Nurse practitioners (NPs) are filling a need created by a shortage of primary care physicians across the county, and demand for NPs will only continue as a large number of new doctors choose specialties other than primary or family care.
As NPs become more common, patients are likely to see one during a visit to a doctor’s or specialist’s office, but many patients are in the dark about nurse practitioners and what they do.
Myths vs. Truth About Nurse Practitioners
Some think that NPs are not as capable as physicians at providing care. The truth is that they undergo extensive medical education and training, and a physician signs off on their work.
Another myth about nurse practitioners is they work for a doctor. In reality, they work with – not for – doctors, and are fully capable of seeing patients on their own.
Patients sometimes believe that NPs cannot help them with complex problems, but the opposite is true. NPs are skilled in dealing with serious medical issues and always have the option of consulting with physicians on difficult cases.
What is a Nurse Practitioner?
Nurse practitioners are healthcare practitioners with advanced training and education, beyond that required for Registered Nurses (RNs). NPs have at least a master’s degree, and today, more are choosing to pursue a doctorate degree in nursing.
Nurse practitioners may specialize in a particular area, such as pediatrics, oncology or women’s health. Unlike RNs, NPs can order tests and write prescriptions, diagnose conditions and develop treatment plans. In order to practice, NPs are also required to have hundreds of hours of clinical practice and to obtain certification. They often work alongside physicians, but can also serve as a patient’s regular healthcare provider.
The Difference Between a Registered Nurse and a Nurse Practitioner
Both RNs and NPs provide care to patients, but there are distinct differences in their required education.Registered nurses may earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, while nurse practitioners must have at least a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree.
Another difference is that more than 60% of RNs work in hospitals, while nearly half of NPs work in private practices and community health clinics.
The biggest difference between NPs and RNs is the level of autonomy granted to nurse practitioners. They can see patients on their own or refer to a physician or specialist as a case requires. Unlike RNs, nurse practitioners can diagnose and treat acute illnesses, and can prescribe medications.
Registered nurses are required to pass a licensing exam, while nurse practitioners must pass a certification exam and must re-certify every five years.
Continuing Education Requirements
Every state requires NPs to meet continuing education standards. Depending on their certifying organization, recertification may require 1,000 hours of clinical practice plus 75 hours of continuing education, or 150 hours of continuing education. Specialists must focus their continuing education within their specialty.
For registered nurses, continuing education requirements vary depending on the state in which they practice.
Salary and Demand for Nurse Practitioners
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for nurse practitioners in 2014 was $95,350.
The BLS projects job growth of 34% through 2022 for nurse practitioners, a much faster rate than the average pace of job growth. Nurse practitioners will be in high demand for two main reasons:
- The demand for healthcare will increase due to expanded insurance coverage as well as the aging of the population.
- The number of primary care physicians is decreasing.
Salary and Demand for Registered Nurses
The BLS reported the median annual salary for registered nurses in 2014 was $66,640.
The job growth rate for RNs is projected to be 19% through 2022, according to the BLS. Demand will occur as the aging population requires more healthcare, and as a result of increasing cases of chronic conditions, such as asthma, diabetes and obesity. The need for nurses will also increase as more patients gain access to health insurance.
Who is Suited to be a Nurse Practitioner?
Because NPs have more autonomy than nurses, this career is a good fit for self-starters who enjoy working independently and are highly organized. Patient care is an NP’s foremost duty; so communication skills and empathy are vital attributes. Finally, the ability to work with diverse personalities and populations is very important.
Interested in Becoming a Nurse Practitioner?
Registered nurses and nursing students who are interested in providing a higher level of patient care or expanding their career opportunities may choose to enroll in an MSN program. Becoming a nurse practitioner is challenging, but the rewards are many. Demand and salary levels are higher for nurse practitioners, and are expected to remain so for years to come.