Nurse Practitioner Career Options

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Careers in health care branch off into many different fields and specializations. Doctors and physicians are the highest level of clinical health care providers, but other professionals such as nurse practitioners (NPs) are equally important to health systems. Nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses who provide specialty health care services to patients. Depending on their education and professional certifications, nurse practitioners may also be qualified to provide primary care services.
The options for nurse practitioner careers can reach advanced levels that entail more responsibilities and lead to higher earning potential. For individuals who are interested in a medical career but don’t wish to pursue medical school, an online BSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program offers opportunities to specialize in a particular area of nursing care and move up the health career ladder.

Different Nurse Practitioner Careers

A nurse practitioner is an advanced practice registered nurse with a more rigorous level of education. This empowers them to deliver the highest standards of clinical care and to diagnose, treat, and counsel patients with greater independence and autonomy. Nurse practitioners may provide either primary or specialty care to their patients, and may work in private practice, community clinics, hospitals, long-term care facilities, and other settings.
The median annual salary for a nurse practitioner was $120,680 in 2021, according to the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Those who have higher levels of experience or education may command more competitive salaries.
As the need for qualified primary care providers grows, the nurse practitioner field is expected to grow dramatically. BLS data projects employment growth of 46% between 2021 and 2031, adding nearly 113,000 jobs.
Within the field of advanced practice nursing, there are numerous career paths to consider, each one providing unique opportunities to impact patient outcomes and nursing systems as a whole. Consider a few of the most prominent examples of nurse practitioner careers.

Nurse Educator

The most experienced nurses are equipped with tools to teach other nurses how to improve their practical skills and technical knowledge. A nurse educator may be a professor at a university or the director of a nurse education program at a medical institution.

Nurse Informaticist

Nurse informaticists specialize in managing the information technology that nurses use to process patient health information and communicate with care teams. With a DNP education, nurse practitioners can learn how to innovate in this field and optimize these information systems.

Nurse Policy Specialist

Health policies govern health organizations and help societies achieve specific health objectives. DNP graduates have a deeper perspective on the ways in which local, state, and federal health systems interact with one another, allowing them to offer valuable input on these policies. In turn, these graduates are equipped to take on professional roles involved in creating health policy.

Chief Nursing Officer

The role of chief nursing officer arguably represents the most senior nursing professional. They direct the operations of nursing staff in a medical organization. In some cases, a chief nursing officer or chief nursing executive may have some involvement in advocating for the nursing profession on a larger scale by developing, analyzing, and proposing various health and professional policies.

Nurse Researcher

Nurse researchers help create and expand the scientific basis for the practice of nursing. They focus on clinical research, research on health systems and outcomes, and research on nursing education. For example, they may study how to improve the ways in which patients respond to health issues, and how to address social and behavioral aspects of health.

Nurse Administrator

Nurse administrators fill management and leadership roles in health care organizations. They manage nursing teams, nursing units, a department, or nurses throughout an entire health system. With their expertise in administrative procedures, they are well suited to roles as executives and policymakers.

What Does a Nurse Practitioner Do?

Given the wide variety of careers for nurse practitioners, each one will come with its own set of duties and responsibilities. In general terms, nurse practitioners deliver advanced health care services to patients and their families. This can involve patient evaluation and assessment, the development and implementation of a treatment plan, and patient education.
Some specific duties and responsibilities associated with nurse practitioner roles include:
● Recording patient symptoms and medical histories
● Maintaining up-to-date and accurate patient files
● Observing patients and administering physical examinations
● Creating or revising patient care plans
● Ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests
● Prescribing medication
● Collaborating with doctors or other providers

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

Those wondering how to become a nurse practitioner should be aware that nursing professionals need to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), followed by a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). After completing their postgraduate education, they then need to pass a national certification exam. The required certification depends on the desired area of specialization and the state granting the license.
Another avenue for becoming a nurse practitioner is to earn a terminal degree, such as the DNP, which can expand nurse practitioner career responsibilities even further. This advanced degree potentially allows nurse practitioners to educate other nurses, manage larger nursing departments, develop and maintain nursing informatics systems, help draft health policy, and provide executive-level nurse leadership to medical organizations. DNP nursing leadership generally leads to a more competitive salary and greater responsibility within a health system.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Nurse Practitioner?

Nursing students may also want to know how long it takes to become a nurse practitioner. While the exact length of time can vary, it typically takes about six to eight years: about four years to complete a BSN and another two years for an MSN, plus some time to develop clinical experience and to complete the certification exams.

How Can Nurses Advance in Their Field?

The benefits of becoming a nurse practitioner by earning a DNP are significant. As the complexity of health care continues to expand, DNPs can apply their depth of scientific expertise to increase the potential for better health outcomes. DNPs also are instrumental in addressing the ongoing shortage of physicians, and their ability to educate nurses can help alleviate the ongoing nursing shortage.
During their course of study, DNP students also have a unique opportunity to learn about topics that can help advance their careers. For example, they can broaden their expertise by studying nursing leadership, health care informatics, and cultural aspects of health care. Having that expertise can expand nurse practitioner career options to include leadership roles at health care organizations.

Climbing the Nurse Practitioner Career Ladder

Registered nurses who wish to advance in the profession often look into nurse practitioner careers. Many find that nurse practitioner graduate programs can lead to career advancement, greater autonomy, and leadership roles.
Individuals who are interested in nursing career advancement can explore the Regis College online BSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice program to learn more. This program is specifically designed to provide the clinical acumen and medical knowledge to become an advanced practice nurse at the highest level, allowing graduates to pursue any number of careers as nurse practitioners.

Recommended Readings

BSN to DNP Programs Online – Improve Patient Outcomes

Online BSN to DNP Programs: A Solution for the High-Level Talent Shortage

Nurse Educator Resources for Remote Teaching 


American Association of Colleges of Nursing, DNP Fact Sheet

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Master’s Education

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Nursing Research

American Associations of Nurse Practitioners, “What’s a Nurse Practitioner?

United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners