Nurse practitioners are Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) who are helping to mitigate the effects of the national physician shortage by serving as primary care providers. They hold advanced degrees, either an MSN (Master of Science in Nursing) or DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice), national certification in a patient population focus, and state APRN licensure.
The role of the nurse practitioner can differ somewhat depending on the state in which the nurse is practicing. Certain states allow them to work completely independently, whereas others require them to work under either direct supervision or a collaborative agreement with a doctor.
If you want to become a nurse practitioner, there are a number of things you’ll want to think about as you consider your education options and a number of things you need to know to make informed decisions.
The Education Pathways Towards Becoming a Nurse Practitioner
The duties of a Nurse Practitioner are varied. They record and analyze the medical history of patients, conduct physical exams, order tests, prescribe certain types of therapy and more.
Different medical settings and states have different requirements in terms of national certification and the exact nature of the education NPs must have. However, a master’s degree is the bare minimum anywhere. By definition, NPs are specialized in one or more patient population focus area: family/individual across the lifespan, pediatric (acute or primary), adult-geriatric (acute or primary), neonatal, women’s health, or psychiatric/mental health.
The following educational pathways exist for those looking to become an NP:
- Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). It will take around three years to complete this course of study, which will include core courses in the areas of pathophysiology, health assessment, and advanced pharmacology.
- Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). DNP programs often include advanced courses in leadership, population health, and typically culminate in a final capstone project.
A lot of people now seek to study online. This allows them to study on their own time, while they continue to work and bring home a paycheck. MSN and DNP programs specific to each of the various population focus areas are available online.
Program advisors place students with local hospitals to complete practical training and post-baccalaureate practice hours. Very often this is done at the nurse’s existing place of employment.
Hybrid programs will require you to attend class on campus once every semester or so, while fully online programs will help you to arrange practical experience rotations in your own geographical area without ever having to attend class in person.
Nurse practitioners generally start out as licensed RNs before making the transition to advanced practice. Many ADN-educated nurses go on to earn a BSN before finally enrolling in a graduate program, though RN-MSN programs are available that allow ADNs to earn a BSN and MSN all in one accelerated program.
In terms of getting licensed as an NP, the requirements depend on the state in which you live. Each state’s board of nursing will set out the requirements for advanced practice licensing. Your state board will also inform you of any additional qualifications required for performing certain tasks, namely working independently or prescribing medication.
Prerequisites for Studying Towards Becoming an NP
In order to become an NP, a number of steps have to be followed first. These are:
- Earning a nursing undergraduate degree. For students coming from a field other than nursing, this can be done through accelerated programs that include both undergraduate and graduate-level training.
- Becoming a registered nurse by passing the NCLEX-RN.
- Completing a graduate degree in the field of nursing.
- Obtaining an Advanced Practice Nursing license.
- Obtaining certification in a specific patient population focus.
Information is widely available on how to complete these five steps in preparation for a career as a Nurse Practitioner.
Whether you study in a physical classroom or online, it is very important that you attend an accredited program. This is particularly important if the program you are considering is only available online.
Only programs that have been accredited by the CCNE or ACEN have been proven to deliver a comprehensive education that meets state board approval and that ensures graduates are eligible for certification.
The Cost of Becoming a Nurse Practitioner
The cost of becoming a Nurse Practitioner depends on a number of different factors. The education pathway you choose is one important factor: whether it’s an MSN or DNP and whether the program is designed as a bridge program for ADN-educated nurses or a standard post-bachelor’s graduate program.
Other factors include where you live, the school you choose, and even the program’s focus in a particular area of specialization. If you decide to study online, you are likely to find programs are more affordable.
Scholarships and Financial Aid for Nurse Practitioners
Financial aid and scholarships are often available for those studying toward a nurse practitioner degree. Generally speaking, the school you choose will have details about where to go in order to apply for financial aid.
It is also worth visiting the AACN portal for more information. You will be able to find information not just on the type of financial aid that is available, but also what repayment options are available and whether or not there are forgiveness programs.
Working as a Nurse Practitioner
There are many places where you could work as a nurse practitioner. You could work in community care programs, hospitals, physician’s offices, the military, the prison system and more.
The salary you could earn as an NP is another interesting thing to consider. Salaries tend to vary based on where you work and how long you have worked in that field. Information is available through the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which highlights the various factors that influence earning potential for nurse practitioners.
The median annual wage for nurse practitioners as of the latest BLS report (May 2016) was $100,910. However, as this is the median, it means half of all nurses will earn more than that, while the other half will earn less. The bottom 10% of NPs earned an average of $72,420 that year, and the top 10% earned $140,930, which is a significant difference. It is also important to look into the benefits that different employers offer.
For instance, they may offer childcare, bonuses, flexible schedules, education reimbursement programs and so on. Furthermore, those who earn the highest salaries tend to do a lot of shift work, meaning they are at work during evenings, weekends and holidays. Additionally, they may regularly be “on call.” All of these things mean that they will earn more money overall.
Job prospects are very good for nurse practitioners. Indeed, the nursing profession is growing faster than any other profession in the country.
There are a number of things contributing to the growing demand for NPs and the strong growth the field is experiencing, including:
- An aging population that is placing a greater demand on healthcare services.
- Unhealthy lifestyles leading to more health problems. Obesity, which is now common even in young people, is a major concern for healthcare workers, as various medical conditions are associated with it.
- The Affordable Care Act and the more recent American Health Care Act have led to more people being able to access healthcare.
- Outpatient care is growing exponentially. Some of the treatment that is now available includes same day chemo, rehabilitation and surgery.
In general, nurses have great prospects for employment; however, Nurse Practitioners consistently rank among those with the most opportunities. This makes the career even more appealing to RNs interested in taking the leap to begin working in advanced practice. Although it may take several years to get to that level, most say that it is well worth the effort.