In many states there aren't enough doctors to go around, especially in family medicine and other primary-care specialties. Nurse practitioners often fill that gap, providing primary health care in rural or under-served areas where it's difficult to recruit doctors. They're common with cash-strapped health-care facilities, because nurse practitioners earn less than doctors and are quicker to train. Although they make less than family doctors, nurse practitioners are among the highest-paid RNs.
With nurse practitioners becoming a larger force in the health-care workplace, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking their salaries separately from those of other registered nurses in 2012. The BLS reported an average salary of $91,450 for nurse practitioners, with the lowest-paid 10 percent earning up to $64,100 and the top 10 percent earning $120,500 or more. A 2011 study by consulting firm Integrated Healthcare Strategies reported a median salary of $92,708, while industry magazine "Advance for NPs & PAs" reported average salaries of $93,032 in 2012.
The BLS doesn't break down its figures by the NP's area of practice, but the IHS and Advance surveys do. The 2011 IHS study reported a median salary of $92,229 for nurse practitioners in family medicine, lower than those for their peers in internal medicine, pediatrics and emergency medicine. The 2012 Advance survey placed the average salary for NPs in family practice at $90,600 per year, roughly in the midrange between school health nurses at the bottom of the list and ER nurse practitioners at the top.
Nurse practitioner salaries vary with location, as well. The 2012 Advance survey found that NPs in rural areas earned less than their peers, at an average of $90,351. Their colleagues in suburban practices averaged $93,419 per year, and urban NPs averaged $94,536. Gender has an even larger impact. Male nurse practitioners are a relatively small group, at 8.79 percent of respondents in the survey, but they averaged $103,394 per year while female nurse practitioners averaged $91,613.
Becoming a nurse practitioner takes a significant quantity of time and training. Only registered nurses with a bachelor's degree are eligible for nurse practitioner programs, and most schools give preference to applicants with several years' clinical experience. Nurse practitioners must earn a master's or doctoral degree, which takes two to three years, and pass a certification exam. The ongoing shortage of doctors in primary care should ensure strong career prospects for NPs in family medicine. The BLS projected 26 percent employment growth between 2010 and 2020 for registered nurses as a group, but noted that nurse practitioners and other advanced practice nurses would be in especially high demand.