What Can Nurse Practitioners Specialize In? Job Opportunities for NPs

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A pediatric nurse practitioner examines a patient

Medicine has been revolutionized in the last century. Machines can scan our bodies in minutes, new medicines allow us to better manage and treat infections and diseases, and new studies teach us about the human body and how it interacts with different medicines and chemicals. As a result, health providers can offer patients the most effective care.

Recent advances in medicine have been about more than just new technology. Americans are rethinking their healthcare. The population is increasingly focused on health, well-being, and preventive care. This emphasis on primary care, combined with an aging population, has created a significant shortage of qualified healthcare practitioners. To meet the demand, a growing number of nurse practitioners (NPs) are practicing with greater autonomy than ever before. What exactly are nurse practitioners? What do they do? And what can nurse practitioners specialize in? Continue reading to find the answers to these questions and discover how to unlock in-demand career opportunities in this field.

What Are Nurse Practitioners?

Nurse practitioners are the pinnacle of practicing nurses. They typically start out as registered nurses (RNs), usually after completing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). They then spend years gaining experience, working with patients in any number of medical environments. RNs wishing to step into an NP position go back to school to get an advanced nursing degree, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). They then complete specialized training and earn a certification to become licensed nurse practitioners. Exact qualifications vary from state to state, but all NPs must undergo peer review and clinical evaluations, as well as participate in continued education and professional development.

Currently, 22 states allow nurse practitioners to open their own practice. In these states, NPs can evaluate patients, diagnose conditions, and even prescribe medication without oversight from a doctor. In another 16 states, they practice with some oversight in a category called “reduced practice,” though the exact restrictions vary by state. Reduced practice typically involves working with a medical doctor who oversees the practice and signs off on diagnoses and prescriptions. More and more states are pushing for increased autonomy for nurse practitioners, according to healthcare media company Health Leaders.

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates there were 189,100 nurse practitioners working in the United States as of May 2018. The BLS projects there will be 53,300 new nurse practitioner jobs added to that market between 2018 and 2028 — a 28% growth, which far outpaces the 5% national job market rate during that time. The BLS reports the median annual salary for nurse practitioners was $107,030 as of May 2018.

What Do Nurse Practitioners Do? 

Nurse practitioners can specialize in a number of different areas, gaining expertise during their education, internships, and certification process. Generally, these specializations all fall under the umbrella of primary healthcare, though they are different areas of concentration. Some of the most popular specializations for nurse practitioners are below.

Family Nurse Practitioner

Family nurse practitioners see families and individuals throughout the lifespan. They help parents with new infants as well as treat older adults. They provide the first line of medical defense for all types of conditions. They offer yearly checkups and physicals, help manage chronic conditions, and issue medications for minor medical issues.

Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner

Adult-gerontology nurse practitioners focus their practice on adults, though their patients can range from adolescents to the elderly. They help patients manage conditions that last throughout the lifespan, such as autoimmune disorders or other chronic illnesses. In addition to running their own practice, they may work in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities.

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

Pediatric nurse practitioners focus on the earliest years of the life cycle, with patients ranging from infants to adolescents. They play a key role in diagnosing childhood illnesses and conditions, as well as tracking health at key points in development. They often administer vaccines and prescribe medications for illnesses.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners focus their practice on treating people with mental health conditions. They might work in psychiatric hospitals, outpatient facilities, or their own practice, where they complete assessments and develop treatment plans. They also work in substance abuse programs, helping patients who struggle with addiction.

Become a Nurse Practitioner with Maryville University

No matter what nurse practitioners specialize in, these advanced care providers fill a vital role in the healthcare landscape and are increasingly needed throughout the U.S. Find out how Maryville University’s online Master of Science in Nursing and online pediatric nurse practitioner programs can propel your nursing career to a new level through an education emphasizing compassion, preventive care, and evidence-based decision-making.

Recommended Readings

How Mobile Health Tools Are Changing Nursing

States Granting NP Full Practice Authority

The Future of Nursing: Leading Change in the 21st Century


The Balance Careers, “Important Nursing and Nurse Practitioner Skills for Your Resume”

Health Leaders, “More States Pushing for Autonomy in Scope-of-Practice Battle” 

Houston Chronicle, “Types of Nurse Practitioners”

Maryville University, Career Opportunities for MSN Graduates

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners

Verywell Health, “How to Become a Nurse Practitioner”