Licensed Nurse Practitioners

Explore the career requirements for licensed nurse practitioners. Get the facts about education, salary, licensure requirements and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Family Nurse Practitioner degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is A Licensed Nurse Practitioner?

A licensed nurse practitioner is a highly trained professional nurse who is qualified to see patients and provide primary medical care. They will review a patient's history, review test results, order tests, diagnose the patient and develop a treatment plan. They can also prescribe medication. Like doctors, they may specialize in a specific field of medicine, such as pediatrics, gerontology, oncology, women's health or trauma. Licensed nurse practitioners need a master's degree in nursing, and will typically complete a practical work experience in their selected field of specialization prior to entering their career field.

Degree Required Master's degree
Field of Study Nursing
Certification or Licensure All states require registered nurses to be licensed; all states require nurse practitioners to pass a national certification exam; licensure is required to prescribe medication
Key Responsibilities Interview, examine, diagnose and treat patients; order diagnostic tests; consult with other medical professionals; maintain patient records; prescribe medications
Job Growth (2014-2024) 35%*
Median Salary (2015) $98,190*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Would I Do as a Licensed Nurse Practitioner?

Nurse practitioners are registered nurses (RNs) with graduate-level education who offer primary care. As a nurse practitioner, you'd be able to serve many of the same functions as a licensed doctor, providing care for patients in a comprehensive manner. You might take medical histories, perform physical examinations, diagnose illnesses, prescribe medications and refer patients to specialists. You could specialize in many areas of health care, including family practice, pediatrics, women's health, oncology or mental health. As a nurse practitioner, you could work anywhere medical help is needed, such as private practice, a hospital, clinic or school; you could also travel to various institutions or assist patients in their homes.

What Education Do I Need?

You'll first need to become a registered nurse, which you can accomplish with an associate degree in nursing. However, since you'll need a master's degree to practice advanced nursing, earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) would qualify you for graduate school. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing's Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education accredits nursing education programs at the bachelor's and master's levels. In a BSN program, you'd learn general nursing practices in classroom, lab and clinical environments. After earning your degree, you're eligible to take the national examination to become a licensed RN.

A bachelor's degree, RN licensure and nursing experience is usually required to enroll in a master's degree program in advanced practice nursing. In a graduate program, you can usually choose a specialty, such as family practice, pediatrics, geriatrics or nursing education. You can usually complete your studies and practicums in 2-3 years, and some schools offer part-time or online programs that allow you to work while earning your degree.

How Do I Become Licensed?

To become an RN, you'll need to obtain licensure through your state by passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). However, licensing regulations to become a nurse practitioner vary by state. Common requirements include an RN license, completion of a graduate-level program in advanced practice nursing and experience in nursing. Separate licensing could be required if you prescribe or distribute medication. Some states also require that you first earn certification as a nurse practitioner, which you can do through such organizations as the American Nurses' Association or the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. Like licensure requirements, certification eligibility usually requires that you first earn a master's degree.

How Much Could I Earn?

According to BLS, the median nurse practitioner salary in May, 2015 was $98,190, while those in personal care services averaged $135,290 per year. Specializations saw very little fluctuation after the 5-year mark, with those in urgent care, cardiovascular surgery and internal medicine earning about the same as nurse practitioners with specialties in gynecology, psychiatric nursing, pediatrics or family medicine.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Licensed practical nurses are highly trained medical professionals, and share similar duties with occupational therapists, physician assistants and nurse anesthetists. Occupational therapists, physician assistants and nurse anesthetists all need a master's degree in their field. Occupational therapists and physician assistants see patients, review their medical history, assess their condition, order tests if necessary, diagnose the patient and develop a treatment plan. These are all tasks that nurse practitioners perform. The key differences are that occupational therapists focus on patients with an illness, injury or disability that is affecting their ability to perform routine tasks, such as buttoning their clothes or holding a pencil. For example, if someone suffers a serious bone fracture in their arm or wrist they may need to work with an occupational therapist to regain functions. Physician assistants work under the supervision of physicians. Nurse anesthetists take patient vitals and monitor them during procedures. They administer anesthesia to patients. Their work is similar to the work of nurse practitioners because they assess patients and assist with their care while they are undergoing surgery or tests.

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