NURSE PRACTITIONER PROGRAMS EXPLAINED
The days of seeing a doctor for all your health conditions are over, as nurse practitioners (NPs) are quickly becoming the professionals who people turn to for health management. NPs perform many of the same duties as doctors, yet, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), they often have much higher satisfaction reports.
Read on to learn how you can become a nurse practitioner and which specialties come with the most lucrative salaries.
WHAT IS A NURSE PRACTITIONER?
An NP is a type of advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). NPs’ advanced education allows them to provide more specialized care than a registered nurse, and they usually select a patient population focus area to specialize in before applying to a school.
NPs are an integral piece of healthcare teams in hospitals and other facilities because they can perform many of the same tasks as a physician. However, the types of work NPs do and the patients they help vary. Most states follow the same consensus model (a standard set by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing [NCSBN] for the regulation of APRN roles) to ensure NPs complete their education in one of four roles:
- Certified nurse practitioner (CNP) — Provides comprehensive patient care by diagnosing and treating health conditions and, depending on the state, may sometimes be overseen by a physician
- Certified nurse-midwife (CNM) — Specializes in women’s reproductive health, pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum care
- Certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) — A nurse certified in giving anesthesia to patients before surgery, or in a pain management center or dental office
- Clinical nurse specialist (CNS) — Obtains advanced knowledge in a selected specialty and tends to focus on education and research over prescribing medication
Like physicians, NPs can run various tests to diagnose and treat illnesses, create treatment plans, and prescribe medication. However, some states require a physician to oversee NPs, while others allow NPs full reign. You may want to check your state’s requirements, especially if you plan to move to and practice in a new state. Some states don’t yet follow the consensus model for all APRNs, although it’s becoming more common to see NPs take over the physician role without supervision.
NPs graduate with a degree focused on the type of population they want to help. The school and type of program you attend depends on the population foci and/or sub-specialization you choose. For example, a neonatal NP would find a neonatal program. Popular population foci include:
- Family (across the lifespan)
- Women’s Health
- Psychiatric/Mental Health
NPs also choose between practicing long or short-term care, where primary care nurses find work in outpatient offices or clinics, and acute care nurses work in urgent cares or hospital settings.
Depending on the population foci you select, you may also pursue a sub-specialization. An acute care adult-gerontology NP, for example, can further specialize in emergency medicine. Sub-specialties are completely optional and most don’t require added education, but some may require another certification exam. A program in your specific sub-specialty may help you prepare for both population and sub-specialization certification exams.
Common sub-specialties (explained more in-depth below) and their suggested population foci include:
- Orthopedics — Primary or acute care adult-gerontology
- Emergency Medicine — Acute care adult-gerontology or pediatrics
- Palliative Care — Primary or acute care adult-gerontology
- Oncology — Primary or acute care pediatrics; primary or acute care adult-gerontology
- Dermatology — Family; primary or acute care adult-gerontology
- Nephrology — Primary or acute care adult-gerontology
- Cardiology — Family; primary or acute care adult-gerontology
- Psychosomatic Medicine — Family; psychiatric/mental health
- Surgery — Acute care adult-gerontology or pediatric
- Holistic Care — Family; primary care pediatric or adult; women’s health; psychiatric/mental health
The specialty you select will determine your professional organization, credentialing body, important state chapters, and top experts in your field. Seek out an organization in your area for more detailed information on what type of NP you want to become and how long that educational program may take you to complete.
Note that various acronyms are used to describe types of NPs.
The following table explains the difference:
|MSN||Master of Science in Nursing||The minimum degree needed to become a nurse practitioner.|
|DNP||Doctor of Nursing Practice||A terminal degree for nurse practitioners; may become the standard requirement in the future.|
|NP||Nurse Practitioner||A nurse who’s qualified to work in a healthcare team, but not yet registered or certified to practice medicine.|
|A nurse who has obtained at least a master’s degree. Types can include nurse practitioners as well as certified nurse-midwives, certified registered nurse anesthetists, and clinical nurse specialists.|
|APN||Advanced Practice Nurse||see APRN|
|CNP||Certified Nurse Practitioner||A nurse practitioner who is certified, but not yet registered with the state.|
|A nurse practitioner who is certified and registered to practice.|
FAMILY NURSE PRACTITIONER (FNP)
Similar to general NPs, family nurse practitioners (FNPs) gain added certification to practice with families. They tend to work in a medical office, clinic, hospice center, nurse-managed health center, school, home, or hospital.
FNPs provide the healthcare needs of the entire family like the family doctor did in the past, following patients through their life cycles. Daily duties include diagnosing illnesses, prescribing medication and therapy, conducting routine check-ups, ordering lab tests, assisting or performing in minor surgical procedures, and promoting disease prevention.
Because some states require FNPs to work as a part of a team, they may collaborate with physicians and other healthcare professionals. Sometimes they refer their patients to appropriate healthcare providers, as well. More and more FNPs in recent years are taking on leadership roles in health policy, system improvement, and research and evidence-based practice.
ADULT-GERONTOLOGY NURSE PRACTITIONER (AGNP)
If you enjoy working with adult or elderly patients, you can become an adult-gerontology nurse practitioner (AGNP)—which is an in-demand role. AGNPs take on patients as young as adolescence and tend to work in community health centers, clinics, specialty clinics, Veteran’s Administration facilities, assisted living facilities, acute and chronic rehabilitation centers, and urgent care centers.
AGNPs may spend their days monitoring or performing therapies. Duties include taking health histories, conducting physical exams, diagnosing and treating common acute and chronic issues, interpreting lab results, prescribing medications, and referring patients to other health professionals as needed. AGNPs will also teach their patients about disease prevention and health maintenance, which are two of the most important aspects of primary care.
Some AGNPs also provide specialized care for patients with acute, critical, and/or complex chronic health conditions. They apply their advanced nursing skills to stabilize a patient’s condition, minimize acute complications, and restore them to maximum health. These adult-gerontology acute care NPs are commonly found in hospital emergency rooms, intensive care units, specialty labs, specialty clinics, and both acute and sub-acute care wards.
NEONATAL NURSE PRACTITIONER (NNP)
Neonatal nurse practitioners (NNPs) offer specialty care for premature or sick newborns who suffer from issues like respiratory distress, heart abnormalities, congenital abnormalities, and other disorders. They often work in a hospital’s intensive care unit, delivery room, or emergency room, or in specialty clinics.
NNPs may assess, diagnose, and initiate medical procedures on newborns. They monitor specialized equipment as well, including ventilators and incubators, and see to the proper feeding and basic care of infants.
PEDIATRIC NURSE PRACTITIONER (PNP)
A pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP), like an NNP, works with children. However, PNPs provide primary healthcare to children from birth to the age of 21. They focus on acute, critical, or chronic health conditions. They tend to work in hospitals, outpatient clinics, doctor’s offices, specialty clinics, home healthcare facilities, and schools.
A PNP works with families as well as children and may conduct home visits. Their job is to assist in health promotion, illness prevention, and risk identification when it comes to infants, children, and adolescents with health conditions. They provide primary care for young kids, monitor and manage intensive therapies in areas like a pediatric acute care center in a hospital. However, you may also find PNPs in intensive care units, emergency rooms, ambulance services, rehabilitative clinics, and specialty-based clinics.
If a PNP nurse is certified, you’ll notice their acronym may change. Options commonly include certified pediatric nurse practitioner (CPNP) and pediatric nurse practitioner-board certified (PNP-BC). Certifications may also vary based on whether the nurse performs acute or primary care.
PSYCHIATRIC/MENTAL HEALTH NURSE PRACTITIONER (PMHNP)
A psychiatric or mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) performs tasks similar to a psychiatrist. These nurses diagnose and treat mental illness and prescribe medication to their patients over the course of their lifespan. PMHPNs tend to work in an office, primary care clinic, community mental health center, day treatment program, substance abuse center, recovery program, private practice, or hospital.
They may also perform treatments like crisis intervention, medication management, and psychotherapy. Like all NPs, they will focus on health education and refer patients to other healthcare professionals as needed.
Mental health is one of the most important areas a nurse can specialize in today. Because the United States has a huge lack of adequate mental health services, PMHNPs are in high-demand in several states and can find rewarding positions helping the public.
WOMENS HEALTH NURSE PRACTITIONER (WHNP)
Women’s health nurse practitioners (WHNPs) specialize in the comprehensive healthcare of women. They follow women’s health throughout the lifespan, facing issues like pregnancy, prenatal management, fetal evaluation, postpartum care, family planning, menopause, and other women’s health issues. You’ll find them working in primary care settings and women’s health specialty practices.
Like general NPs, WHNPs also focus on health promotion, education, maintenance, and disease prevention. In addition to providing care for women’s reproductive health, providers may also take on issues related to hormone therapy or counseling.
WHAT SETS NURSE PRACTITIONERS APART FROM OTHER CAREGIVERS?
Nurses, unlike many doctors or physician assistants (PAs), learn how to use a holistic approach and relate to their patients. NPs and PAs may compete for the same jobs at times, but an NP’s education and specialization is centered around a specific focus population. NPs are important for the following reasons:
- Nurses come from a background of healing and nurturing — Patients may feel that nurses are more friendly and approachable healthcare providers. They’re viewed as mentors and educators in their locations and are often highly involved in professional organizations at both the local and international level.
- Lower costs — NPs lower healthcare costs for patients who see them as a primary care provider by providing higher quality preventive care, health education, maintenance, and counseling, which reduces hospital stays, trips to the ER, and even medication prices.
- Shortage solution — Because there’s a shortage of physicians to provide high-quality, patient-focused healthcare, NPs are readily available to help fill the void. In most states, NPs are able to practice independently.
- Patient satisfaction — People who visit NPs every year claim to feel better and love their healthcare, according to AANP. Patients love nurses!
SALARY AND CAREER OUTLOOK
It’s a great time to become a nurse practitioner! Read on to learn about average salaries and the job growth outlook.
WHAT CAN I EARN AS A NURSE PRACTITIONER?
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average NP makes around $107,030 each year. However, salaries range based on your experience, work setting, and specialty. The lowest average earners make around $78,300 per year, for example, while the highest 90% of NPs bring home an average wage of $150,320.
The specialty you select will determine your work setting and may also allow you to earn a higher salary. The following table shows the average pay for the top paying and most common industries in this field:
|Industry/Work Setting||Average Salary|
|Medical and surgical hospitals||$113,900|
|Outpatient care centers||$116,550|
|Holistic or other health practitioner’s office||$111,520|
|Colleges and universities||$100,770|
|Personal care services||$139,770|
|Community and emergency relief services||$131,930|
|Mental health, substance abuse facilities, and developmental disability help||$117,440|
Salaries also vary by state, as some pay higher wages due to a greater need for nurses and/or a higher population density. The top five states that pay the highest wages, on average, include:
- California: $133,780
- Alaska: $122,880
- Massachusetts: $122,740
- New Jersey: $122,100
- New York: $120,970
CAREER OUTLOOK FOR NURSE PRACTITIONERS
Nurse practitioners are in high-demand, and NPs with DNP degrees are only expected to grow as more states allow for independent practice.
According to the BLS, NP jobs will increase at a rate of 31% by 2026. This growth is much faster than the national average for all jobs and will occur due to an increasing elder population, as well as a growing emphasis on preventative healthcare, allowing APRNs to replace traditional doctors. As the baby-boomer generation ages, many more APRNs will be needed to treat patients.
Certain specialties are also facing a growing need. A general nurse practitioner, for example, is the most in-demand position, with a projected job growth of 36%. This is closely followed by nurse midwives at 21% and nurse anesthetists at 16%.
Some states will employ more nurses than others, typically due to large populations or lack of doctors. Keep in mind that NPs may or may not be allowed to practice independently based on state regulation. The top five states who employ the highest number of NPs, according to the BLS, include:
- New York
HOW TO BECOME A NURSE PRACTITIONER
To become an NP, you will need to complete the following steps:
- Step 1: Pick one of the five specialties (and an optional sub-specialty)
- Step 2: Sign up to obtain either a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice program (DNP) degree
- Step 3: Complete coursework and clinical training requirements
- Step 4: Earn your national certification
- Step 5: Obtain licensure in your state
Before you can select the right program for you, you need to choose a specialty. The program you enter is determined based on your specialty or possibly your sub-specialty. You can earn various specialty tracks and certifications in addition to your degree, and your education will prepare you to work in settings with specific patient populations. Therefore, you’ll likely see programs that focus on family mental health, pediatric oncology, etc.
An MSN is the minimum degree requirement to become a nurse practitioner. If you want to obtain an MSN, expect to take courses in healthcare policy and pharmacology. Earning a DNP, on the other hand, requires you to complete a capstone project, write a dissertation, and take advanced classes on leadership and genetics in healthcare. Some graduate programs will require you to have already obtained a BSN and have RN work experience to apply, among other admission guidelines.
The AACN recommends that all NPs interested in direct patient care or administration earn a DNP. While some states already require a DNP for NPs to practice, soon, it may become a requirement across all states. However, state regulations change and each state’s requirements vary, so you may want to check your state board’s requirements.
Clinical training is required before you can earn certification. Clinicals will prepare you to provide primary or acute healthcare to patients. While the required number of hours will depend on your program and state, most schools require between 400 and 1,000 hours. The setting in which your clinicals take place may also depend on your specialty. Expect to undergo evaluations and periodic peer reviews on your performance.
NPs are required by law to obtain national board certification, which involves passing an exam that will vary based on your state and specialty area. Check your jurisdiction’s requirements before applying for a graduate program. Professional organizations on the national level, such as the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners or the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board, certify NPs.
Finally, your degree alone doesn’t allow you to practice medicine. You’ll need to obtain your RN license by passing the NCLEX-RN exam if you have not already done so before you can earn an advanced practice nurse license. In addition, after you graduate you must become registered and licensed in your state in order to practice. You may also want to earn a professional certification from your specialty organization to advance your career. Again, requirements vary based on your state.
MASTER’S vs DOCTORATE DEGREE: Which One Should I Get?
If you’re trying to decide between a master’s or a doctorate degree, consider your career goals. If you want to work with a special population, such as children, or focus on an area of medicine like emergency care, your specialty may determine which degree is right for you. Likewise, you may need a higher degree depending on where you live or if you want to practice unsupervised.
The main difference between the MSN and DNP degrees is the level of coursework. According to the AACN, DNP programs are designed to prepare students for advanced nursing practice roles. Unlike a Ph.D. program, this doctorate program focuses on practice over research. It includes organizational and systems leadership, healthcare policy, information and technology systems, and evidence-based practice.
Time is another factor. Doctorate degrees tend to require more clinical hours than MSN degrees. Most DNP students must complete at least 1,000 hours post-BSN in addition to the curriculum, rather than 400 hours along with a capstone project, which is typically developed and implemented over multiple semesters and practicum courses. Students demonstrate their mastery of the theories and practices they’ve learned in their DNP program through this main project.
Because DNPs are quickly becoming the industry standard and may often be required for independent practice, not all specialties are available with a master’s degree. If you want to become a nurse midwife, nurse anesthetists, nurse practitioner, or clinical nurse specialist, you’ll need a DNP. Students with a DNP may also be able to fill more roles in the workforce than MSN holders, as many find roles in administration, research, academia, or other leadership roles. However, tenure positions will often go to Ph.D. holders.
MASTER’S DEGREE PROGRAMS FOR NURSE PRACTITIONERS
According to the CCNE, there are currently over 400 various NP master’s programs. The best pathway for you may depend on your previous education and career goals. Common program options include:
- Traditional MSN — If you’re a licensed RN and already have a BSN, a traditional MSN program is the most common way to earn a master’s degree. This program takes about two years.
- RN-to-MSN — This is a bridge program designed to help RNs with an associate degree or diploma complete their BSN and MSN quickly. The RN-to-MSN accelerated track allows students to graduate in around three years with a full-time course load.
- Direct-Entry/Entry-Level MSN — Created for non-nursing professionals who have a bachelor’s degree in a subject other than nursing, entry-level or direct-entry programs allow students to change careers without re-earning prerequisites. Students earn an RN license and an MSN degree in one program.
Nurse practitioners can select one of six specialties or population foci (see above to learn more about selecting a population focus). The program you select will often focus on this area, and some programs may require at least 1,000 clinical hours. Some specialties, such as midwives and anesthetists, are typically reserved for DNP holders.
You can also complete a sub-specialty, such as family practice, as a part of your program, which qualifies you to earn certification in the area. Or, you can select a second specialization after your basic education by earning a post-master’s certificate. To be credentialed in two areas, you must meet another set of educational requirements and take more college classes.
Although programs vary, they each tend to offer core courses, classes in your specialty, and clinical study hours. Bachelor-level courses cover many of the prerequisites you’ll need to graduate programs, including:
- Human Anatomy and Physiology
- Community Health
- Ethics in Nursing and Health
Common MSN courses NPs may take include:
- Healthcare Policy
- Clinical Practicum
- Advanced Pharmacology
MSN degrees tend to require at least 400 hours in a clinical study, possibly more depending on your specialty. In your training, you will learn hands-on how to deal with patients and manage proper healthcare. Some schools will find a clinical experience for you, while others (especially online programs) require you to find a setting to complete your clinical hours. Positions may become competitive, so it’s not always easy to find a clinical experience.
DOCTORATE DEGREE PROGRAMS FOR NURSE PRACTITIONERS
Like master’s degrees, there are many ways you can earn a DNP. The path you take will depend on your current education and the area you want to specialize in. DNP programs generally include:
- BSN-to-DNP — If you are an RN with a BSN who wants to earn a DNP, you can get there faster without first earning an MSN degree. This program allows full-time students to earn a DNP in three to four years, while part-time students take around four to six years to complete the program.
- MSN-to-DNP — The most common way to earn a DNP, this traditional path allows RNs with their MSN degree to earn a DNP. Full-time study takes one to two years to complete, while part-time students graduate in two to three years.
- RN-to-DNP — Designed for RNs with their Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) who want to earn a DNP faster, these programs are hard to find and may require students to hold a non-nursing bachelor’s degree in addition to an ADN. Students complete the program in four years with full-time study or six years with part-time study.
DNP degrees involve high-quality and advanced nursing training. Earning a DNP will require a capstone project, more clinical training, and advanced coursework. Graduates are expected to become leaders in their field who bring advanced evidence-based knowledge to boost healthcare settings and outcomes. They primarily strengthen clinical settings, influence policy, and research new scientific methods.
To prepare students to become the highest level of clinical and healthcare policy leaders, you’ll need to take the following DNP courses:
- Healthcare Leadership
- Genetics/Genomics in Healthcare
Other courses you take will depend on your specialty. There are common advanced practice tracks in family, pediatric, or adult primary care.
ACCREDITED NURSE PRACTITIONER ONLINE PROGRAMS
Although you may find online NP programs from an accredited source, these are actually hybrid programs. Some coursework and lectures are easy to complete online, but classroom training is required in nursing, so expect to head to your local campus sometimes. Your clinical experience may also require you to head to another location, where you’ll gain hands-on training.
There are a number of benefits to enrolling in online programs. If you work or have other life commitments, you can plan your courses around your schedule. You can review online lectures at your leisure. And you may be able to earn your degree faster if summer courses are available.
On the other hand, when studying online, you must stay highly motivated to stay on track. Time management skills and self-discipline are essential for getting work done for online classes. If you join an online program, know that you may still need to go to campus, and it may be more difficult to locate a clinical experience on your own.
CERTIFICATIONS/LICENSURE NEEDED TO BECOME A NURSE PRACTITIONER
All NPs must be licensed and certified in their specialty, and requirements vary by state.
The first step after graduation is to pass the national certification exam, which qualifies you to apply for an APRN license with your state nursing board. National certification agencies such as the AANP or ANCC offer certifications in various areas; the exams consist of mostly multiple-choice questions.
Your certification is also based on your specialty. A women’s health or neonatal NP, for example, would seek board certification from the National Certification Corporation (NCC).
Once you pass the exam, you can earn APRN state licensure. Requirements typically include a current RN license, national certification in your population focus, and a graduate degree.
After you’re granted licensure, you need to apply for DEA registration to prescribe medications. Some states also restrict NPs from handling medications and practicing unsupervised. Depending on your state’s practice environment rules, you may be supervised by a physician. Over 20 states and the District of Columbia currently let NPs practice completely independently, which is a trend that’s expected to continue as more NPs take over physicians’ roles.
The following states allow NPs to practice on their own, but they may require doctorate degrees:
- Washington D.C.
- New Hampshire
- New Mexico
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
TOOLS & RESOURCES
Top organizations in the industry share news and provide tools to help you through the education and accreditation process. Use the following list of resources to learn more about earning your NP degree and choosing your specialty:
- American Association of Colleges of Nursing (CCNE)
- Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
- National League for Nursing (NLN)
- American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP)
- American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
- American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN)
- Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB)
- National Certification Corporation (NCC)
- National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (NAPNAP)
- Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health (NPWH)
- Gerontological Advanced Practice Nurses Association (GAPNA)
- Dermatology Nurses Association (DNA)
- National Association of Neonatal Nurse Practitioners (NANN)
- Nurse Practitioner Associates for Continuing Education (NPACE)
NURSE PRACTITIONER FAQs
Q: What is a nurse practitioner?
A: As defined by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), nurse practitioners are licensed professionals who assess, diagnose, and treat acute and chronic diseases as well as counsel, coordinate care, and educate patients regarding their illnesses. NPs bring a holistic perspective and personal touch to healthcare.
Q: How do you become a nurse practitioner?
A: All NPs must complete a master’s or doctoral degree program and engage in advanced clinical training. However, note that having a doctorate degree is becoming the industry standard in many states. NPs also need to become licensed based on the specialty they choose and according to the regulations of the state in which they practice.
Q: How long does it take to become a nurse practitioner?
A: The length of time can vary depending on the degree you choose and your level of education before you enter a program. RNs who hold a bachelor’s degree can typically graduate in three years.
Q: What does a nurse practitioner do?
A: The most basic responsibilities include diagnosing and treating illnesses, prescribing medication, conducting routine check-ups, ordering lab tests, assisting or performing in minor surgical procedures, and promoting disease prevention.
Duties can vary, however, based on an NP’s specialty. Some of the more common specialties include family, adult-gerontology, neonatal, pediatrics, women’s health, and psychiatric/mental health.
Q: How much does a nurse practitioner make?
A: Salaries range based on your experience as well as the work setting and specialty you choose. For example, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the lowest 10% of NPs earned an average of $78,300 per year, while the highest 90% of NPs brought home an average wage of $150,320.
Q: What is the difference between a nurse practitioner and a doctor?
A: Although NPs and doctors both deliver quality healthcare to their patients, there are a number of differences between the two professions.
- Education paths and requirements: NPs typically start with a nursing degree of some kind, and/or have worked as a nurse. They go on to get a master’s in nursing (MSN) and often a doctorate in nursing practice (DNP). The general timeline for becoming an NP is about 6 to 8 years. Doctors generally start with a bachelor’s degree in a scientific field. They go on to medical school and then internship/residency programs. The general timeline to becoming a doctor is 11 to 12 years.
- Perspective: Although there is a lot of overlap in duties, doctors and NPs come from different philosophical perspectives. NPs come from the perspective of nursing and patient care — their focus is on healing and wellness of the whole body and mind. Doctors come from the perspective of science — studying and curing disease.
- Specialization: Although some doctors go into primary care, many of them choose a very narrow focus, such as cardiology or urology. Nurse practitioners also specialize, but their specialties tend to be much broader, and based on patient types — families, women, babies, etc.
- Regulation: Doctors need to be certified at the national level, as well as obtain licensure within their state. NPs are licensed only at the state level. In addition, in some states NPs cannot practice without direct supervision of a doctor.
Q: What is the difference between a nurse practitioner and a physician assistant (PA)?
A: Both NPs and PAs take on many of the roles of doctors, such as diagnoses, treatment, and prescribing medication. They both provide career alternatives for people who want to provide advanced healthcare but do not want to be physicians. However, there are some differences.
- Education: NPs typically start out as nurses, or with nursing degrees. They are required to earn either a master’s or doctorate degree. PAs start with a bachelor’s degrees, and then are usually required to work in a healthcare setting before they enter a master’s level PA program.
- Perspective: NPs come from a more patient-centered tradition, while PAs come from a disease-centered tradition.
- Autonomy: PAs always need to work under the supervision of a doctor. In many states, NPs have “full practice authority” and do not have to work with physician oversight.
Q: Is a nurse practitioner an RN?
A: A nurse practitioner is not an RN (registered nurse), although some NPs start out as RNs. NPs need to complete an advanced graduate degree program, such as a master’s or doctorate program, while an RN can practice with a bachelor’s degree or less. Unlike RNs, NPs can diagnose illnesses and prescribe medication, and in some states do not need to work under the supervision of a doctor.
Q: Do I need a doctorate (DNP) degree to become an NP?
A: In 2004, the AACN endorsed moving the current level of preparation necessary for NPs from the master’s level to the doctoral level by the year 2015. Although this has not occurred, more and more states and organizations are requiring NPs to have doctorate degrees.
Q: Can nurse practitioners perform surgery?
A: Although NPs do not perform complex surgical procedures, they can assist with and perform minor surgical procedures.
Q: Are there nurse practitioners in the ER?
A: Yes! You can find NPs working in ERs, attending to acute and critical illnesses, accidental injuries or traumas, and urgent primary care needs.
Interview With a Family Nurse Practitioner
Below, BestNursingDegree.com speaks with family nurse practitioner, Margaret (Peg) O’Donnell, RN, NP. O’Donnell works in one of the busiest family practices in Long Island, New York and was previously awarded the New York State NP Advocate Award by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. She is also the former president of the Long Island Chapter of the Nurse Practitioner Association of New York State.