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The Expanding Role of Nurse Practitioners

The demand for nurse practitioners is on the rise as healthcare organizations respond to the ongoing nursing shortage in the United States.

According to the 2017 Physician Incentive Review conducted by Merritt, Hawkins & Associates, only family physicians, psychiatrists and internists are more in demand than nurse practitioners. The increasing demand for nurse practitioners is a result of consumers seeking more control of the U.S. healthcare system, according to the Merritt Hawkins report.

“The demand for nurse practitioners has never been higher,” said Cindy Cooke, former President of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), according to a June 2017 article in Forbes. “With the rise of full practice authority in 22 states and the District of Columbia, more patients than ever have direct access to high-quality nurse practitioner care in every setting – including the veterans’ health system.”

North Carolina and Pennsylvania are leading a multi-state movement to potentially grant full-practice authority to nurse practitioners, according to the AANP.

Consumers Dictate Need for Change and Adaptability

Nurse practitioners operate as primary care providers at NP-managed urgent care centers, emergency departments, clinics and especially primary care practices as well. Retail clinics such as CVS Health and Walgreens Boots Alliance are staffed with nurse practitioners offering quick access to treat routine acute illnesses and health conditions.

In addition, as the healthcare system shifts away from fee-for-service medicine to value-based care and population health, an increasing amount of nurse practitioners are working with physicians in a team-based approach to increase access to primary care nationwide. Two out of three patients want laws passed for better access to nurse practitioner services, according to the AANP.

Nurse practitioners also give patients a good chance at being able to either use benefits or get access to care. According to the AANP:

  • 72% take Medicare
  • 78% take Medicaid
  • 81% take private insurance
  • 77% take uninsured patients

As of 2016, there were 150,230 nurse practitioners in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). By 2025, the field is expected to grow to 244,000, according to the AANP.

Registered Nurse vs. Nurse Practitioner

Registered nurses are health care professionals who specialize in treating and educating patients while working with physicians. They’re responsible for assessing the health problems and needs of patients, developing and implementing plans of care and maintaining medical records. They also advise patients on health maintenance and disease prevention.

Nurse practitioners are classified as advanced practice nurses who, unlike registered nurses, are able to prescribe medications. They diagnose and treat acute, episodic or chronic illnesses and focus on health promotion and disease prevention. They are eligible to perform duties outside the realm of a registered nurse and might choose to specialize in an area of care.

The duties of a nurse practitioner can vary according to practice setting. Their responsibilities can include, but are not limited to:

  • Recording and analyzing the medical, social, surgical, family and nutrition history of patients
  • Conducting physical exams
  • Ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests
  • Prescribing medications, treatments and certain types of therapy

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

Many nurses earn a BSN degree before enrolling in a graduate program, but there are also RN to MSN programs that grant a BSN and MSN all in one accelerated program.

Practitioners often specialize in one or more patient population focus areas, which includes family/individual across the lifespan, pediatric (acute or primary), adult-geriatric (acute or primary), neonatal, women’s health or psychiatric/mental health.

Nurse practitioners are required to hold advanced degrees such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). Further education and advanced certification can vary depending on location, employer, experience, and other factors.

Nurse licensing requirements also depend on the state. Each state has a board of nursing that determines the requirements for advanced practice licensing. The state board will inform you if there are any other additional requirements for performing certain procedures.

Job Outlook and Salary

The nursing profession is growing faster than any other profession in the country, according to the BLS. Jobs for nurse practitioners are expected to grow 31% by 2026, according to the BLS. Some of the factors contributing to that growth include:

  • The growth of outpatient care
  • Increase in the adoption of unhealthy lifestyles leading to more health problems
  • More people having access to healthcare
  • Greater demand on healthcare services because of an aging population

Nurse practitioners can work at many locations and settings. Community care programs, hospitals, primary care or specialty care offices, the military, and the prison system are just a few examples.

According to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Handbook, the mean annual wage for nurse practitioners was $104,610 as of May 2016. The average salary for the bottom 10% of nurse practitioners was $72,420, while the top 10% earned an average salary of $140,930.

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