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Nurse Practitioner

What is a Nurse Practitioner?

A Nurse Practitioner (NP) is one type of Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) and is one of the highest paying nursing occupations in the industry. All NPs are Registered Nurses (RNs), but they have earned an advanced degree and additional certification. Nurse practitioners are often able to practice independently of physicians, examine patients, write prescriptions, and open their own clinics. NPs must acquire a state-level license and receive certification from a national board in their given specialty field. Due to the high education and licensing requirements, NPs provide a quality of care that is comparable to that given by physicians, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The first Nurse Practitioner training curriculum, called the Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP) program (also known as tracks), was developed in 1965 at the University of Colorado by Drs. Loretta C. Ford, EdD, RN, PNP, and Henry K. Silver, MD. In 1974, the American Nurses Association (ANA) gave its official recognition of the profession by starting the Council of Primary Care Nurse Practitioners, an organization which helped define the NP job description. In 1977 the ANA started the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board as a certification program for NPs. In 1980, several NP-related organizations were established amidst a flourishing industry; by then there were over 200 NP programs with nearly 20,000 NPs already employed. In 1985, the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) was formed as a professional organization for NPs in all specialties across the country, and held its first national conference in Philadelphia in 1989.

Nurse Practitioner Responsibilities and Specializations

NPs provide services to individual patients as well as families and groups. Their responsibilities, according to Johnson & Johnson include examining patients, diagnosing illnesses, prescribing medications, ordering lab tests, interpreting test results, and initiating care plans. These professionals may also recommend preventative care measures and help to empower patients to take charge of their own well-being. NPs may also be employed in health care research and consulting. NPs are also patient advocates. Pediatrics was the original profession for NPs, but since then it has grown to include other certified fields such as acute care, adult care, geriatrics, family health, psychiatry, and obstetrics and gynecology (Women's Health, or WHNP), and a variety of other specializations.

Typical Work Environment

Typical Work Environment According to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), about half of these professionals work in physicians' offices. Other common work environments are hospitals, outpatient care centers, academic settings, and other clinical offices. Some NPs have their own practices.

Education and Certification Requirements

Becoming a nurse practitioner requires one to first become a registered nurse. The first step in doing so is to complete an accredited registered nursing program and earn a diploma, associate's degree, or bachelor's degree in nursing. After graduating, one must pass the NCLEX-RN and apply for a nursing license.

The AANP and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), the two largest organizations that issue nursing credentials, require that NP candidates also hold a graduate-level degree. This means that individuals must return to school for a master's or doctoral level degree in order to specialize and become a nurse practitioner. American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and the AANP, have proposed that entry-level NPs must earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree as of 2015, with current NPs holding master's degrees being exempt from the rule. Nurse practitioner programs vary in terms of admission requirements, but they generally require at least 1 year of experience as a registered nurse. Those who have not already earned a baccalaureate degree can earn an advanced nursing degree through a bridge program. Licensing exams for NPs vary by specialty. There are also requirements for continued education, which are dependent on the state of licensing and can be fulfilled in a traditional school or through various online nursing programs.

Salary and Job Outlook

Nurse practitioners are well compensated. In 2012, the BLS reported the median salary for NPs to be $89,960. The employment outlook for these professionals is also excellent, with the BLS predicting 34% job growth for NPs from 2012-2022, and 31% job growth for advanced practice nursing professionals overall.