For the past two centuries, the average life expectancy in the U.S. has followed an overall upward trajectory — only recently declining slightly — with Americans living longer than previous generations. This lengthening of life is projected to continue, and thus to stave off a medical crisis, an urgent need for qualified nurse practitioners is expected in the health care industry.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts job growth of 31 percent for the collective occupations of nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners from 2016 to 2026; that is significantly faster than the average growth rate of 7 percent for all jobs. The question, Why be a nurse practitioner? could easily be answered with that statistic alone. However, it is only one reason for pursuing such a fulfilling profession in health care.
The Role of a Nurse Practitioner
Nurse practitioners, who are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), arrange for patient care delivery independently or collaboratively. They usually work with physicians and other health care providers to coordinate short- and long-term health care strategies that can improve wellness and minimize the development of chronic conditions in patients. They can also provide primary and specialty care, depending on the state of practice. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) is an organization that can offer more information about the level of care by state.
Common responsibilities of nurse practitioners include the following:
- Observing patients to assess their health and monitor their recovery
- Ordering and analyzing diagnostic tests, such as X-rays
- Diagnosing health problems
- Prescribing medicines and treatments
The various responsibilities of nurse practitioners tend to focus on the well-being of patients in non-clinical settings as well as in clinical environments. This focus can impact the everyday health and lifestyle choices that a patient makes and can help a patient save money on out-of-pocket medical expenses.
Nurse Practitioner Careers
Nurse practitioners can specialize in various fields of the health care industry. This may enable them to provide a deeper, more intimate level of care.
Nurse practitioners must have at least a master’s degree from an accredited graduate program. A license to practice in their state of employment is also required; the specific licensing requirements will vary by state. While certification is not mandatory to become a nurse practitioner, it may be advisable to demonstrate proficiency in a given role.
According to the BLS, the median annual pay for general nurse practitioners is approximately $104,000. It also predicts a 36% growth for the profession between 2016 and 2026.
Those who have a desire to guide nursing students through the constant changes in health care can take on the role of a nurse educator. This profession is responsible for providing instruction to nursing students in a combination of classroom and hands-on clinical settings. Nurse educators typically focus on an area of specialization in health care, such as obstetrics or oncology.
Certification is not required for nurse educators but is typically recommended. Because health care evolves, nurse educators may need to periodically enroll in continuing education courses to keep abreast of industry changes. The BLS includes this profession in the same category as all postsecondary teachers and reports that the 2017 median salary for the category was $76,000. The BLS predicts job growth of 15 percent between 2016 and 2026, which is much faster than the average growth rate of 7 percent for all jobs.
Nurse midwives administer various levels of care — gynecologic, prenatal, and postnatal, among others. They may provide childbirth-related care as well as assistance during gynecologic and cesarean surgeries. Nurse midwives also provide wellness care to patients, teaching them to incorporate proactive health strategies relating to nutrition and disease prevention. Additionally, they sometimes provide clinical care for women and newborns, depending on the state where they practice. In some instances, they also may also provide care to a patient’s partner who may be experiencing sexual dysfunction or reproductive health issues.
Certification is required for the position and can be obtained through an organization like the American Midwifery Certification Board. The BLS reports that the 2017 median salary for the collective occupations of nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners was $100,590, with higher-than-average job growth expectancy.
Nurse anesthetists administer anesthetics and associated care throughout various medical procedures — diagnostic, surgical, and obstetrical, for example. They also develop anesthetic plans for patients, ruling out any potential allergic reactions and thus keeping the administration of the anesthesia safe. They remain on hand after the administration to monitor vital signs and make adjustments in treatment, if necessary. Nurse anesthetists must be certified to perform their duties; certification may be obtained from an organization such as the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA). According to the BLS, the 2017 median salary for nurse anesthetists was $165,120, with higher-than-average job growth expectancy.
Pediatric nurses deploy a broad spectrum of care — including acute and chronic care, and surgical care — for children. They possess a deep knowledge of the unique physiology of children and adapt their diagnoses and treatment processes accordingly. Pediatric nurses must be certified from the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board or the American Nurses Credentialing Center. According to PayScale, the average salary for certified pediatric nurses is around $72,000.
Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner
Adult-gerontology nurse practitioners (AGNPs) treat non-pediatric patients, from adolescents to advanced geriatrics. Because of this broad scope, it is possible for AGNPs to focus their entire career on a specialized area of health care. This could be a specific age group, such as the elderly, or a specific branch of care, such as oncology or palliative care. The certification necessary for the position may be obtained through an organization such as the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). The average salary for AGNPs is $89,377, according to PayScale.
Many Paths, One Goal
While attaining the position of nurse practitioner can open the door to specialized careers in the field of nursing, the overall goal of the profession remains the same: to always deliver high-quality health care solutions that can improve patient outcomes. This goal makes becoming a nurse practitioner one of the most satisfying careers in health care a student can pursue.
For students who aspire to an advanced career in nursing, Ohio University’s online MSN program helps them gain the skills and experience necessary to take their nursing careers to the next level. Learn more about Ohio University’s online Master of Science in Nursing.