Nurses have a vital role within the healthcare industry to make sure that patients are getting the care that they expect and deserve. Since nurses play such a crucial and essential role in healthcare, nursing roles are becoming more and more involved in different levels of healthcare. Nursing is a career path with lots of different opportunities for career advancement and progression, and the role of the nurse practitioner is one of the most popular and in-demand roles for nurses today.
Family nurse practitioners are increasingly being hired to step in for primary care physicians and this has been caused by a shortage. With fewer medical students choosing to focus on primary care, nurse practitioners have been stepping in as primary healthcare providers with excellent results for patients and the healthcare industry overall.
Nurse practitioners not only cost the industry less, but studies have already found that the holistic approach to healthcare that is taken by nurses has led to fewer ER visits, fewer hospital readmissions, and shorter hospital stays in patients. Along with the family nurse practitioner role, nurse practitioners can also work in a variety of different specialty areas, treating certain patient populations or working with patients who have certain health conditions.
What Nurse Practitioners Do
A nurse practitioner’s everyday responsibilities and roles will vary based on several factors. Their work environment and their area of specialty are two of the main factors that will dictate the kind of work that a nurse practitioner can expect to do on a daily basis. Nurse practitioners are advanced practice nurses that generally take on a variety of different healthcare tasks including management and planning and direct patient care.
Nurse practitioners may run their own clinics, or they can work in doctor’s offices, outpatient clinics, retail health clinics, hospitals, and many other clinical healthcare settings. They are professionals that are afforded more autonomy in their work compared to registered nurses, including the ability to diagnose, treat, and prescribe medication to patients.
In more than twenty US states, full practice authority for nurse practitioners means that they are able to do this without their decisions being signed off by a primary care physician. As a result, this has led to nursing taking over as a main form of primary care. Nurse practitioners not only provide general healthcare but are also one of the main sources of health counseling and advice to patients.
Specialty Area Options for Nurse Practitioners
Aspiring nurse practitioners can choose from a range of different specialty areas to focus on in this role. Some of the most popular specialty area choices for nurse practitioners include:
Family Nurse Practitioner
This primary care role is the most in-demand and popular nurse practitioner role to consider. Family nurse practitioners are usually hired in the place of primary care physicians in areas that have been most affected by the shortage, as they are trained to worth with patients of all ages and treat a wide variety of health conditions.
General family health is their main responsibility, and they will usually work in doctor’s offices or urgent care centers, operating in a similar way to a primary care physician. Like physicians, some family nurse practitioners do choose to specialize in a certain healthcare area that they are more interested in, while still focusing on primary care.
Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
Pediatric nurse practitioners mainly work with children, specializing in illnesses and health conditions that tend to impact children more often than they do adults. Pediatric nurse practitioners may run their own clinics where they specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of children, or work in family doctor’s offices to look after young patients. Most commonly, they will work in pediatric departments or children’s hospitals.
Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
A psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner is an advanced practice registered nurse who has received specialist advanced training to work with patients who are suffering from mental health conditions and disorders. To work in this role, it is important to gain specialist training in psychology and mental health. The role involves working directly with patients to provide a mental health diagnosis, prescribe medications such as antidepressants, or refer patients to a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other licensed mental health professional.
Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners may also be trained in therapy and counseling to provide this to their patients. They will usually work in psychiatric hospitals, outpatient units, and rehabilitation centers. They often make up part of the care team for patients suffering with addiction and substance abuse disorders or eating disorders.
Neonatal Nurse Practitioner
Neonatal nurse practitioners work in one of the most advance nurse practitioner roles available. These highly skilled advanced nurses are specialists in the care and treatment of neonates, or newborn babies. Typically, neonatal nurse practitioners will work in the neonatal intensive care unit or NICU where babies with birth defects, substance abuse conditions, or other illnesses are cared for during the first few days or weeks or their life.
Retail Health Nurse Practitioner
Retail health is a growing type of healthcare that is mainly headed by nurse practitioners. If you have seen small clinics cropping up in stores like Walmart and Target, then you might be aware of retail health. They are often run alongside the pharmacy department of a store and provide a quick and affordable way for patients to get advice and treatment for minor health concerns or issues while out running other errands.
Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner
Adult gerontology nurse practitioners are advanced practice nurses who specialize in the treatment of adult patients. Most of the time, they work with seniors and older adults and may specialize in the treatment of conditions that are most likely to affect older adults such as dementia. These nurse practitioners work in hospitals, outpatient clinics for adults, doctor’s offices, nursing homes, and more.
Oncology Nurse Practitioner
An oncology nurse practitioner is a specialist advanced practice registered nurse who works with cancer patients. These nurse practitioners will usually be found working in specialist oncology outpatient clinics or in hospital oncology departments. They usually work alongside physicians and oncologists, although they do have the same full practice authority as other types of nurse practitioner in certain states.
Surgical Nurse Practitioner
Surgical nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses who work in the operating room to assist with surgical procedures. While they do have more in-depth training and more responsibilities on the job compared to registered surgical nurses, these nurse practitioners do not have full practice authority in any state and are not permitted to conduct surgical procedures without the supervision of a licensed surgeon.
Steps to Becoming a Nurse Practitioner
With more autonomy, responsibility, and a higher rate of pay compared to registered nurses along with the option to specialize in an area of nursing that interests you more than others, it’s no surprise that an increasing number of registered nurses are thinking about training to become a nurse practitioner.
The high demand for nurse practitioners right now due to the shortage of primary care physicians in the US is also making this role more attractive to registered nurses who may like the idea of taking their career to the next level but want to continue working directly with patients rather than moving away from the bedside into a management role. To become a nurse practitioner, you will need to do the following:
Get a BSN
The first step to becoming a nurse practitioner is to become a registered nurse. Although you can get into a registered nursing career with an associate degree, this is no longer as widely recommended for many reasons.
Firstly, studies have found that BSN-educated nurses have a more positive impact on patient incomes, which may lead to a situation where nurses who do not have a BSN are less likely to be hired, even if they have more experience than BSN graduates. More importantly, to become a nurse practitioner you will need to get a graduate degree in nursing, and most programs will only accept you as a student if you have previously gained a BSN.
The BSN typically takes around four years to complete and there are online degree options available. Alternatively, if you have a degree in a non-nursing subject, you can get an accelerated BSN, which is a more intense program designed to build on your previous qualification to get your BSN in just two years.
Similar programs are also available for current registered nurses with an associate degree. Bridge ADN-BSN programs take your previous nursing education and knowledge into account to allow you to get a bachelor’s degree in nursing in a shorter timeframe.
Build Experience in Nursing
Since the role of a nurse practitioner is so advanced and nurse practitioners are often trusted to work alone with their patients and make the best decisions on their behalf, it is usually a role that is reserved for experienced nurses. If you are not currently working as a registered nurse and do not have any real-world experience in the nursing field, or have recently graduated with a BSN, then you will usually need to work as a registered nurse for a few years before you can take the next steps towards becoming a nurse practitioner.
This will not only give you a chance to build the skills that can only be gained from on-the-job experience, but it also gives you a better insight into the role of a nurse practitioner and what will be expected of you, helping you be sure that it is the right pathway for you before you start training. Along with this, the time you spend working as a registered nurse can help you get experience working with different types of patients, in different healthcare settings, and with different health conditions and diseases.
This can make it easier for you to figure out your interests and help you determine which specialty area is the best option for you in your future nurse practitioner career.
Get an MSN
The final step in qualifying to work as a nurse practitioner is to get a graduate degree such as an MSN. Click here to find out more about the MSN program and what you can expect to learn during the 1-2 years that it will typically take you to complete. A general MSN qualification is usually the minimum requirement for working as a nurse practitioner, although you may want to consider an MSN program that is designed to prepare you for the nurse practitioner role.
Alternatively, another popular choice is an MSN-FNP certificate, which is designed to be taken by MSN graduates to prepare them for the specifics of working in a role as a family nurse practitioner.
Getting a License
Just like you will need to pass the NCLEX exam after getting your undergraduate degree to get your license to work as a registered nurse in your state, you will also need to pass a more advanced nursing exam to become an advanced practice registered nurse. This is known as the NCLEX-APRN exam and will test your knowledge and skills to ensure that you are ready to start in this role. Once you have passed this exam, you can start working as a nurse practitioner straight away.
Bear in mind that this does not cancel your results on the NCLEX-RN exam, so it’s entirely possible to work as a registered nurse and a nurse practitioner at the same time if you like. Getting an MSN will also qualify you to get a range of further licenses and certifications for advanced nursing roles that you may be interested in, including working as a nurse educator, and teaching the next generation of nursing students, which is in high demand right now due to a shortage that is directly affecting the nursing shortage in the US.
With physicians opting out of primary care, nurse practitioners are stepping in to make sure that patients get the best outcomes. Aside from working in a primary care role as a family nurse practitioner, these advanced practice registered nurses can also work in a wide range of specialty areas based on their interests.