One of the possible careers for nursing majors, nurse practitioners are registered nurses who have undergone specialized graduate study to become advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). These health care professionals provide primary care to patients, but may also specialize in a particular area of medicine, such as pediatric, geriatric, or women's health. Those with careers in practical nursing play a crucial role in hospitals, group medical practices, and clinics across the nation, often serving as a main provider of health care in rural areas and inner cities, which are locations that commonly have shortages of primary care physicians. According to the BLS, nurse practitioners have the following job responsibilities:
- Diagnosing and treating patients, either independently or as part of a larger health care team, which may include physicians, other APRNS, registered nurses, and other licensed health care workers
- Promoting healthy living and disease prevention in patients, as well as advising patients on how to manage illnesses and chronic conditions
- Ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests, such as medical imaging, and lab work, such as blood tests, as needed
- Prescribing medications as needed, according to the prescriptive authority they have in the state they work in
Nurse practitioner careers came into existence in the 1960s to meet the demand for primary care when the nation faced a shortage of physicians, according to Mayo Clinic. The shortage of doctors has not gone away and is in fact expected to intensify over the next 15 years, which means nurse practitioners will be increasingly needed to fill the gaps in primary care left by doctors. According to Mayo Clinic, since nurse practitioners can perform 60% to 80% of the duties required in primary and preventative care typically associated with doctors, they will continue to be in high demand as the baby boomers age and place a greater demand on health care services, and as health care reform increases access to health care for people of all ages.
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Becoming a Nurse Practitioner
To become a nurse practitioner, you typically must first earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and obtain licensure as a registered nurse (RN). RN licensure requires clinical rotations as well as nursing course work in anatomy and physiology, microbiology, nursing science, and more. After this, a student completes graduate study specialized for nurse practitioners. This might be a master's program, a post-master's program, or even a doctorate, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). Master's programs are the most common point of entry for nurse practitioners since post-master's programs are typically reserved for RNs who have a master's degree in an area outside of nurse practitioner studies. However, the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) may be the entry-level standard in the future, the AANP explained.
Once a student is admitted to a nurse practitioner graduate program, they typically select a specialization, which could be anything from family practice, gerontological practice, or psychiatric mental health. Students complete course work in disease prevention, health promotion, health assessment, managing illnesses, and the nurse practitioner's role in health care. Students will also be required to complete advanced clinical training, often referred to as practicum experiences, in a variety of settings, and may conclude their program by submitting a thesis or graduate project. A sampling of classes you may take in a nurse practitioner program, drawn from course listings for Seattle University's primary care nurse practitioner program, include the following:
- Introduction to Primary Care
- Advanced Assessment and Differential Diagnosis
- Concepts and Theories for Advanced Practice Nursing
- Advanced Nursing Practice Roles and Functions
After completing a master's program in nurse practitioner studies, students often become certified through a credentialing organization, which will give them more access to jobs in practical nursing. For example, the AANP offers the NP-C (Nurse Practitioner-Certified) credential to nurse practitioners who pass the necessary exam. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) also offers certification for nurse practitioners in 12 different areas, including acute care NP, family NP, emergency NP, advanced diabetes management, and more. Certification from a recognized credentialing agency is often a requirement for APRN licensure in different U.S. states; for example, the state of Connecticut requires APRNs to hold both a valid RN license and be certified through one of seven different credentialing organizations, such as the AANP or the ANCC.