Nurses are on the front lines of delivering and coordinating patient care, serving a critical function in the health care system. The challenging and rewarding nursing profession affords many opportunities for career growth and development — especially for experienced registered nurses (RNs) who are looking to become nurse practitioners (NPs).
The Role of an Experienced RN
RNs have either a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or an associate degree in nursing (ADN), as well as a nursing license. They apply the skills and principles they learn in these degree programs in clinical settings when they begin their careers.
Although the daily duties of RNs may depend on the specific patient groups they work with, RNs are typically responsible for:
● Observing and assessing patient symptoms and conditions
● Recording patient medical histories, symptoms, and observations
● Administering medicine to patients
● Creating plans for patient care and treatment
● Working with and consulting other health care professionals
● Using and monitoring medical equipment
● Completing and reviewing the results of diagnostic tests
● Offering emotional support to patients and their families
● Educating patients about at-home treatments and providing instructions for managing injuries or illnesses
As nursing theorist Patricia Benner outlined in From Novice to Expert: Excellence and Power in Clinical Nursing Practice, nurses progress through five stages of clinical competence: novice, advanced beginner, competent, proficient, and expert. The theory suggests that novice nurses initially rely on the foundation of knowledge they gain through formal education and then gradually develop the ability to draw from their experience and intuition as they spend time working in the field. Nurses who successfully move through all five phases — which takes roughly five years, according to Brenner — develop an expert-level grasp of clinical situations and an ability to provide more proficient, flexible, and decisive care.
So what are the next steps for expert nurses who have accumulated several years of clinical experience? Becoming a nurse practitioner may be an option for those who are passionate about advancing their careers and providing patients with more specialized care.
From Expert Nurse to Novice Nurse Practitioner
NPs belong to a category of nurses called advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), which also includes nurse anesthetists and nurse midwives. NPs are primary, acute, and specialty care providers who deliver advanced nursing services to patients and their families.
What makes NPs stand out in the health care field is their holistic approach to diagnosing and treating patients. Above and beyond the typical aspects of patient care, NPs place an additional focus on disease prevention and integrating health management strategies into the patient’s lifestyle. NPs also provide a broader range of care, including:
● Conducting physical examinations and assessing patients
● Diagnosing acute and chronic conditions and developing treatment plans
● Prescribing medications, assessing the patient’s response, and adjusting treatment as needed
● Completing and reviewing diagnostic tests, including X-rays and lab work
● Teaching patients how to make healthy choices and manage injuries or illnesses
NPs are in demand in a variety of environments, including hospitals, private clinics, emergency and urgent care sites, outpatient care centers, senior homes, and public health departments.
To become an NP, RNs must first complete a master’s or doctoral degree program. Typically, master’s program applicants must hold a BSN, meet a minimum GPA prerequisite, submit a resume and recommendation letters, and hold an unencumbered registered nursing license.
Opportunities for RNs and NPs
RNs typically start their careers as staff nurses in a hospital or community practice. While they may have opportunities to move laterally to different practices or areas of focus, RNs who have only a BSN or ADN may have limited options for career advancement.
Employers hiring for senior nursing positions are increasingly requiring applicants to have master’s degrees or other advanced credentials, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Therefore, NPs with master’s degrees may encounter more opportunities for advancement into roles such as assistant clinical nurse manager, charge nurse, and head nurse. After gaining additional years of experience, some NPs ascend to senior leadership roles, such as director of nursing.
Nurse practitioners also often have more clinical responsibilities and opportunities to work in advanced specialized health fields, including endocrinology, pulmonology, and neurology.
Career Outlook for RNs and NPs
The BLS projects that the employment of RNs will grow by 15 percent from 2016 to 2026 and that the employment of APRNs, such as NPs, will grow by 31 percent during the same time period. According to the BLS, the median wage for RNs in 2017 was $70,000, compared with a median of $110,930 for NPs.
The increased demand and significantly higher median compensation for NPs is due to the full range of care that nurses with these qualifications can provide. Because NPs can deliver many of the services that doctors do, the BLS forecasts that there will be an increasing need for NPs in team-based models of care, which are becoming more common in clinics, hospitals, and physicians’ offices.
Transitioning from a position as an experienced RN to a new role as an NP may seem daunting, but a quality education can prepare novice NPs to take their careers to the next level. New NPs can look forward to working toward a broader array of career opportunities, as well as the intangible rewards that come with providing patients with a fuller range of holistic care.
The online Master of Science in Nursing program at Regis College prepares graduates for advanced and specialized nursing roles in settings such as family practices, pediatric units, adult-geriatric facilities, women’s health centers, and mental health institutions. Learn about how this program can lead to career success today.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners