What is a Nurse Practitioner
Growth Trends for Related Jobs
More Education, Greater Responsibilities, Higher Salaries
Perhaps you always wanted to be a doctor but were put off by the years of education required. Or, because of your nurturing nature, you leaned toward a career in nursing. But you're frustrated by the limits put on nurses to deliver care up to a point, only then to have the patient wait for the doctor even though you know you could handle it yourself. If this sounds like you, you may want to look into a career as a nurse practitioner. With only a few more years of schooling beyond a bachelor's degree, you'll have most of the same responsibilities as a physician, but at a significantly higher salary than nurses earn.
Nurse practitioners (NPs), also called "advanced practice registered nurses" (APRNs), have most of the duties of physicians and can serve as an individual's or family's primary care deliverer in most states. NPs can examine patients, diagnose illnesses, prescribe most medications, order and interpret tests, and refer patients to specialists. Although all states recognize the NP position, some states place restrictions on the role, such as requiring NPs to work under the supervision of a physician or as part of a team, either entirely or only when prescribing medications. They may need a physician's approval to prescribe drugs that are known to have a high potential for addiction, or they may require supervision for a few years before being approved to practice independently.
While physicians spend about 11 years in school and residencies before they can practice, NPs can be certified in six to eight years. They first earn a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) at an accredited, four-year program. Then they earn the equivalent of a master's degree, which typically takes about two years to achieve. They are permitted to pursue the RN to MSN bridge program offered at some schools, which can shorten the amount of time needed to reach the MSN level. Some programs require a certain number of clinical rotation hours to earn the NP certification. NPs can also continue their education to earn a doctorate degree. A big benefit is that degree candidates can continue to work at their level of nursing while also pursuing an advanced degree, allowing them to earn their nursing salary while they study.
The median annual salary for NPs was $111,680 as of 2020, the last year the survey was performed. Median means that half of the nurses polled earned more than that, and half earned less. The highest paid NPs worked in general medical and surgical hospitals and earned $124,660. Most NPs worked in physicians' offices, however, and earned $114,570. Those who specialized in an area beyond family practice earned a mean salary of $114,410.
Compare these salaries with those of registered nurses, who earned a median salary of $75,330. This figure includes both registered nurses with two-year, associate degrees, and nurses with four-year, bachelor of science in nursing degrees.
Most nurse practitioners are employed in physicians' offices, where they may either work independently or under a physician's supervision. Others work in hospitals, outpatient facilities, drugstore clinics, nursing homes and home health care services. A smaller percentage of NPs work at colleges and universities, in business, and in the employment field, hiring nurses for full-time, part-time and temporary work.
Years of Experience
Nurse practitioners are valued not only for their advanced degrees, but also for their work experience. Since many work as registered nurses while earning their advanced degrees, they gain practical nursing experience along the way. They aren't rookies with MSNs; they already have a great deal of knowledge gained from experience with patients when they are hired as NPs. Rather than being armed only with book knowledge and theories, NPs use their advanced skill set to enhance what they already know from personal nursing experience gained through caring for patients. The NP certification doesn't require a set number of years of experience, although individual employers may request a certain level of experience when they advertise.
Job Growth Trend
Nurses continue to be in demand and expect to be even more needed as the population ages. Physicians are also in short supply nationwide, which makes the nurse practitioner more valued since she can handle most of a physician's responsibilities. The need for nurse practitioners is expected to grow 36 percent by 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is double the expected growth of 15 percent for nurses in general and significantly higher than the 7.4 percent growth rate anticipated for employment overall.
- Nurse.org Career Guide Services: Nurse Practioners
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages May, 2014: Nurse Practioner
- The Physician Assistant Life: Physician Assistant vs. Nurse Practitioner vs. Medical Doctor
- Bureau of Labor Statistics:Occupational Outlook Handbook: Registered Nurses
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives and Nurse Practitioners
Barbara Bean-Mellinger is a freelance writer who lives in the Washington, D.C. area who has written about careers and education for work.chron.com, workingmother.com, classroom.synonym.com and more. Barbara holds a B.S. from the University of Pittsburgh and has won numerous awards for her writing.