Nurse Practitioner Career Paths

Nurse practitioner is fast becoming a popular nursing career choice. Learn what you’ll do on the job.

Nurse practitioners (NP) were originally meant to serve as “physician extenders,” which meant they worked toward improving children’s health. Today, the role has morphed into something much broader as NPs can focus on a particular specialty, like adult care nursing, family care nursing or women’s health nursing.

If you thrive in environments where you can care for others, have a knack for complex problem solving and are compassionate, the nurse practitioner role could be right for you. NP programs are open to students with a variety of backgrounds, so if you aren’t currently a registered nurse, but have an interest in patient care advancements, consider enrolling in a nurse practitioner program.

The philosophy behind a NP role is to focus on holistic, preventative care with personalized treatment for each patient. Because NPs do their clinical training in a specific area, such as family care, they are also able to offer patients with specialized expertise.

On the job, nurse practitioners roles can vary depending on their specialty, but general tasks include:

  • Diagnosing patient illness and other conditions
  • Treating illnesses and conditions
  • Educating and counseling patients
  • Prescribing medication

Even if you know you want to become an NP, maybe you’ve wondered about the nurse practitioner work environment. The nursing shortage in the U.S. spells opportunity for NPs looking for jobs in hospitals, private practices, schools and colleges, hospice centers, community clinics, Veterans’ Administration facilities and private and public health departments.

What education or certification will I need to become a nurse practitioner?

Nurse practitioners fall under the advanced practice nurses umbrella, which means you’ll need to become a registered nurse with a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). In addition, NPs will have clinical training in a special area of nursing. Learn more about what you’ll study.

Both online and on-campus schools offer NP training courses, which usually take about two years to complete. The classes will be more advanced than those in a bachelor’s degree program, but will use the undergraduate curriculum as a building block. If you have an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree in another field, you can find schools offering accelerated programs for Bachelor of Science (BSN) and MSNs.

After completing your master’s degree, you’ll sit for the national certification exam. What it takes to be licensed as an NP differs by state, but generally, a master’s degree and national certification is required.

But it doesn’t stop there. Nurse practitioners certified by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCP) and the American Nurses Credentialing Center have to be re-certified every five years with either continuing education and training courses or by taking another exam. Each state requires a different amount of contact hours (Participate in 50 consecutive clock minutes in a board-approved continuing ed class or activity), so check with your state board to find out.

What career paths can I take as a nurse practitioner?

Part of what will determine your career path as a nurse practitioner is the specialty you choose for clinical training. For example, studying pediatric nursing will lead you in the direction of children’s health care while a specialization in acute care nursing will place you in one of the more fast-paced nursing environments.

Nurse practitioners interested in disseminating knowledge to a new batch of nurses can delve into an education career, while others turn to careers as medical researchers utilizing their analytical skills.

Learn about pay & job projections for nurse practitioners.

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