The Growing Importance of Nurse Practitioners

Nurse practitioners are professionals in very high demand right now. Whether you are already working as a registered nurse or you are considering starting a future career in nursing, the role of a nurse practitioner may be an ideal option for you if you want to get into advanced practice. Compared to managerial and administrative advanced nursing roles, nurse practitioners are unique in that they continue to be very patient-centered. Often, the nurse practitioner will focus even more on patients compared to registered nurses as they are tasked with examining, diagnosing, and treating patients with more responsibility and autonomy. 

There are several reasons to consider a career as a nurse practitioner if you want an advanced nursing role that does not take you away from the bedside. In over twenty US states, nurse practitioners have full practice authority, meaning that they can start their own practices and do their job without the need to be supervised or signed off by a physician. With their advanced level of qualifications and training, nurse practitioners are able to enjoy a higher level of autonomy, authority, and responsibility in the work that they do along with a significantly increased salary of around $30k more per year compared to a registered nurse. 

Nurse Practitioner Job Description:

Compared to registered nurses, nurse practitioners must undergo additional advanced training such as an MSN and online post masters NP programs available from Wilkes University in order to work in this role successfully. This education allows nurse practitioners to take on many more responsibilities, including stepping up as primary care practitioners in states that have been particularly impacted by the shortage of primary care physicians that is currently affecting the US healthcare system due to fewer medical students deciding to specialize in primary care. Nurse practitioners are in high demand to enter these roles since they can provide a more accessible and more holistic type of care to their patients, with many studies suggesting that patients who are under a nurse practitioner as their primary care provider tend to report better health outcomes and better patient satisfaction. 

The Top Reasons to Consider a Career as a Nurse Practitioner:

Whether you’re right at the beginning of applying to get an associate degree or a BSN or have been a registered nurse for a while before deciding that it’s time to consider career advancement and development, there are many great reasons to pursue the role of a nurse practitioner right now. With more and more online degree programs now available that you can take flexibly and in your own time to get the credentials that you need to work as a nurse practitioner, it has become easier than ever for registered nurses to improve their education to meet the entry requirements while continuing to work in their role as a full-time registered nurse. Some further reasons to consider training to work as a nurse practitioner in 2021 include:

  • High Demand:

The US is not only experiencing a nursing shortage – there is also a shortage of other essential medical professionals including primary care physicians. With fewer medical students pursuing primary care, the need for nurse practitioners to step in and take over so that the aging population has access to the care that they need has never been greater. Because of this, the demand for nurse practitioners – particularly family nurse practitioners and adult-gerontology nurse practitioners – has never been greater. 

  • Higher Salaries:

Working as a nurse practitioner won’t just provide registered nurses with more job autonomy, responsibilities, and authority – there is also a more generous salary to go with the role. Salaries for nurse practitioners are increasing in line with the high demand for these professionals and currently, nurse practitioners earn an average of $30k more than registered nurses, with some states paying even more. 

  • Specialty Areas:

Once you’re qualified to work as a nurse practitioner, there are various areas to consider if you want to specialize in treating a certain patient population or looking after patients with specific diseases. Nurse practitioners can choose to go into general practice as a family nurse practitioner who deals with patients of all ages or specialize in pediatric, adult-gerontology, neonatal, oncology, operating room, psychiatric mental health, and many more. 

  • Full Practice Authority:

Working as a nurse practitioner is an ideal choice of role if you are interested in starting your own medical practice. In twenty US states, nurse practitioners are permitted to do this with full practice authority meaning that the decisions that they make do not need to be signed off by a more advanced medical professional such as a medical doctor. This gives nurses the chance to get into a role where they can start their own business and open a practice that allows them to treat the patients and/or conditions that they are most interested in. 

  • Influence Healthcare Policy:

If you are a nurse who is frustrated with current healthcare policy and want to do more to advocate for your patients, becoming a nurse practitioner can be one of the best ways for you to do this. Nurse practitioners are currently some of the loudest advocates for their patients, and due to their unique patient access, they are often consulted by policymakers and other key decision-makers in healthcare to have their say and give advice based on patient requirements and wishes. 

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner:

If you are either consider getting a degree in nursing to start your career or are currently a registered nurse, the pathway to becoming a nurse practitioner has various options for you to consider. Most of the time, becoming a nurse practitioner will involve the following steps:

  • Become a Registered Nurse:

You can become a registered nurse with an associate degree in nursing, which will typically take around two years to complete and focuses mainly on developing clinical skills. However, bear in mind that you will need to extend this qualification to get a BSN if you want to become a nurse practitioner in the future since the majority of MSN programs and NP training programs will require this degree qualification as a minimum. Still, the ADN is a good qualification to get you started with working as a registered nurse, get your professional license, and get experience in the field. 

  • Get a BSN:

You can either get the four-year BSN at the start of your nursing journey or upgrade your associate degree to a BSN by taking a bridge program that usually takes between 1-2 years to complete. If you have no previous nursing training, opting for the four-year BSN program for your first degree is often a better choice since this will immediately qualify you to enroll in MSN and NP programs along with making it easier for you to find work, as more employers actively seek to hire BSN-educated nurses. 

  • Get a Master’s Degree:

To work as a nurse practitioner, you will need to get a master’s degree in nursing. This will usually take around two years to complete and can often be taken online if you want an option that you can easily fit around your career as a registered nurse. Bear in mind that for many MSN programs that are focused on training to become a nurse practitioner, you may need a certain level of nursing experience to apply since the degree is designed to prepare you for an advanced role that may involve full practice authority in your state. Getting a few years of experience as a registered nurse before getting your MSN to become a nurse practitioner is worth doing since this will allow you to figure out where you want to specialize and help you develop important skills that you’ll need to succeed in this role. Once you have gained an MSN, you can take nurse practitioner postgraduate training programs to further prepare, and you will need to pass an exam to obtain an advanced practice registered nurse license in your state. 

What Skills Do Nurse Practitioners Need?

Many of the skills that are required to be successful as a nurse practitioner are similar to the skills that you need to work as a nurse. Nurse practitioners are often able to work independently so a strong skillset alongside their advanced education will ensure that they are able to make a positive impact on others in this role. Some of the key skills required of nurse practitioners include:

  • Communication:

All nursing professionals are required to have excellent communication skills, and this is no different for nurse practitioners. As a nurse practitioner, you will need to be able to clearly communicate information to patients, family members, and other healthcare professionals along with demonstrating excellent active listening skills that will allow you to take patient information on board and make the right decisions on their behalf. 

  • Critical Thinking:

Critical thinking is another key skill that is required from nurses at every level. Being able to think critically, often in high-pressure situations where you do not have a lot of time, is an essential skill for nurse practitioners to possess since in this role, you will have more autonomy and responsibility compared to a registered nurse and the decisions that you make will carry more weight. 

  • Empathy and Compassion:

Nurse practitioners are increasingly taking on primary care roles where they may be the first point of contact for a patient who is experiencing painful or distressing symptoms. Whether you are working in your own clinic, a doctor’s office, outpatient clinic, or in the hospital, empathy and compassion are two extremely necessary qualities for a nurse practitioner, who must also have the skills to demonstrate this to patients and put them at ease. A good nurse practitioner is somebody who knows how to put themselves in somebody else’s shoes and understand how they must be feeling, no matter the situation. 

  • Decision-Making:

Good decision-making skills are required to be successful as a nurse practitioner, particularly for those who work in states where nurse practitioners have full practice authority and are trusted to make the best decisions without supervision. To make the best decisions, nurse practitioners need to be confident in their knowledge and abilities and understand the importance of the decisions that they make. In this role, you may be making life-changing decisions on behalf of your patients, so putting a lot of practice into improving your decision-making skills is crucial. 

  • Adaptability:

Working in any nursing role means that you will need to be able to quickly adapt to changes in the environment. Nurses will often deal with changes in patient conditions that could happen suddenly and being able to quickly adjust and make appropriate decisions when this happens is of utmost importance for patient safety and care. Along with this, nurse practitioners work in an environment where there are often going to be new developments and advancements to get to grips with. From new diseases emerging such as COVID19 to new healthcare policies, new equipment, new treatments, and more, there will always be something around the corner to adapt to, so nurse practitioners need to be somebody who welcomes change and is eager to learn new things. 

  • Attention to Detail:

Strong attention to detail is a necessary skill for all health professionals and nurses since missing even the smallest of details could carry the risk of serious problems for patients. Nurse practitioners are trusted to make decisions regarding patients on their own, so they will need to be even more vigilant and observant when it comes to picking up on the finer details that others might overlook. 

With fewer medical students pursuing primary care, advanced practice registered nurses such as nurse practitioners are taking over. Nurse practitioners are having a huge impact on the healthcare industry with reports of better patient care and satisfaction. If you are considering a career in nursing or are currently working as a registered nurse and want to progress, this could be one of the best roles for you to consider.