Nurse Practitioner: Career Summary, Employment Outlook, and Educational Requirements

Explore the career requirements for nurse practitioners. Get the facts about education and licensure requirements, salary and 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 Nurse Practitioner?

Nurse practitioners (NPs) are advanced practice nurses who perform tasks similar to medical doctors, like diagnosing patients and writing prescriptions. They can serve as primary and specialty care providers. Nurse practitioners will assess patients, figure out the best way to manage or improve their health and counsel patients on how to incorporate these healthy strategies. They typically specialize in a particular population, like pediatrics or geriatrics. Most NPs are qualified to prescribe medication and order laboratory tests for their patients. They also work with other physicians as needed and use different medical equipment to diagnose health issues. Some NPs may conduct research. The following chart provides an overview about becoming a nurse practitioner.

Degree Required Master's or doctoral degree
Education Field of Study Nursing
Key Responsibilities Examine and assess patient health issues; order and conduct diagnostic tests and analyze results; prescribe treatments and medications; advise patients on healthcare issues
Licensure or Certification Licensure as an advanced practice nurse practitioner is typically required; professional certification is available
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 35%*
Median Salary (2015) $98,190*

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

How Do I Become a Nurse Practitioner?

To be a nurse practitioner, you need to have a graduate degree, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Degree programs for nurse practitioners offer specializations in areas like pediatric or geriatric care, women's health, oncology, public health, acute care and mental health. After earning a degree, nurse practitioners take an exam to become certified in a specialty from organizations such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center or Pediatric Nursing Certification Board. As a nurse practitioner, you must also be licensed by the state in which you practice.

The current minimum education needed to work as a nurse practitioner is a MSN degree, which takes 3-4 years to complete, depending on your specialty. Many colleges and universities prefer you have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) for entry into this graduate program, while other schools allow a bachelor's degree in another field if you are a registered nurse. Accelerated RN to MSN programs are also available for registered nurses who have an associate's degree or diploma and professional experience. Coursework often differs by the specialty, but you might take courses in pharmacology, physiology, statistics, patient diagnosis, healthcare ethics and nursing for underserved populations.

As of 2015, the minimum degree requirement for nurse practitioners is transitioning to the DNP, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Some DNP programs are offered as a post-master's option and others might accept you with a BSN degree. A DNP degree program length varies based on your degree upon entry, but is typically 2-4 years in length.

What Would My Job Duties Be?

As a nurse practitioner, you work with patients as a primary and specialty healthcare provider. Your responsibilities may include diagnosing and treating chronic illnesses, infections and injuries, as well as performing wellness checkups on patients. Nurse practitioners also order and interpret tests, such as blood work and X-rays. They may also prescribe medications.

What Is the Employment Outlook?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nurse practitioners continue to be in high demand, particularly in underserved populations like rural and inner-city communities. According to the BLS, job opportunities for nurse practitioners are expected to increase 35% from 2014-2024. The highest levels of employment for nurse practitioners during this time were in physician's offices and hospitals.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

A couple of related careers that require a master's degree are those of occupational therapists and physician assistants. Occupational therapists help injured or ill patients improve the skills they need to work and perform everyday tasks. Physician assistants work with physicians, surgeons and other professionals in healthcare to help treat patients. Physical therapy is another related career, but requires a doctoral or professional degree. These professionals work to improve an injured or ill patient's movements and help treat their pain.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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