A career as a nurse practitioner is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a rewarding career that revolves around helping people.  Besides coming with a level of personal satisfaction,  practicing as a nurse practitioner also offers financial stability, even during times of economic hardship. Before you make a decision to become a NP, however, read on to find out exactly what it entails.

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What Is a Nurse Practitioner?
What Does a Nurse Practitioner Do?
Where Do Nurse Practitioners Work?
Nurse Practitioner Programs- Getting Your Nursing Degree

What Is a Nurse Practitioner?

A Nurse Practitioner is a type of Advanced Practice Registered Nurse. If you are planning to become a Nurse Practitioner, know that you are reaching toward one of the highest positions in the nursing field. It takes a great deal of time, education, experience, and dedication to become a nurse of this sort.

Like other nurses, nurse practitioners work to help accommodate and care for patients in healthcare settings. However, most of the time, nurse practitioners have much more responsibility than other types of nurses. In fact, they are often in charge of supervising nursing professionals such as Registered Nurses and Licensed Practical Nurses. They are also able to actively participate more in their patients’ care due to their increased clinical knowledge and patient care techniques.

Nurse Practitioners can also specialize in certain areas, much like physicians. Family nurse practitioners, for instance, deal with the general mental and physical health of patients. In contrast, pediatric nurse practitioners deal primarily with children, while geriatric nurse practitioners deal primarily with elderly patients. Other areas that nurse practitioners might specialize in include obstetrics, gynecology, neurology, and anesthesiology.

What Does a Nurse Practitioner Do?

Nurse practitioners have a number of different duties and responsibilities. Their first responsibility, however, generally involves caring for patients. They often work alongside physicians or they work in a completely autonomous fashion with their own case load or practice. Nurse practitioners assess, diagnose, prescribe medications and treat patients.

Assessing patients involves giving them complete physical examinations and thoroughly examining their medical histories. By checking a patient’s vital signs and discussing his or her symptoms, a nurse practitioner develops a better understanding of what might be ailing the patient.  The nurse practitioner can and will order diagnostic tests, create a treatment plan, prescribe medications, and in some cases refer patients to specialists.

One of the fallacies in regard to the nurse practitioner profession is that NPs substitute for doctors and are supervised by doctors at all times.   This is quite simply not true.   Nurse Practitioners in fact practice with autonomy under their own license.  Nursing care plans, and their approach to medicine and the patient as an individual, differs in many ways from how a physician may practice medicine.    There are many similarities in how physicians and NPs practice, however, nursing and traditional medicine have a different approach, and are considered different sciences from one another.

Understanding the Role of a Nurse Practitioner

Where Do Nurse Practitioners Work?

As a nurse practitioner, you will often find that there is no shortage of employment opportunities. Nurse practitioner positions can often be found in the most commonly thought of healthcare settings, like hospitals, clinics, and private practices. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities will also have a handful of nurse practitioners on staff as well.

Unlike other types of nurses, though, experienced nurse practitioners can  open their own private practices. These types of private practices may be either lone ventures, or joint ventures with physicians or other nurse practitioners. A private practice allows these nurses to have more independence and freedom in serving and caring for the general public.

Nurse Practitioner Programs- Getting Your Degree

There is a great deal of education and training in becoming a nurse practitioner. Generally, those interested in this career will start by completing a four-year program in nursing that combines theoretical learning with hands-on application. Once you earn this degree, you will then need to become a Registered Nurse (RN). In order to do this, you must take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).

Below is the educational path for a Nurse Practitioner (lowest to highest level of education)

Educational TrackSchool ProgramsAverage Education LengthChoosing Online or Campus
Earn a Bachelors DegreeView Programs4 Years Online or Campus
Earn a MSN DegreeView Programs2 Additional YearsOnline or Campus
Earn a PHD or DNPView Programs2-4 Additional YearsOnline or Campus

You can then enroll in a graduate degree program in nursing. If you are planning to specialize in a certain area of nursing, you can do so while earning your graduate degree. A typical graduate degree program will also require you to complete a clinical residency in your desired field.

Once you’ve earned your graduate degree in nursing, you will then be eligible to sit for a Nurse Practitioner certification examination. Both the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) offer NP certification exams. Depending on your chosen career path, you might also choose to take additional certification exams in your preferred area of expertise.

Congratulations on your decision to become a nurse practitioner, and good luck in your journey!