The Top 15 Career Path Options for Nurse Practitioners

by NurseJournal Staff
• 4 min read

Interested in becoming a nurse practitioner? Learn about different types of nurse practitioners, what they do, and typical salaries.

The Top 15 Career Path Options for Nurse Practitioners

Like physicians, nurse practitioners (NPs) can choose from a variety of specializations, which determine what roles they take as advanced practice registered nurses. Choosing a specialization can depend on:

Your career goals Which patient population you prefer to work with The impact you want to make in patients' lives Financial and job security

This page explores some of the most common types of nurse practitioners, what these NPs do, and what their jobs are like.

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Popular Types of Nurse Practitioners

These are the 15 most popular specialties, based on the percentage of nurse practitioners who hold each specialty certification. All percentages and salary figures are taken from the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP).

By far, the most popular specialty is family nursing. Almost 70% of NPs are certified as family nurse practitioners (FNPs). However, there are many other options.

Candidates for all specializations must graduate from an accredited master's or doctoral program, pass a board exam, and receive certification from the accrediting board.

The majority (69.7%) of nurse practitioners have a career as family nurse practitioners. FNPs work as primary care providers in various settings, including private physicians' offices, hospitals, and health systems and clinics.

The AANP and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) certify family nurse practitioners.

Certain factors make this one of the most popular types of nurse practitioners, including:

  • High demand
  • Professional autonomy
  • The ability to help patients and communities

Adult nurse practitioners make up 10.8% of all nurse practitioners. They are generalists who specialize in treating adult patients, while primary care nurse practitioners may see patients of all ages.

Adult nurse practitioners work in various healthcare, educational, or government settings, usually as primary care providers. They diagnose health conditions, prescribe treatment, perform patient education, and refer patients to other medical professionals as needed. This board certification is only available for renewal, not new applications.

A career as an adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner involves treating older adults, usually over the age of 65. While 7% of NPs hold this certification, demand for this type of nurse practitioner is expected to increase alongside a growing number of older adults.

Adult-gerontology primary care NPs usually work in private specialty practices, hospitals and health systems, and residential care facilities like nursing homes.

After graduating from an accredited program, prospective adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioners must earn certification from the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners or the ANCC.

Only 4.7% of nurse practitioners hold the psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner certification. However, this type of nurse practitioner position is likely to become more common as the demand for mental healthcare providers continues to grow.

Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners work in private specialty practices, hospitals, mental health facilities, correctional systems, public organizations, and clinics. They diagnose mental health conditions and develop treatment plans. Like all nurse practitioners, they are authorized in most states to prescribe drugs, including controlled substances. However, some states require a collaborative agreement with a physician.

Formerly known as a family psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner certification, this credential is available from the ANCC.

Acute care nurse practitioners differ from FNPs and make up 4.1% of all nurse practitioners. This credential is available only for renewal. Instead, aspiring nurse practitioners interested in acute care can specialize in either pediatric or geriatric acute care or work as emergency nurse practitioners.

This type of nurse practitioner works almost exclusively in hospitals or urgent care facilities. Some may work in standalone emergency departments or other acute care settings. They specialize in treating patients with acute illnesses or injuries.

Around 3.2% of NPs become pediatric nurse practitioners. Most work in private practices, hospitals and health systems, clinics, and other healthcare settings that serve children. They generally serve as a child's primary care provider.

This type of nurse practitioner may also work in schools. Some oversee all school nurses within a single district.

According to AANP, pediatric primary care nurse practitioners can expect a median annual salary of $108,500. The ANCC and Pediatric Nursing Certification Board both offer this certification.

Adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioners make up 2.9% of all nurse practitioners and specialize in acute care for older adults. A career as an adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner might mean working in hospitals, health systems, or residential programs like nursing homes or hospice facilities.

Adult-gerontology acute care NPs experience patient deaths at a higher rate than other nurse practitioners, which requires more psychological resilience and the ability to communicate with patients' loved ones effectively and empathetically.

This type of nurse practitioner must receive certification from the ANCC and can expect to make $112,000 annually, according to AANP data.

Women's health nurse practitioners provide female patients with primary or specialty care. They work in a variety of settings, including private general and specialty practices, hospitals and health systems, and clinics.

This type of nurse practitioner makes up 2.9% of all NPs and enjoys a median annual salary of $105,000. Women's health nurse practitioners receive their credentials from the National Certification Corporation.

Making up 1.8% of all nurse practitioners, gerontology nurse practitioners specialize in treating elderly patients. They may work in hospitals or health systems, private practices, or residential facilities like assisted living or nursing homes.

Like other gerontology specialists, these nurse practitioners face the emotional challenges of developing relationships with patients who might have terminal conditions. The ANCC and Gerontology Nursing Certification Commission both certify gerontology nurse practitioners.

AANP reports the median annual salary for this type of nurse practitioner is $118,000.

Hospice and palliative care nurse practitioners work within a team, caring for patients who are likely to live six months or less. They also assist patients with terminal conditions who no longer want to pursue treatment.

Those who choose a career as a hospice nurse practitioner must be exceptionally skilled at communicating and providing patients and their families with emotional support.

Around 1.5% of all nurse practitioners specialize in this area. This type of nurse practitioner must seek certification from the Hospice & Palliative Nursing Association.

A career as an oncology nurse practitioner involves treating patients with cancer. They assist surgeons and physicians during operations, administer treatments, monitor patients' results, and provide patient education.

Most work with a team at a hospital or health system, though some find roles in private specialty practices.

Only 1.4% of nurse practitioners hold this certification, which is available from the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation. According to AANP, this type of nurse practitioner earns a median annual salary of $119,000.

Emergency nurse practitioners work in hospitals, health systems, standalone emergency centers, and military settings. This type of nurse practitioner makes up 1.1% of all nurse practitioners.

Careers in emergency room nursing as an NP can be stressful, but it provides exciting opportunities to save lives and make dramatic, positive changes for patients and their families. Emergency nurse practitioners must excel in working as part of a team.

Accrediting agencies include the AANP and the ANCC, although only the ANCC processes renewals.

Neonatal nurse practitioners care for newborn infants. Depending on the workplace, they may work in neonatal intensive care units, with all neonates, or with both neonates and their birth mothers.

Nursing newborns can be an emotional roller coaster, especially in a neonatal intensive care unit, and those who choose a career path as a neonatal nurse practitioner must be emotionally resilient.

AANP research shows this type of nurse practitioner makes a median annual salary of $122,500 and represents 1.0% of all nurse practitioners. The National Certification Corporation certifies neonatal nurse practitioners.

Pediatric acute care nurse practitioners represent 0.8% of all nurse practitioners and generally take positions in hospital pediatrics departments or children's hospitals. Some work in emergency departments in hospitals or standalone facilities.

The Pediatric Nursing Certification Board oversees new certifications and renewals, while the ANCC only offers renewals. According to AANP data, the median annual salary for a pediatric acute care nurse practitioner is $112,000.

Dermatology nurse practitioners work in private practices, hospitals, and health systems as part of a dermatology team. Dermatology nurse practitioners make up 0.4% of all nurse practitioners. They diagnose skin conditions, prescribe and administer treatments, educate patients, and assist physicians and surgeons during procedures.

Because dermatology rarely involves life-threatening conditions or emergencies (with the exceptions of skin cancer patients and burn units), this type of nurse practitioner job is less stressful than other specialties. The Dermatology Nurses' Association offers accreditation.

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