The number of nurse practitioners in the U.S. is at an all-time high, with almost 250,000 nurse practitioners licensed to practice – a massive increase over the last decade, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. And despite the nationwide shortage of healthcare professionals and primary care physicians, these highly-qualified, highly-trained nurse practitioners are filling in the gap, providing much-needed healthcare to the ageing population, and to thousands of newly insured patients seeking medical care.
Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest accomplishment or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.Leo Buscaglia
What Exactly is a Nurse Practitioner?
Maybe you have heard of the term ‘nurse practitioner’, but never met one in a doctor’s office. Nurse practitioners have been growing substantially in numbers since the concept was first introduced in 1965, as a way to make up for dwindling numbers of doctors. As licensed clinicians, nurse practitioners help to manage patient health and prevent disease. They are quite often advanced registered nurses (APRNs) and may specialize in one of a wide number of areas including women’s health, cardiovascular health, dermatology, pediatric, adult-gerontological and more. Generally, a nurse practitioner will have gained at least a master’s degree, and some will have also earned an advanced degree known as a doctor of nursing practice (DNP).
Studies show that patients tend to be more satisfied with the quality of care that they receive from nurse practitioners compared with under doctors. Patients under the care of a nurse practitioner tend to need fewer visits to the ER, and have fewer preventable hospitalizations and hospital re-admissions compared to patients under a doctor’s care.
What Do You Need to Become a Nurse Practitioner?
Have a heart that never hardens, a temper that never tires, a touch that never hurts.Charles Dickens
If you’re thinking of a career as a nurse practitioner, then you will typically need to begin your career as a registered nurse. You have several different options when it comes to reaching this goal – most RNs will earn an associate or bachelor’s degree from an accredited school or college including community colleges, four-year universities and vocational colleges. There are also options for earning a nursing degree online, or working as an apprentice to earn your degree on-the-job. In addition, prospective nurses who hold a non-nursing bachelor’s degree may have the option of enrolling in an accelerated program to gain credentials as a registered nurse. Or, you may want to consider training as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) before going on to quality as an RN.
Regardless of the pathway that you choose into nursing, you will need to pass a standardized national exam, and obtain a state license before you can practice nursing. A nurse practitioner generally must have obtained a master’s degree in nursing; however, a bachelor’s degree is usually required to go on to take graduate studies. Most prospective nurse practitioners will major in nursing, however, they may also major in other, related fields. Most bachelor’s degree programs in nursing will include a clinical component, along with modules and programs to teach student nurses skills in supervision, management, communication, research and community health.
If you have recently graduated from high school and are thinking about a career as a nurse practitioner, then the most direct route would be to pursue a bachelor of science in nursing degree. However, it’s a good idea to be aware that many nurses will first earn associate degrees in nursing and postpone getting a bachelor’s degree while they gain some relevant work experience. Another option to consider is an RN-to-BSN ‘bridge’ program, the length of which can vary depending on whether or not you continue to work during your studies. There are also LPN-to-BSN programs available for licensed practical nurses.
What Graduate Requirements Are There for Nurse Practitioners?
In order to become a nurse practitioner, you will certainly need to have achieved a graduate degree in nursing. And depending on the school that you choose to enroll in, you may also need to gain a few years of experience in nursing in order to qualify for a particular program. Typically, nurse practitioners will earn a master of science in nursing (MSN) degree as a minimum requirement, however, they may also go on to earn a doctor of nursing practice or even a PhD in a healthcare field, especially if they are pursuing a career in research, healthcare administration or nursing education. These types of graduate programs tend to offer in-depth study and education around medical ethics, diagnosis, anatomy and a range of other advanced topics.
Generally, the curriculum will follow the course of study for an APRN, but will include specialized nurse practitioner training. As a graduate, your studies will typically include a combination of both classroom and clinical training with a range of courses available in subjects such as pharmacology, anatomy and physiology, along with study of your areas of specialization – which could include topics like health systems management, gerontology, primary care, family care, or pediatrics.
Online Education for Nurse Practitioners
With almost six million American students enrolled in distance education programs and nurses facing an ever-growing demand, it’s not surprising that nursing is the second most popular major for students who choose to learn online. An online nurse practitioner degree offers potential students a wide range of benefits including reduced travel time and costs, flexible schedule options, and the option to continue working as a nurse as they get their degree.
If you want to become a nurse practitioner as quickly as possible, there are some online programs that allow for this, too. They are designed specifically for working nurses and some are online FNP programs without GRE, allowing you to become a family nurse practitioner as quickly as possible.
What Are the Benefits of Becoming a Nurse Practitioner?
There’s no doubt about it – becoming a nurse practitioner, no matter your area of specialization or how you choose to study for relevant qualifications, takes a lot of hard work, time, effort and dedication. However, there are many benefits to be had for those working in this career, which make all the long hours and hard work certainly worth it.
If you’re thinking of becoming a nurse practitioner but need some more convincing, here are some of the biggest benefits you can enjoy in this role:
Becoming a nurse practitioner offers several, varied possible career paths that you can choose from. And, as a nurse practitioner, it will be easier for you to change over to your desired path, while making manual changes – if any. For example, with your qualifications, you could easily change paths from working as a nursing aide in a medical research company to an in-patient nurse or a family nurse practitioner, without jeopardizing any progress in your career. And, once you are licensed as a nurse practitioner in a state, you will be able to appeal for reciprocity in other states, allowing you to move around for work more freely.
2. It’s a High-Profile Role:
A nurse practitioner generally holds a distinguished, respected role between a physician and a registered nurse. While a lot of nurse practitioners will have completed a master’s degree, they are also able to bypass the expensive, complicated med school and internship requirements for becoming a doctor, allowing nurse practitioners to start their career in a much shorter amount of time.
3. It’s a Diverse Career Path:
As a nurse practitioner, the different areas that you will be designated to, and the people that you will work with on a day to day basis, will make for an interesting, diverse work environment. In a hospital setting, nurse practitioners may work in the ICU, emergency room, delivery room or even on the wards, or they may work as part of a doctor’s office or even have their own practice. It’s for this reason that nurse practitioners have a wide range of experience when it comes to dealing with different kinds of people as they treat their patients, making the job more exciting and unique every day.
4. Earn a Competitive Income:
Due to its high demand in this day and age – mainly thanks to the ageing population – nursing has become an increasingly competitive field. And, the salary of a nurse practitioner can reach over $100,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, the salary can vary – both up or down – depending on a range of different factors including specialty, education, and the market in the area that a nurse practitioner is working.
5. Advocate for Patients:
Another reason that makes being a nurse practitioner such an interesting and rewarding job is that you become an advocate for the patient. You will spend your working day helping patients and their loved ones understand their diagnosis and assist them when it comes to the evaluation and choice of treatment options. And, you will be an advocate for the patient by working with them to help them understand medical terms and answer any questions that they may have about treatments, medication and more. A nurse practitioner does not only work with his or her patients, but also with family members to provide total care.
6. Enjoy a High Level of Job Security:
With doctors becoming more and more scarce, the level of job security for nurse practitioners is on the rise just like the salary. Nurse practitioners are highly effective when it comes to providing an exemplary level of care to their patients, which is just another reason why the demand for them is so high, and why they enjoy a highly secure career path. According to the experts, the number of nurse practitioners is expected to rise by around thirty percent by 2022.
7. You Will Be Respected and Trusted:
There are not many greater feelings than those of respect and trust in your career, and nurse practitioners get to enjoy both. Nursing in general is a very challenging job that requires the individual to possess a lot of stamina, strength, skill and compassion – and patients all around the world recognize this. While the job of a nurse practitioner may never be easy, they are surely rewarded with the high level of respect that they get from family, friends, colleagues and of course, patients.
8. Enjoy Greater Autonomy:
Working as a nurse practitioner gives you the power to take charge of a medical situation and work to improve the entire healthcare process, often without a doctor at your side to help you. Nurse practitioners are able to work independently in over fifteen U.S states, and many of them are in charge of their own clinics. Over three hundred medical clinics in the U.S are primarily owned by nurse practitioners. While there are certainly other options, as this one may not be the right fit for every nurse practitioner, if you want to work in the healthcare industry and be your own boss, this level of autonomy and independence could be ideal for you.
9. Camaraderie Among Colleagues:
In any area of nursing, you can usually expect to work with a strong and supportive team, and working as a nurse practitioner is no different. Nurses will work together with the same goal of providing care to patients and as a result, they usually bond more closely than other colleagues. Other nurses and nurse practitioners will know exactly what the job entails and what it takes to become good at the role; bonding with others in the same circumstances and making close friends can make the job even more satisfying.
10. Make a Difference:
Finally, it’s a reason that’s often cited – but it’s certainly true; working as a nurse practitioner allows you to be the difference that you want to see, whether that’s in the lives of patients or in the healthcare industry overall. The level of independence afforded to nurse practitioners, the opportunities provided to them throughout their career, and the level of trust and respect that they are afforded from patients puts nurse practitioners in a unique position to make positive changes to the industry. As an advocate for patients, a nurse practitioner can listen to what those in his or her care want and work towards achieving that.
Pursuing a career as a nurse practitioner is no easy task, but with so many career benefits, it’s certainly worth it.