The week of November 8-14 honors nurse practitioners with National Nurse Practitioner Week. Nurses who achieve this professional status have plentiful and rewarding career opportunities to explore. As a nurse practitioner (NP), nurses have the flexibility and options to focus their practice in specialties that are most meaningful to them.

As nursing students consider their career paths, becoming a nurse practitioner is often a goal for nurses who want a degree of autonomy and who might enjoy the challenges of making many decisions in treating patients.

Because becoming an NP requires at least a master’s of science in nursing and a doctorate in nursing is encouraged, becoming an NP takes dedication to earning advanced degrees. If you’re considering becoming an NP, you don’t need to follow a direct educational path but you do need a commitment to earning those degrees.

Working as a registered nurse while you continue your studies to an NP gives you opportunities to find the niche of nursing that most appeals to you. Throughout your different roles, whether those are your early clinicals as a student or your first jobs after you graduate with a bachelor’s degree and assume a registered nurse (RN) role, you’ll explore many different specialties to find a good fit. Planning out your professional path helps you take steps toward each goal.

The American Association of Nurse Practitioners is a national organization that supports NPs ability to practice independently. In some states, NPs are able to practice entirely independently in a solo practice if they choose. Other states require NPs to work under the oversight of a physician. NPs and physicians are able to diagnose patients and treat them as they consider the patient’s health and additional factors that may impact their treatment plans. Like a physician, nurse practitioners’ required education and advanced training allow them to become licensed to prescribe medications to patients, something RNs aren’t licensed to do.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, NPs should expect to bring in a higher salary that aligns with highly specialized nurse anesthetists or nurse midwives. A nurse practitioner makes an average salary of $115,800 (2019) which reflects their additional education and training. A registered nurse’s annual salary for the same year is $73,300. A licensed practical nurse earns an average of $47,480.

Within a NP path, nurses can choose a specialty that appeals to them. Many NPs become family practitioners and treat all ages and conditions. Others may specialize in the mental health and psychiatric specialties and others may choose to focus more on a specific age group (older adults or pediatrics). As you become more experienced in your career, you’ll develop important relationships with your patients, many of whom you’ll treat over a long time.

This week, celebrate your accomplishments and the changes you have made in the lives of your patients.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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