Nurse Practitioners Fill Critical Roles in an Expanding Field
TAMPA, Fla., May 4 In every profession there are those who pursue advanced education and training to achieve top-level expertise. Nurse practitioner (NP) is the title given to nurses who attain such proficiency in their field. Recent studies by PayScale.com show that the top-end salary for NPs can exceed $93,000 annually, and demand for healthcare professionals is growing faster than that of any other career. Join U.S. News University Directory as they explore how NP licensure helps nurses position themselves for a lifetime of lucrative, rewarding and stable employment.
To begin a nurse practitioner education, the first step is to earn a registered nurse (RN) license. There are several ways to do this - including diploma and associate's degree programs - but for those who want to someday become an NP, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) followed by successful completion of the National Council Licensure Examination-Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN) is the preferred path. This is because BSN programs generally better prepare nurses for the rigorous education required of NPs, and also leave graduates at least two years closer to completing their master's or doctoral degree than other RN programs.
After earning a registered nurse license, gaining acceptance to a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program is the next step to becoming a nurse practitioner. Nurses pursuing either degree typically specialize in a particular area of nursing; psychiatric nurse practitioner (PHMNP), family nurse practitioner (FNP), pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP) and neonatal nurse practitioner (NNP) are the most popular concentrations, but there are many others. Specializing in this way allows nurses to concentrate on the aspect of their field that they find most rewarding and become true experts in its practice.
Which nursing schools to apply to is also a critical decision. Those offering MSN and/or DNP programs in a desired specialty are the obvious choice, but there are other factors to consider as well. Generally, nursing students should attend the most prestigious nursing school that they can get accepted to and afford. Graduating from a well-known and highly respected program expands their employment options once they enter the job market, and also increases their likelihood of landing the positions they really want. In this, nursing is like any other field: having a prestigious alma mater doesn't mean everything, but it can put a candidate ahead of the pack when competition for jobs is fierce.
Something else to remember: Financial aid is available, even at the graduate level. All nursing students should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see if there are any grants or loans that they qualify for. Obviously, grants are preferred - free money is better than money that must be paid back - but they are rare in the world of post-baccalaureate education. Most graduate students have more luck finding cheap, federally subsidized student loans. Careful research of scholarship opportunities is also recommended; nurses studying at the graduate level are encouraged to apply for any they think they have a chance of getting. Landing just one or two scholarships can render a prohibitively expensive nursing program suddenly affordable.
After completing an MSN or DNP degree, nurses can apply for licensure as a nurse practitioner. Every state has a board of nursing that regulates NP licenses, and each has its own particular credentialing standards. Most states require, at minimum, an MSN and certification by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) or American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Licensing periods also vary from state to state: some require relicensing every two years, while others require it every three.
Finally, certification from additional organizations might be required to enter certain specialties. For example, the American Psychiatric Nursing Association sets credentialing standards for nurse practitioners who want to work in the psychiatric field.
Healthcare employment is growing by leaps and bounds, so finding nurse practitioner jobs after licensure shouldn't be too difficult. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the nursing field to grow by 22% through 2018, a pace that is much faster than the average for all professions. This means there should be almost 600,000 new nursing jobs created over the next eight years, in addition to hundreds of thousands of job openings that will result from nurses who retire or leave for other reasons. Licensed NPs have the advanced education and training that qualifies them for many of the most sought-after and best-paying positions.
Nurse practitioner salaries are among the highest in the nursing field. According to PayScale.com, NPs with one to four years of experience earn between $65,000 and $80,000 annually. Those who have been in the field for five to nine years bring in anywhere from $70,000 to $88,000 per year, while NPs who have been practicing for over ten years can increase that to more than $93,000. Location and the type of facility an NP works in also play a role in determining how much they earn - those who work in large cities, and those employed by surgery centers or the military, tend to have the highest top-end salaries.
When choosing a career path, it is wise to consider many factors: growth potential, salary, educational requirements, fringe benefits and more. The entire healthcare field is expanding rapidly, and nurse practitioners are positioned to land some of the best jobs in it, so this is an excellent career to consider for those who are willing and able to earn the necessary credentials. Few other professions offer such an advantageous mix of flexibility, opportunity and job security.
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SOURCE U.S. News University Connection
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