Nurse practitioners are commonly tasked with coordinating care for patients of all ages. They play a vital role in the healthcare industry and have many opportunities for advancement in their field.
There is also plenty of room for financial growth within the nurse practitioner (NP) position. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the lowest 10 percent of earners within the field received an average salary of $76,830 in 2017. Qualified candidates who have the right mix of education and experience can pursue several paths to potentially increase their earnings.
The Nurse Practitioner Profession at a Glance
There is a serious shortage of nursing talent in many areas of the U.S., which has made the role of NPs more essential than ever. They’re being counted upon as leaders through this shortage, and this level of responsibility could translate to increased salary. There will be plenty of growth opportunities for NPs in the coming years: The BLS predicts a 36 percent job growth rate in the nurse practitioner field between 2016 and 2026, which is substantially greater than the 7 percent projected growth rate for the average occupation during the same time frame.
According to BLS, the 2017 median annual salary for a nurse practitioner was about $103,880. BLS also reports that the highest 10 percent of earners in the field received around $145,630. Nurse practitioner wages depend on several factors, such as the geographic location of the position. However, some of these factors are contingent upon a nurse practitioner’s willingness to take on challenging responsibilities and further develop his or her skill set.
Nurse practitioners are commonly charged with a host of duties that are crucial to delivering high-quality care to patients. Those tasked with the role typically take patient histories, perform physical exams and diagnostic tests, prescribe medications, and educate patients on important lifestyle choices that impact their health. They can also provide primary and specialty care independently, although the actual range of their allowed medical duties varies from state to state. The specialty care they provide can service children, pregnant women, or senior citizens.
The finely-tuned skills of an NP can enable them to deliver high-quality care that may improve long-term patient outcomes. At the same time, these marketable skills can be fundamental for NPs to pursue roles that allow them to gravitate away from the average salary and toward the top tier in the field. There are several steps that highly skilled nurse practitioners can take to make the move toward this greater level of compensation.
1. Pursue Continuing Education or Additional Certifications
Nurse practitioners are required to have a master’s degree or Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), and most states have licensing and certification requirements that nurses must meet. However, nurse practitioners can set themselves apart by pursuing a nurse practitioner specialization certification in a specific area within the field.
For instance, the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists offers certification opportunities for nurses specializing in administering anesthetics, while nurses specializing in pediatrics can attain certification from organizations such as the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board. Holding additional certifications may enable nurse practitioners to be available for a broader spectrum of patients, which may allow them to develop skills that serve as valuable assets to their employers.
These skills can also make nurse practitioners more marketable, should they decide to pursue positions outside of their current places of employment. If they work independently, these specialized skills may allow them to increase billing opportunities.
2. Explore New Areas of Nursing
Because nurse practitioners aren’t confined to one specific component of the medical field, it’s possible for skilled NPs to cultivate their skills and competencies in multiple areas within the industry. These areas can include pediatrics, urgent care, long-term or hospice care, and on-call duty. Exploring new areas may allow them to cultivate a broader scope of techniques and procedures and to use their prescriptive authorities on a more frequent basis, which could ultimately lead to a broader range of higher-paying positions.
It’s also possible for nurse practitioners to share their knowledge in a classroom setting. Nurse practitioners can often supplement their income by teaching in adjunct positions in either higher education institutions or local healthcare facilities.
Additionally, NPs may be able to earn more than average if they work in a state that authorizes them to prescribe medications. As a general rule of thumb, prescriptive NPs earn more than non-prescriptive NPs.
3. Gain Work Experience
As is the case with any typical business position, work experience can play a big role in the salary a nurse practitioner can expect to command. Savvy nurse practitioners can leverage their licensing and certification to take on more complex clinical responsibilities and pursue advanced roles within a clinical environment, such as nurse administrator. These roles can also allow nurse practitioners a greater chance to display skills that add value to their employment, such as leadership and the ability to efficiently manage fast-paced work environments.
Because experience often cultivates greater knowledge, veteran nurse practitioners tend to manage a patient workload more efficiently than newcomers. This greater speed may translate in turn to an increase in pay.
4. Negotiate Better Nursing Contracts
While nurse practitioners can earn a high salary, the way their employers pay them can differ from payment methods in other industries. For instance, healthcare organizations may provide compensation for a nurse practitioner’s time instead of paying a salary. If they do pay based on time, they may measure an NP’s productivity in relative value units, which could entail the nurse’s earning a percentage of monetary collections.
When it’s time to sign a contract with a healthcare organization, it’s important to bring a proactive approach to the pay negotiation process. This is especially the case for new nurse practitioners, who may be unfamiliar with the compensation structure of the position.
For example, it’s vital to find out specific details on how an organization pays its NPs. It’s also critical to have a firm grasp of the average regional salary the desired position commands in order to develop an understanding of fair market value. Asking about bonuses and bonus structure should also be an essential part of the negotiation process.
Finally, new nurse practitioners should be careful not to discuss specific salary numbers during the interview. Doing so may inadvertently tie them to a lower number than what the organization might have otherwise offered.
5. Produce Medical Writing
Nurse practitioners can sometimes earn extra income outside of the clinical setting by applying their knowledge to produce written content. Medical writing is a broad category that encompasses research papers, medicine-related news articles, content for health care websites, journal abstracts, and more. A writing practice provides a means to communicate information culled from healthcare’s evolving landscape to a wider audience, ranging from physicians and healthcare professionals to patients. It can be a lucrative side pursuit that nurse practitioners can undertake from their own homes.
Nurse practitioners must have a few competencies in place before they can get started as medical writers. They need to be able to use the written word to communicate scientific information and data in understandable terms that align with the sensibilities of their target markets. They must also possess a strong familiarity with medical concepts and terminology. Finally, it’s important to have a deep knowledge of the specific domains being covered, from pharmacology to statistics.
Given the need for primary care providers increasing and the family nurse practitioner’s autonomy as an advanced practice provider, specializing as a family nurse practitioner is appealing for nurses and NPs who are trying to advance their careers. Regis College offers online Post-Master’s Nursing Certificate programs that prepare students to sit for a certification exam with a new, flexible learning format.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners
Melnic, “No Fear: How to Negotiate Your New Nurse Practitioner Starting Salary”
Monster.com, “If You’re a PA or an NP, This Is How to Improve Your Pay and Better Your Career”
NCBI, “How to Become a Competent Medical Writer?”
Nurse.com, “Nursing Salaries Are on the Upswing”
Regis College, Nurse Practitioner
Regis College, Online Post-Master’s Certificates
U.S. News and World Report, “What is a Nurse Practitioner?”