Have you considered advancing your career by becoming a nurse practitioner (NP)? In 2018, approximately 270,000 nurse practitioners (NPs) were practicing in the U.S. and provided an estimated 1.06 billion patient visits. NPs have advanced training, a low malpractice rate, and can work in nearly every setting and medical specialty. The profession is a key foundation in healthcare and patient education.
We interview Karen Chung, an NP who shares her experiences practicing in the U.S. and abroad. Read on to discover the everyday skills and responsibilities of a nurse practitioner. You can also find out how to step into the NP role and what kind of annual salary to expect.
Q&A With a Nurse Practitioner
It was on 9/11/2001 when she saw the second plane hit while working at a Wall Street bank that Chung realized she needed to do something else in her life that would make the world a better place. After years of soul-searching, in 2005, she quit her high-paying Wall Street job and moved to Sydney, Australia, to start nursing school. She worked as a registered nurse (RN) in the Outback for two years, then returned to the U.S. to work at Jersey City Medical Center ER in 2010.
She found herself in Haiti when she volunteered for one month and sponsored the education of two Haitians, starting a nonprofit. With the desire to do more, Chung earned her master's in nursing in June 2016. She completed a fellowship with Community Healthcare Network and now works for CVS Minute Clinic as a family nurse practitioner.
Q: Why did you choose to become a nurse?
In 2001, after seeing the second plane hit the World Trade Center while working in the financial industry, I realized I wanted to do work that directly contributed and helped others to make a difference in the world.
Q: You've worked in many international places as a nurse, including Australia and Haiti. What was your experience like working as a nurse internationally?
The nurse's job is a universal one with its core values of compassion and empathy. The big difference between being a nurse in Australia, Haiti, and the United States is one of resources. Depending on where you are, you may or may not have helpers, air conditioning, or gloves to work with or even gratitude for your profession.
Q: In the U.S., you spent many years working the night shift in the emergency room (ER). What was it like working the night shift in such an intense environment?
Working the ER itself is grueling and working the night shift further heightens that experience. Oftentimes, the ER is inappropriately used for nonlife-threatening conditions. But those coming into the ER at 2 a.m. seriously need care. Since it is a less desired shift, the strength was in the camaraderie and skill in working together with a short staff.
Q: What led you to pursue a career as a nurse practitioner?
Volunteering in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, I realized I wanted to do more to help Haiti and others. While interviewing with Doctors Without Borders in Haiti which actually needed more nurse practitioners than registered nurses, I decided to enroll in the family nurse practitioner program to gain further knowledge about health and medicine.
Q: What are some of the greatest challenges and rewards to being a nurse practitioner?
Hearing a "thank you" and seeing a recovered patient is always a great reward. It is always a challenge to manage the care of an unwell child.
Q: What advice would you give to individuals looking to enter the nursing field from a different profession, as you did?
As with all transitions into the unknown, there will be ups and downs. But, know that by becoming a nurse, you are contributing to the betterment of this world as well as empowering yourself to truly be a real life superhero!
What Does a Nurse Practitioner Do?
Nurse practitioners assess and diagnose medical conditions. They order and interpret tests, prescribe treatments, and collaborate with colleagues. However, the scope of practice will vary among states and sometimes specialties.
Each specialty focuses on different conditions. Yet, NPs have many of the same nursing skills and responsibilities. They can:
How to Become a Nurse Practitioner
The path to becoming a nurse practitioner is rigorous. Students must first choose nursing as a career and complete a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) from an accredited college. To be licensed to practice nursing in the state where you live, you must take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN).
Eligibility for the NCLEX-RN may differ slightly from state to state. Contact the nursing regulatory body in your state to determine eligibility requirements. Generally, you must prove you have graduated from an accredited program, apply for licensure in your state, and fill out an application. Some states also require a background check, including a search for federal and civilian criminal charges.
The minimum degree required to become an NP is a master of science in nursing (MSN). Many nurses practice for several years before applying to accredited MSN programs. You will likely find an MSN degree program that supports nursing adult learners who are working.
Nurse practitioners are educated in the specialty in which they choose to practice. The most general specialty is a family nurse practitioner (FNP). Once you have graduated from an accredited MSN program, you must meet the requirements to practice as an NP in your state. Your state board of nursing will have a list of those requirements.
One eligibility requirement for licensure is a nursing certification examination in your specialty. For example, the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board administers certification exams for FNPs, emergency nurse practitioners, and adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioners. The Pediatric Nursing Certification Board provides certification for primary care pediatric NPs, and the Orthopaedic Nurses Certification Board offers certification for orthopaedic nurse practitioners.
How Much Do Nurse Practitioners Make?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nurse practitioners can expect an outstanding 45% growth rate over the next few years. This also includes nurse anesthetists and certified midwives and is much higher than the expected average growth rate of other professions.
NPs can expect the average annual NP salary to vary. It depends on specialty, location, and experience. For example, BLS data cites the average NP salary in California as $145,970, while the overall national average is $98,760 as of September 2021, according to PayScale. The average salary, as per PayScale, for a family nurse practitioner is $96,990 and $111,510 for a psychiatric NP.
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