Healthcare has been revolutionized in the past century. Machines can scan our bodies in minutes, groundbreaking 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? With the right education, NPs can work in a variety of specialties.
What Are Nurse Practitioners?
Nurse practitioners are the pinnacle of practicing nurses. They typically begin 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 for 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 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, more than 20 states allow nurse practitioners to run their own practice. In these states, NPs can evaluate patients, diagnose conditions, and even prescribe medication without oversight from a doctor. In another 15 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 states are pushing for increased autonomy for nurse practitioners, according to healthcare media company Health Leaders.
What Careers Can Nurse Practitioners Specialize In?
Nurse practitioners can specialize in many 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 (FNPs) see families and individuals throughout the lifespan. They help parents with 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.
According to PayScale, the median annual salary for FNPs was approximately $97,000 as of September 2021.
Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner
Adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioners (AGPCNPs) focus their practice on adults, though their patients may 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.
According to PayScale, the median annual salary for AGPCNPs was approximately $90,000 as of September 2021.
Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
Adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioners (AGACNPs) also focus their practice on adults. They help patients manage events such as surgery or trauma. These professionals focus on providing care in specialized hospital units, such as emergency care, intensive care, and cardiovascular or oncology departments.
According to PayScale, the median annual salary for AGACNPs was approximately $96,000 as of September 2021.
Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
Pediatric nurse practitioners focus on 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.
Pediatric nurse practitioners earned a median annual income of about $92,000 as of September 2021, according to PayScale.
Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners focus their practice on patients 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, assisting patients who struggle with addiction.
The median annual income for psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners was about $112,000 as of September 2021, according to PayScale, making it one of the highest-paying careers a nurse practitioner can specialize in.
Demand for Nurse Practitioners
Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates 220,300 nurse practitioners were working in the United States as of May 2020. The BLS projects the market will add 114,900 new nurse practitioner jobs between 2020 and 2030 — a 52% growth, which far outpaces the 8% national job market rate during that time. The BLS reports the median annual salary for nurse practitioners, regardless of specialization, was $117,670 as of May 2020.
As nurse practitioners retire, some in response to the difficulties they have faced in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the United States must address an overall shortage of medical staff. Furthermore, with the country’s aging population and chronic treatment needs escalating, the demand for healthcare practitioners will likely continue to increase.
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 in high demand throughout the U.S. Find out how Maryville University’s online Master of Science in Nursing and Doctor of Nursing Practice degree programs, and their affiliated nurse practitioner concentrations, can propel your nursing career to a new level through an education emphasizing compassion, preventive care, and evidence-based decision-making.