How to Become a Nurse Practitioner: The Road to Advanced Nursing Practice

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Nurse practitioner does ultrasound on pregnant patient.

There are a wide variety of different roles within the health care industry. Nurse practitioner (NP) and registered nurse (RN) are two of the most common nurse roles. Whereas some of the functions within these roles overlap, there are a few key differences between them. If you wish to begin a health care career, it’s important to understand the specifics of these roles so that you can make well-informed professional decisions.

One of the biggest differences between NPs and RNs is that RNs typically work under a doctor’s supervision, while NPs have the autonomy to make their own diagnoses and prescribe medication accordingly. NPs are also more common in private practice settings, while RNs generally work in hospitals and clinics. At a minimum, RNs must have an associate’s degree to begin nursing, whereas NPs must have a master’s degree in nursing. Finally, NPs typically earn more than RNs due to the extra level of professional responsibility and educational requirements needed for this role.

Scope of Practice for Nurse Practitioners

According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), NPs are responsible for assessing, diagnosing, treating, and managing acute episodic and chronic illness. Their additional education grants them a higher level of responsibility in a variety of clinical settings. NPs are well qualified to educate their patients, medically intervene when necessary, and serve as health care advocates within their communities.

Nurse Practitioner Specializations

There are certain specializations available to nurses who wish to acquire further expertise within an area of practice. Some of the most popular NP specializations are as follows:

Pediatrics. Pediatric nurse practitioners (PNPs) work exclusively with children. PNPs are well versed in children’s specific needs, and they work in settings such as pediatric clinics, schools, and private practice clinics.
Family. Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) often work within family practices, and they provide health services to patients of all ages. This is a very common specialization—a whopping 70 percent of NPs are FNPs.
Psychiatric mental health. Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) work directly with patients with mental illness. They provide counseling, medication management, and direct assistance to these patients. PMHNPs often work in psychiatric facilities and mental health centers.
Women’s health. Women’s health nurse practitioners (WHNPs) deliver primary care to women, and they provide services such as prenatal management, gynecology, and family planning. WHNPs work in OB-GYN clinics and family planning clinics.
Adult gerontology. Adult-gerontology nurse practitioners (AGNPs) work with patients ranging in age from teens to seniors. AGNPs provide primary health care, and they work in various settings, such as family practices, home health services, and rural clinics.

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

Step One: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing

The first step toward becoming an NP is to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing. This degree will offer students foundational nursing knowledge and help them gain placement in a medical setting.

Step Two: Become a Registered Nurse

After individuals earn a degree in nursing, they must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to become licensed as an RN.

Step Three: Earn a Master’s Degree

Nurses who want to become NPs must earn a master’s degree for this role. By earning this degree, individuals will signal to employers their proficiency within nursing, and set themselves up for higher responsibilities and career opportunities as a result.

Step Four (Optional): Earn Certifications

Acquiring certifications can allow NPs to focus their expertise on a specific area. Different specializations have different requirements.

Career Growth of Nurse Practitioners

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that advanced practice registered nurses—comprising nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and NPs—earned an average annual salary of $113,930 in May 2018. Jobs in this category are expected to grow by 31 percent between 2016 and 2026, over four times faster than the national average. Due to demographic trends, there’s a large need for educated nurses to treat the aging population in the country.

Learn More

NPs are responsible for a large scope of autonomous duties. Their extra training enables them to make valuable contributions to the health care sector, from individual patient intervention to large-scale advocacy efforts. If the nursing field interests you, Regis College offers an online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree program. Moreover, Regis College offers family, pediatric, psychiatric mental health, women’s health, and adult-geriatric specializations. Take the first step toward a rewarding NP career today.

Recommended Readings:
What Does a Locum Tenens Nurse Practitioner Do?
What Does HEENT Stand For?
The Importance of Teamwork and Collaboration in Nursing

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, Scope of Practice for Nurse Practitioners
American Nurses Association, Advanced Practice Registered Nurse
American Nurses Association, How to Become a Nurse
NP Now, What Are the Types of NPs? How Are They Used?
Regis College, Online Master of Science in Nursing
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners
USA Today, “Nurse Practitioner vs. Registered Nurse: What’s the Difference?”