Nurse Practitioner Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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A nurse practitioner's mean annual salary is around $98,000, but is it worth the education requirements and debt? Get the truth about job descriptions and career prospects to decide if being a nurse practitioner is the right career choice for you.
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A Nurse Practitioner Career: Pros and Cons

As an advanced practice registered nurse (RN), a nurse practitioner (NP) very often takes on the responsibilities of a physician. Take a look at the pros and cons of this career to decide if becoming a nurse practitioner is right for you.

PROS of a Nurse Practitioner Career
Higher than average mean annual salary ($98,000 in 2014)*
Strong demand and faster-than-average job growth (34% from 2012-2022)*
Earn a living while helping others*
Varied daily activities*
Can work in nearly any geographic location*

CONS of a Nurse Practitioner Career
Higher incidence of work place injuries*
Potential exposure to infectious diseases*
Higher costs for education ($17,000-$34,000 for master's degree)**
Irregular work hours, including on-call shifts, weekend, nights and holiday*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ** American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.

Essential Career Info

Job Description and Duties

Nurse practitioners fulfill many of the duties of a physician. They combine nursing care with primary care services, such as taking patient histories, ordering diagnostic tests, analyzing test results and performing patient physical exams and prescribing medications. They also provide patient health education and offer preventive care.

Salary Information and Career Prospects

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nurse practitioners earned a mean salary of around $98,000 as 2014. The highest paid nurse practitioners worked in the personal care services industry, where the average salary for these professionals was about $118,000.

According to the Mayo School of Health Sciences, nursing is one of the top 10 occupations for job growth. Demands for lower cost health care and more practitioners, along with the increasing emphasis on disease prevention and public health, are expected to continue to drive job growth for NPs. Nurse practitioners are capable of performing 60%-80% of patients' preventive and primary care, according to the American Nurses Association. The BLS predicted that jobs for nurse practitioners would grow 34% in the decade from 2012-2022.

Education and Training Requirements

A nurse practitioner performs many of the same duties as a medical doctor, so you need to have strong science and math abilities if you want to pursue this career. You'll need to get a bachelor's degree in nursing before enrolling in a master's program to earn the nurse practitioner credential. Depending on your grades and the school you are interested in attending, you might need to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) to gain entrance to an NP program. Some schools also require at least one year of clinical experience while working as an RN before beginning your NP training.

Certification and Licensing

Certification in CPR or Basic Life Support (BLS) is a must for most nursing positions. Licensing is required in all states, though requirements in individual states vary. To practice in any state, you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). To find information on any additional state licensing requirements, you should consult that state's board of nursing.

Skills

If you're thinking about an NP career, you must be detail-oriented with the ability to think quickly on your feet so that you don't miss critical information in a patient's file or make a potentially damaging mistake. With the health and wellbeing of your patients on the line, you need to be sure that you are comfortable with a high level of responsibility and with working in a fast-paced environment.

What Employers Are Looking For

Just like doctors, nurse practitioners are in demand wherever there are people. Education, training and licensure are the main requirements for getting a job as an NP. Below are some examples of what employers were looking for in March 2012:

  • A cancer center in Colorado sought a state-certified nurse practitioner with current CPR certification to assess patient care, implement care plans, record patient and family responses during treatments, prescribe medications, assist physicians with procedures and recommend community resources for patients and families.
  • A university health center in Indiana requested a nurse practitioner with at least two years of experience and family nurse practitioner certification. The NP would give acute and primary/preventive care to school employees and families. The ideal candidate needed to have experience working in urgent care, CPR certification and strong computer skills.
  • A Georgia-based home health and hospice center looked for a nurse practitioner with a current state license and the authority to practice, prescribe and bill Medicare. The NP's duties included providing primary care to hospice patients, including palliative care. The NP would develop treatment plans for patients at home or in other facilities, such as assisted living, inpatient units or senior housing.

How to Maximize Your Skills

Based on March 2012 listings from CareerBuilder.com, employers were looking for candidates with value-adding skills, such as strong interpersonal skills, organization and computer skills as well as familiarity with related programs, such as electronic medical records or word processing software. Staying on top of the latest equipment, techniques and technology in your field can help you break into the job market and earn desirable jobs.

Get Specialized

If you are interested in a career as a nurse practitioner, consider specializing in one or more specific fields. According to the AANP, NPs can specialize in areas such as women's health, pediatrics, family health, acute care, psychiatric care, adult health, neonatal health, gerontology or oncology.

Get Certified

Certification credentialing validates your knowledge, abilities and skills. One of the largest credentialing organizations for nurses is the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). They offer nine specialty certification credentials for nurse practitioners, including the following:

  • School NP
  • Family NP
  • Acute care NP
  • Pediatric NP
  • Adult NP
  • Family Psych and mental health NP
  • Diabetes management - advanced
  • Adult psychiatric and mental health NP
  • Gerontological NP
  • Family NP

Other Careers to Consider

Registered Nurse

If you want to start working after earning your bachelor's degree in nursing, you can work as a registered nurse (RN). Duties usually include recording patient histories, administering treatments and medication, observe patients, monitor medical equipment and educate patients and families about managing an illness or injury. Education requirements include graduating from a diploma program or a bachelor's degree program. RNs must maintain CPR or BLS certification and state licensure. The median annual salary for RNs was nearly $66,000 in 2011.

Nurse Anesthetist

Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) care for patients before, during and after surgery or other types of procedures. They administer anesthesia and other medications to keep the patient sleeping and/or pain-free during a procedure. Duties also include closely monitoring the patient's bodily functions during surgery. Education requirements are similar to that of an NP - you'll need to get your bachelor's degree in nursing, followed by a master's degree. The master's degree program in nurse anesthesia prepares you for professional practice. After graduation, you must be licensed in the state and seek certification from professional organizations such as the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA).

According to Mayo School of Health Sciences, CRNAs are in high demand, outpacing the number of available workers. Additionally, salaries for CRNAs are higher than most other nursing specialties. According to PayScale.com, annual wages for most CRNAs ranged from almost $85,000-$175,000 in 2012.

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