You don’t want to be a doctor; you want to be a nurse and do the same things a doctor does. If that’s the case, a career as a nurse practitioner might be just the thing. Nurse practitioners are registered nurses who have advanced degrees and training that allows them to perform many of a physician’s functions. NPs work in a wide variety of settings and specialties.
A nurse practitioner must have a master’s degree, although some go on for a doctorate. The specialty was originally created to help solve a shortage of family practice physicians in the 1960s. NPs are taught to perform physical assessments, diagnose illness and injury, and treat or manage health conditions. The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, or AANP, reports that the total cost of an NP’s education is about two-thirds the cost of one year of medical school. Each state regulates the practice of NPs, so their exact duties may vary. Most states allow them to prescribe medications, order diagnostic tests and perform procedures.
Licensing and Certification
NPs must be licensed by the state in which they work. Each state also determines whether the NP can work independently or must have physician supervision. Some states require national certification in addition to licensure. Certification is offered by different organizations such as the American Nurses' Association and Pediatric Nursing Certification Board. Certifications are available in areas such as acute care, family nursing, geriatrics, pediatrics and psychiatry. A certified NP must show proof of continuing education in her specialty to maintain her certification.
Specialties and Work Settings
NPs may be generalists, such as family nurse practitioners, or FNPs, who perform many of the same functions as a family doctor. FNPs usually see patients of all ages. Pediatric or geriatric NPs limit their practice to children or elders. Neonatal NPs care for newborns. Other specialties include oncology, or cancer care, and psychiatry. There are also a number of subspecialties for NPs, such as cardiology, dermatology, endocrinology, occupational health, orthopedics, sports medicine and urology. NPs work in many different settings, including clinics, hospitals, private practice, nursing homes, schools, colleges and public health departments. The AANP reports that 18 percent of NPs practice in rural or frontier settings.
Facts and Figures
The AANP offers a wealth of information about nurse practitioners. Nursing is still a female-dominated profession; the AANP reports that 96 percent of the approximately 155,000 NPs practicing in the U.S. are female. NPs are most likely to practice in primary care, with 88 percent prepared in that field. Most NPs maintain national certification and have graduate degrees; more than three-quarters see Medicare and Medicaid patients. NPs who prescribe medications -- which 96 percent do -- average 20 prescriptions a day. The average annual income for NPs in 2011 was $98,760.
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