utilize their advanced clinical skills to identify health issues, make diagnoses, and develop appropriate treatment plans.

  2. Diagnosing and Treating Illnesses: NPs have the authority to diagnose and treat a wide range of common acute and chronic illnesses. They prescribe medications, order diagnostic tests, interpret test results, and develop personalized care plans based on their assessment findings. NPs collaborate with patients to manage their conditions effectively and monitor their progress.

  3. Providing Preventive Care: NPs prioritize preventive healthcare by promoting wellness and disease prevention. They educate patients about healthy lifestyles, offer immunizations, conduct health screenings, and provide counseling on topics such as nutrition, exercise, and smoking cessation. NPs also emphasize early detection and management of risk factors to prevent the development of chronic diseases.

  4. Managing Chronic Conditions: NPs play a vital role in managing chronic conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, asthma, and heart disease. They work closely with patients to develop personalized care plans, monitor disease progression, adjust medications, provide patient education, and support self-management strategies. NPs empower patients to take an active role in managing their conditions to improve quality of life and minimize complications.

  5. Performing Procedures: Depending on their specialty and state regulations, NPs may perform various medical procedures. This can include suturing wounds, administering injections, inserting intravenous (IV) lines, performing minor surgical procedures, conducting gynecological exams, and providing prenatal care. NPs ensure proper technique, adhere to safety protocols, and maintain infection control standards.

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  1. Collaborating with Healthcare Team: NPs work collaboratively with other healthcare professionals to provide comprehensive patient care. They actively participate in multidisciplinary teams, consulting with physicians, specialists, nurses, pharmacists, and other allied health professionals. NPs contribute their expertise, share information, coordinate care transitions, and ensure effective communication to optimize patient outcomes.

  2. Patient Education and Counseling: NPs prioritize patient education and counseling to promote self-care and empower patients to make informed decisions about their health. They provide guidance on medication management, lifestyle modifications, disease management strategies, and the potential risks and benefits of different treatment options. NPs also offer emotional support, address patient concerns, and provide resources for further information and support.

  3. Health Advocacy: NPs advocate for their patients' health and well-being, ensuring they receive appropriate and equitable care. They address social determinants of health, cultural considerations, and individual patient needs. NPs may collaborate with community organizations, support patient access to healthcare resources, and engage in health policy advocacy to improve healthcare outcomes at the local and national levels.

  4. Documentation and Record-Keeping: NPs maintain accurate and detailed patient records, documenting assessments, diagnoses, treatments, and follow-up plans. They adhere to legal and regulatory standards for documentation and ensure confidentiality of patient information. Clear and thorough documentation facilitates effective communication among healthcare team members and supports continuity of care.

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 Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median salary salary for a nurse practitioner was $111,680 in 2020. Furthermore, the job prospects for nurse practitioners are looking pretty good. The BLS also reports that the demand for nurse practitioners will increase by 26% over the coming decade—this translates to increased job security.

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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Program outcomes may vary depending on each institution's specific curriculum and employment opportunities are not guranteed.