Why Become a Nurse Practitioner?
As our health care system becomes more complex, nurse leadership ensures that patients achieve positive health outcomes. As a 2019 article in Nursing Administration Quarterly notes, effective nurse leadership can promote healthy work environments, strengthen staff retention, and improve patient care.
One of the best ways for nurses to move into leadership roles is to become nurse practitioners. In addition to shaping a health care facility’s care delivery strategies, nurse practitioners (NPs) can use their leadership skills to mentor future generations of nurses.
According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), more than 325,000 nurse practitioners were licensed to practice in the U.S. in 2021. Before entering the profession, those individuals may have asked themselves: Why become a nurse practitioner? The answer for many is that by bringing their expertise and experience to a health care organization, a nurse practitioner can embark on a rewarding career that makes a lasting difference in achieving positive health outcomes for patients.
Nurses seeking career growth in this field should investigate a Master of Science in Nursing program with specialized nurse practitioner tracks.
What Are the Benefits of Being a Nurse Practitioner?
Among the most benefits of being a nurse practitioner are the opportunity to specialize in a particular area of health care, assume a larger role in a health care organization, develop specialized and preventive care strategies, and serve as patient advocates.
Specializing in an Area of Interest
A nurse practitioner can specialize in different areas of interest. The AANP notes these specialized areas:
- Psychiatric health
- Neonatal health
- Pediatric health
- Women’s health
- Family health
- Acute care
- Adult health
With so many specialties, nurse practitioners are in demand in numerous health care settings. NPs work in clinics, hospitals, emergency rooms, urgent care facilities, private physician offices, nursing homes, and home health settings. Nurse practitioners also can open their own practices. Becoming a nurse practitioner can significantly enhance a nurse’s options when choosing a health care area in which to specialize.
Assuming a Larger Role in a Health Care Organization
While maintaining a holistic approach to providing care, nurse practitioners can serve in a broader role in a health care organization than other nurses. The International Council of Nurses’ Guidelines on Advanced Practice Nursing explain that prior to the introduction of the nurse practitioner role, diagnostic, treatment, and health management responsibilities were limited to physicians. When nurse practitioners assumed those responsibilities, they carved a broader role for nurses in providing comprehensive care.
In using their clinical expertise to diagnose and treat patients, promote disease prevention, and, in some states, prescribe medicines, nurse practitioners naturally bring a more comprehensive, holistic approach to health care. This positions nurse practitioners for a greater degree of autonomy and opens the door to their collaboration with other health care professionals.
Nurse practitioner educational programs also help these professionals cultivate skills that can lead to higher levels of responsibility. The AANP notes that the courses offered by nurse practitioner programs enable prospective NPs to develop skills as educators, advocates, administrators, mentors, and researchers. These skills are key in helping nurse practitioners ascend the career ladder and move into leadership roles.
Building Specialized and Preventive Care Strategies
Becoming a nurse practitioner qualifies an individual to build specialized and preventive care strategies for patients. As previously discussed, their ability to specialize in numerous aspects of health care enables them to develop specialized care strategies focused on certain aspects of health. Having the ability to develop these strategies is especially useful in rural areas, for example, where the shortage of health care professionals is particularly acute.
Nurse practitioners also have significant opportunities to devise preventive care strategies. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force’s Evidence-Based Prevention Resource for Nurse Practitioners discusses how nurse practitioners effectively promote preventive services for health issues such as cancer, heart disease, mental health issues, and substance abuse. In general, nurse practitioners are particularly useful in filling the gaps between recommended preventive care and the care that patients actually receive in a clinical setting.
Engaging in Patient Advocacy
The American Nurses Association’s code of ethics requires nurses to advocate for patients’ safety, rights, and health. In addition, the AANP’s standards of practice for nurse practitioners describes these health care professionals as responsible advocates for the welfare of patients and notes their influence on health policy. Working as a nurse practitioner is a natural fit for a nurse who believes strongly in patient advocacy.
A 2019 study published in the journal Nursing Ethics outlined the following attributes of effective patient advocacy:
- Safeguarding, for example, by protecting patients from incompetence on the part of health care professionals.
- Apprising, for example, by providing patients with information regarding their diagnoses.
- Valuing, for example, by ensuring that patients are able to make decisions freely.
- Mediating, for example, by communicating information regarding patients’ preferences to other health care professionals.
- Championing social justice in health care, for example, by identifying inequalities in health care.
Patient advocacy dovetails naturally with nurse practitioners’ holistic approach to patient care, their natural role in educating patients, and their ability to develop care plans that accommodate patients’ unique abilities and preferences. All of these factors allow nurse practitioners to build strong relationships with patients, that help them fulfill roles as patient advocates.
Nurse Practitioner Education Requirements
Becoming a nurse practitioner requires a strong educational foundation. Nurse practitioner education requirements are outlined below.
Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing
To become a nurse practitioner, an individual must initially earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). People who have a bachelor’s degree in another field may be able to earn their BSN through an accelerated program. Registered nurses with an associate degree in nursing could be eligible to earn their BSN through an RN to BSN program.
Obtain Licensure as a Registered Nurse
Nurse practitioners must first become registered nurses (RNs), which requires passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) and submitting an application to the regulatory entity that licenses nurses in their state.
Earn a Master of Science in Nursing Degree or a Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree
Individuals have two options for the graduate degree necessary to become a nurse practitioner: a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Which degree an individual chooses depends on their preferences and what they would like to do as a nurse practitioner. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing notes that:
- Master’s degrees in nursing prepare individuals for advanced roles in administration, informatics, research, teaching, and providing direct patient care.
- The DNP is geared toward individuals who are seeking education in leadership, evidence-based practice, quality improvements, and systems leadership.
The AANP suggests that individuals consider the following factors when they select a graduate program:
- The program provides training in the area in which an individual wants to work (for example, pediatrics, family health, or acute care).
- The program is accredited, and what percentage of its graduates obtain certification.
- An individual has satisfied the program’s prerequisites.
- The method of attendance (online or in-person classes) aligns with an individual’s preferences.
One of the most important aspects of graduate programs is the clinical experience received by students. In addition to taking traditional core curriculum courses in areas such as pharmacology and advanced physical assessment, graduate students complete hundreds of supervised clinical hours in their areas of interest. That clinical experience is vital in preparing students to work independently as nurse practitioners.
Obtain Certification in an Area of Interest
After completing an MSN or DNP program, individuals become certified as nurse practitioners in their areas of interest. Certification typically involves passing an examination offered by a certification board. A number of entities offer certification, including:
- The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board, which offers certifications such as:
- Adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner (AGNP)
- Emergency nurse practitioner (ENP)
- Family nurse practitioner (FNP)
- The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, which offers certifications such as:
- Acute care nurse practitioner (ACNPC)
- Acute care nurse practitioner certification adult-gerontology (ACNPC-AG)
- The American Nurses Credentialing Center, which offers certifications such as:
- Adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner (AGACNP-BC)
- Adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner (AGPCNP-BC)
- Family nurse practitioner (FNP-BC)
- Psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner (across the lifespan) (PMHNP-BC)
- The Pediatric Nursing Certification Board, which offers certifications such as:
- Acute care certified pediatric nurse practitioner (CPNP-AC)
- Primary care certified pediatric nurse practitioner (CPNP-PC)
- The National Certification Corporation, which offers certifications such as:
- Neonatal nurse practitioner (NNP-BC)
- Women’s health care nurse practitioner (WHNP-BC)
Obtain Licensure as a Nurse Practitioner
To become a nurse practitioner, individuals need to obtain a state license or certification from their state nursing regulatory entity. The requirements of nursing regulatory entities can vary from state to state, so it’s a good idea to become knowledgeable about the requirements in your state.
It’s important to understand that nurse practitioners operate differently across states. The AANP describes this in terms of nurse practitioners’ “elements of practice” (for example, the ability to prescribe medication or initiate treatment). The AANP classifies states in the following categories:
- Full practice states. In these states, nurse practitioners have full authority to diagnose, treat, and prescribe medication to patients under the licensing authority of the state nursing regulatory entity.
- Reduced practice states. In these states, nurse practitioners’ authority to engage in at least one element of practice is reduced or limited by state law.
- Restricted practice states. In these states, state law restricts nurse practitioners from engaging in at least one element of practice.
The COVID-19 pandemic spurred many states to temporarily expand nurse practitioners’ scope of practice to maximize the number of health care professionals available to treat patients. As noted in a 2020 report in the journal Nursing Forum some view these temporary changes as evidence that permanent full practice authority for nurse practitioners could be key in sustaining health care in the future.
6 Nurse Practitioner Specialties
The opportunity to specialize in a particular area is one of the reasons why becoming a nurse practitioner is an attractive option for many individuals. For those in the process of choosing an area of interest, it can be helpful to examine some examples of nurse practitioner specialties in detail.
1. Family Nurse Practitioner
As the AANP explains, family nurse practitioners (FNPs) provide family-focused health care. FNPs can treat patients of any age, from infants to the elderly. For example, FNPs can conduct physical examinations, create treatment plans, and treat chronic illnesses and injuries.
Because of the broad nature of their work, FNPs practice in different types of settings ranging from private practices to health care systems and community health centers. According to the AANP, FNP certification is the primary certification for almost 70% of nurse practitioners.
2. Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) focus on patients who are experiencing mental illness. The AANP notes that PMHNPs provide therapy, prescribe medication, conduct physical and psychosocial assessments, provide emergency care, and evaluate treatment effectiveness.
PMHNPs typically work at in-patient facilities. According to the AANP, PMHNP certification is the primary certification area for nearly 5% of nurse practitioners.
3. Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
Adult gerontology acute care nurse practitioners (AGACNPs) provide care to adults of all ages, from young to geriatric adults. These health care professionalsfocus on patients’ complex, acute health conditions. The AANP notes that AGACNPs monitor complex health conditions, develop multifaceted treatment plans, and provide care to help prevent future health complications.
AGACNPs work in intensive care units, trauma units, acute care units, long-term care facilities, and specialty clinics. According to the AANP, AGACNP certification is the primary certification area for nearly 3% of nurse practitioners.
4. Adult Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner
Like AGACNPs, adult gerontology primary care nurse practitioners (AGPCNPs) provide care to adults of all ages, focusing on helping patients manage chronic conditions such as diabetes or hypertension. The AANP explains that AGPCNPs conduct exams, order screening tests, provide both pharmacological and nonpharmacological therapies, manage patients’ transitions to new health care settings, and educate patients about their health conditions.
AGPCNPs work in private group practices, hospital outpatient and inpatient units, and long-term care facilities. According to the AANP, AGPCNP certification is the primary certification area for 7% of nurse practitioners.
5. Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
Becoming a nurse practitioner is a natural fit for individuals who want to work with children. Pediatric nurse practitioners (PNPs) work with young patients ranging from infants to young adults. The AANP explains that they manage and prevent pediatric chronic and acute illnesses and offer well-child care.
PNPs work in settings such as school health centers, hospitals, pediatric offices, and urgent care clinics. According to the AANP, PNP certification is the primary certification area for almost 4% of nurse practitioners.
6. Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner
Addressing the unique health care needs of women is the primary focus of women’s health nurse practitioners (WHNPs). Examples of the health care that WHNPs provide, according to the AANP, include preventive care such as well-woman exams, fertility evaluations, care for menopause, and contraceptive care.
WHNPs usually work in private physician or group practices. According to the AANP, WHNP certification is the primary certification area for nearly 3% of nurse practitioners.
What Are the Salaries for a Nurse Practitioner?
In addition to the rewarding nature of the work, the salaries for a nurse practitioner draw many individuals to the profession. If you’re considering in becoming a nurse practitioner, know that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasts 52% employment growth for nurse practitioners between 2019 and 2029, far higher than that of the labor market as a whole.
Nurse Practitioner Salaries
The BLS reported a median annual salary of $111,680 for nurse practitioners as of May 2020, dependingon geographic location, education, and years of experience.
A nurse practitioner’s salary also varies on pecialty. The compensation website PayScale provides median annual salary information for different NP specialties as of August 2021:
- Family NP: $97,000
- Psychiatric mental health NP: $99,200
- Adult gerontology acute care NP: $96,100
- Adult gerontology primary care NP: $90,100
- Pediatric NP: $91,500
- Women’s health NP: $94,600
Becoming a Nurse Practitioner Can Be the Foundation for a Fulfilling Career
If searching for a fulfilling career in health care, becoming a nurse practitioner may be the answer. With many specialties appealing to diverse interests, the nurse practitioner profession can be attractive to a broad range of individuals. Becoming an NP also represents a significant step on the career ladder for registered nurses who want to move into leadership roles.
Individuals with an interest in the nurse practitioner profession should explore Norwich University’s online Master of Science in Nursing: Nurse Practitioner program and its three tracks: Family Nurse Practitioner, Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner, and Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner. A career with purpose awaits. Take your first step today.