One of the most common career advancement opportunities for registered nurses (RN) is to become a nurse practitioner, which is one of the hottest jobs in healthcare.
Here is a look at what a nurse practitioner (NP) does, the different types of NPs, the skills that are important for this career, and how to become an NP.
What is a nurse practitioner?
An NP is an advanced practice nurse. They often work in tandem with physicians and other NPs in physicians’ offices, clinics and hospitals, providing preventive and hands-on primary care. Millions of patients see NPs every year for a variety of healthcare needs.
Services provided by NPs vary by state, with some expanding the role of NPs so they can provide care in places where there is a shortage of physicians, such as rural areas. NPs can assess, diagnose, treat and manage illnesses depending upon location and specialization.
The demand for NPs is driven largely by the aging of the U.S. population. About 1 in 5 residents will be 65 or older by 2030. The U.S. Census Bureau has estimated that by 2034, people older than 65 will outnumber those who are 18 and younger.
What is the demand?
U.S. News and World Report rank nurse practitioners first in its 2023 list of Best Health Care Jobs and third among the best jobs in America list. Also, a 45% increase in employment is expected for Advanced Practice Registered Nurses from 2022-2032, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
What types of NPs are there?
There are several certifications NPs can pursue, such as family, adult-gerontology primary care; psychiatric/mental health; and women’s health and pediatrics.
The certifications align with some of the top specialties for NPS, including Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner, Adult Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGNP) and Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (PMHNP):
Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP): These NPs treat patients across the lifespan of family medicine and can work in a wide variety of settings. You can choose to focus on neonatal, pediatrics, family practice, surgical/OR and much more. FNPs work in outpatient clinics, hospitals, public health departments, home health agencies and Veterans Administration facilities.
Day-to-day work responsibilities usually include:
- Performing physical exams
- Prescribing medications
- Developing and implementing patient care plans, and often serving as a primary care provider
- Ordering and performing diagnostic tests
Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AGACNP): This NP specializes in the delivery of acute and chronic care to adult and geriatric patients.
As opposed to primary care AGNPs who develop long-term advocate relationships with patients, AGACNPs manage patients from admission to discharge, delivering emergency and urgent care to new patients suffering serious injuries or illness.
Adult Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP): This NP specialty is geared toward providing preventative and ongoing care for adult and geriatric patients.
An AGNP will examine patients, diagnose medical issues and develop treatment plans. You could focus on acute care, which means you’re directly treating illnesses, or primary care, which focuses more on health and wellness.
Like FNPs, AGNPs work in a variety of places, including an acute care setting, such as a hospital or clinic, or, if focusing especially on geriatric/elderly patients, in a nursing home or home health care setting.
Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP): These primary care providers are similar to AGNPs and FNPs, but focus their care on the pediatric patient population.
Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP): These advanced care nurses provide care that overlaps the roles of physicians and psychiatrists, assisting patients with mental health needs.
A PMHNP could provide psychotherapy, prescribe medications and develop and manage treatment plans for patients, although the scope of practice will depend on state regulations. Depression, anxiety, substance abuse/addiction, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and schizophrenia are among the disorders that can be treated by PMHNPs.
Work settings could include a hospital’s behavioral health center, a community mental health facility or a clinic. Telehealth is also is growing aspect of this position.
The demand for PMHNPs is expected to increase by 18% from 2016 to 2030, according to the National Center for Health Workforce Analysis.
What attributes do the best NPs have?
Here are a few of the skills that should make you a successful NP:
- Strong communication: When you are working with patients, they need to feel like they’re being heard as you provide care and set up a treatment plan. This is especially the case if you need to explain complex medical terms and test results. Also, you’ll need to communicate effectively with colleagues to coordinate a high level of care for patients.
- Excellent leadership: An NP is a decision-maker who will provide patients and members of the treatment team an evaluation of a patient’s condition and steps for a treatment plan. Other key decisions include what types of medication to prescribe and how much, and whether to order additional tests.
- Patience during crisis: Whether in an intense emergency room setting in a hospital or a one-on-one consultation in a physician’s office, NPs need to deal effectively with stressful situations. You have to be a strong listener, remain calm and figure out the best way to move forward.
How can I become an NP?
There are multiple paths to become an NP – a shorter path for nurses and others in healthcare and a bit longer for those who are not in the industry.
For example, to be accepted into one of Herzing University’s nurse practitioner programs, you need to have an active, current and unrestricted RN license.
- If you have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), you’ll pursue a program to earn your Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). With Herzing, you can complete your degree online and finish in about 20 months. You can also concentrate on particular specialties, such as FNP, PMHNP, AGACNP and AGPCNP.
- If you are an RN and have an associate’s degree, you can first go from RN to BSN, or begin working towards becoming an NP right away in an RN to MSN program.
- If you’re not in the healthcare field at all and already have a bachelor’s degree, you can pursue an accelerated BSN program.
After you earn your degree, you will obtain your license from the state in which you plan to work, where requirements are set by the state board of nursing.