Nurse Practitioner: Career Summary, Employment Outlook, and Educational Requirements

Nurse practitioners are advanced practice nurses who perform tasks similar to medical doctors, like diagnosing patients and writing prescriptions. Find out the typical duties, employment outlook and education requirements. Schools offering Family Nurse Practitioner degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

How Do I Become a Nurse Practitioner?

To be a nurse practitioner, you need to have a graduate degree, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Degree programs for nurse practitioners offer specializations in areas like pediatric or geriatric care, women's health, oncology, public health, acute care and mental health. After earning a degree, nurse practitioners take an exam to become certified in a specialty from organizations such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center or Pediatric Nursing Certification Board. As a nurse practitioner, you must also be licensed by the state in which you practice.

The current minimum education needed to work as a nurse practitioner is a MSN degree, which takes 3-4 years to complete, depending on your specialty. Many colleges and universities prefer you have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) for entry into this graduate program, while other schools allow a bachelor's degree in another field if you are a registered nurse. Accelerated RN to MSN programs are also available for registered nurses who have an associate's degree or diploma and professional experience. Coursework often differs by the specialty, but you might take courses in pharmacology, physiology, statistics, patient diagnosis, healthcare ethics and nursing for underserved populations.

As of 2015, the minimum degree requirement for nurse practitioners is transitioning to the DNP, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (www.aacn.org). Some DNP programs are offered as a post-master's option and others might accept you with a BSN degree. A DNP degree program length varies based on your degree upon entry, but is typically 2-4 years in length.

What Would My Job Duties Be?

As a nurse practitioner, you work with patients as a primary and specialty healthcare provider. Your responsibilities may include diagnosing and treating chronic illnesses, infections and injuries, as well as performing wellness checkups on patients. Nurse practitioners also order and interpret tests, such as blood work and X-rays. They may also prescribe medications.

What is the Employment Outlook?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nurse practitioners continue to be in high demand, particularly in underserved populations like rural and inner-city communities (www.bls.gov). Although the BLS doesn't offer employment projections specifically for nurse practitioners, the outlook for registered nurses overall is expected to increase 22% from 2008-2018. In 2010, the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) reported that 39% of nurse practitioners work in hospitals and 20% of them work in rural environments (www.aanp.org).

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