What Does a Nurse Practitioner Do?
Nurse practitioners are licensed clinicians focused on patient health and disease prevention. The role of the nurse practitioner began in 1965 as a way to bolster the insufficient number of care providers, particularly in rural areas. Since then, the role has evolved to become an essential part of modern healthcare with over 220,000 nurse practitioners in the United States and a growth rate of 22,000 new graduates every year.
Nurse Practitioner Education
Nurse practitioners begin their career journey by earning a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree. This requires the successful completion of extensive science courses like microbiology, pathophysiology, and anatomy and physiology as well as hundreds of hours of hands-on clinical training. After graduating from a BSN program, students are required to pass a rigorous national exam called the NCLEX-RN to officially become certified as a registered nurse.
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Next, they must attend either a Master of Science and Nursing (MSN) program or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program. During either of these programs, students choose a medical specialty. They continue to take applicable science courses and complete hands-on education at a hospital or clinic. Upon graduation, they must sit for a specialty exam in order to become certified and licensed to practice.
Nurse Practitioner Clinical Specialties
As a prospective nurse practitioner moves through their educational program, they will be required to select a focus for their career. The most common choice is a family nurse practitioner (FNP), with about half of all nurse practitioners choosing this specialization, which focuses on providing primary care to patients of all ages.
Other options include acute care (ACNP), adult-gerontology (AGNP), neonatal (NNP), women’s health (WHNP) and psychiatric mental health (PMHNP). For those interested in focusing their scope of practice even more specifically, there are subspecialties such as cardiology, neurology, occupational health, and sports medicine, to name just a few!
The actual job duties of a nurse practitioner can vary greatly based on their chosen specialization, but all nurse practitioners focus on diagnosis, preventative care, and individual treatment plans for their patients. No matter what specialization, nurse practitioners are authorized to prescribe medication in all 50 states.
The exact scope of care that can be provided to patients differs by state, with some states allowing “full practice” (complete authorized independent practice) and others only allowing “restricted practice” (direct supervision required for some clinical duties).
Non-Clinical Career Paths for Nurse Practitioners
While most nurse practitioners work in clinical settings, it has become increasingly common for them to pursue alternative careers path such as consulting in educational or tech environments. Nurse practitioners are uniquely positioned to take advantage of these positions, and many employers are beginning to see the value of the MSN and DNP degrees. Here are just a couple examples of non-clinical jobs for nurse practitioners.
- Tech startups are often looking to innovate within the healthcare system, and the strong educational background of nurse practitioners make excellent advisors for the challenges these companies may face along that road. This can be an exciting role with the potential to provide new solutions and tools to healthcare providers.
- Expert witnesses can often make or break a court case, and there are many insurance companies or law firms that keep a nurse practitioner on staff to lend their expertise to cases of fraud and malpractice. A nurse practitioner in this role might review medical data, write reports of findings, or even testify in court.
- For the nurse practitioner who is feeling adventurous, there is the option of temporary work assignments, also known as locum tenens. Clinics all across the country often have the need for a specialized nurse practitioner to fill a position for weeks, months, or maybe even years. These thrilling assignments provide the opportunity to travel, scheduling flexibility, and highly competitive pay. Locum tenens placements are also a fantastic way for a nurse practitioner to experience a wide variety of clinical settings before deciding where they want to settle down.
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Nurse practitioners are highly skilled and educated independent healthcare providers who hold an essential role in the healthcare system. The ability to specialize within the MSN and DNP degrees provides a high degree of career customization, and there are even some exciting job opportunities outside of clinical work.
What exciting opportunities have you had or do you look forward to as a NP? Leave a comment below!
By Melissa DeCapua, DNP, PMHNP
Dr. Melissa DeCapua is a board-certified psychiatric nurse practitioner who graduated from Vanderbilt University. Her background is in child and adolescent psychiatry as well as psychosomatic medicine, and she currently works as a researcher Microsoft. She is a strong advocate for empowering nurses, and she fiercely believes that nurses should play a pivotal role in shaping modern healthcare. For more information, visit melissadecapua.com and follow her on Twitter @melissadecapua.