The American Nursing Association (ANA) defines nursing as the promotion, protection, and optimization of health and abilities, as well as the prevention of injury and illness. For nurse practitioners, it also includes alleviating suffering using diagnosis, treatment, and advocacy for the care of individuals, communities, families, and populations. A nursing career offers several areas of specialization. Because of the diverse needs of a population, nurses are well poised to deliver healthcare solutions, education, and prevention that impacts almost every sector of modern society.
The specialization a nurse chooses depends on the nurse’s interests and abilities. Each individual completing a nursing degree is different and thus will be inclined toward a different area of practice. The scope of nurses extends to more than just aiding doctors. Nurses of the 21st century have their own responsibilities when it comes to the care of their community and patients.
Exploring the Role of the Nurse Practitioner
Along with treating disease, the mandate of nurse practitioners also includes preventing illness. Primary care nurses focus on helping people understand the factors that can contribute to them becoming sick. Through education and outreach, these nurses can teach a community or a family the best ways to avoid getting sick and how to deal with illness or disease if it does occur.
The responsibilities of nurse practitioners extend far beyond the reach of their organization or private practice. Positive health outcomes are the metric by which nurse practitioners measure their success. The long-term treatment of a patient usually requires taking a close interest in the patient’s health and well-being over the years. If care plans don’t seem to be working, nurse practitioners can consider their options and change the treatment, leading to positive health outcomes.
Nurse practitioners are also caretakers with specific skills that are essential to their success. All nurse practitioners should have these skills.
- Compassion: Nurses should have the ability to sympathize with both patients and their families. Empathy allows nurses to understand the perspective of patients who are suffering and enables them to offer more directed and specific care.
- Critical Thinking: Treatment plans should involve choosing the most viable method of treatment for the condition. To determine a course of action, nurse practitioners should be able to leverage their critical thinking to examine the potential options and choose the most suitable one.
- Problem-Solving: In some states, nurse practitioners have the autonomy to diagnose and treat illnesses. These nurses need to demonstrate their problem-solving ability by compiling data from interviews, diagnostic tests, and physical examinations and then using that data to determine a diagnosis and eventual treatment plan for the illness.
- Communication: Nurse practitioners need to be adept at communicating. Speaking, listening, and interpersonal skills all fall under the set of skills that nurse practitioners need to utilize every day.
- Leadership Skills: Nurse practitioners may be required to organize a team of registered nurses or licensed practical nurses, which means they need to be able to lead people. Some nurse practitioners see this as a calling and train to become nursing directors or executives in medical organizations.
These skills form the basis of a nurse practitioner’s skill set, but nurses aren’t confined to general practice. The field has many different branches, and these specializations differ in what sort of abilities suit them best. For nurse practitioners, determining the right nursing concentration requires examining what they’re good at and where they would feel most comfortable.
Options for a Master’s in Nursing
For those interested in earning a master’s in nursing, options are numerous. Among the educational paths available are the following:
- RN-to-MSN programs: for those professionals trained as registered nurses who have spent some time in the profession as an active RN
- BSN-to-MSN programs: for professionals with a bachelor’s in nursing who want to continue along their chosen path
- ADN-to-MSN programs: for those with an associate degree in nursing who are interested in expanding on their knowledge by earning a master’s in nursing
- ASN-to-MSN programs: for those with an Associate of Science in Nursing who want to earn a master’s in nursing
These programs train nurses to go from a registered nursing degree into a master’s degree in nursing, which gives them the opportunity to multiply their job prospects. Students looking at moving from being a registered nurse into a bachelor’s and finally earning a master’s degree in nursing should consider applying to one of the Maryville University online Master of Science in Nursing programs. The degree programs offer courses that focus on some of the core skills that nurses need. Some of these courses include:
- Evidence-Based Practice in Nursing: Dealing with the critical thinking and problem-solving aspects of the nursing profession, this course helps students understand the role of evidence in diagnosing illnesses and how to utilize these skills practically.
- Health Care Policy: It’s important that nurses are familiar with the policies surrounding healthcare. A professional should be able to understand different areas of healthcare policy and be able to explain to others why they exist and how they help.
- Health Promotion/Disease Prevention: In keeping with the definition of nursing, these competencies focus on assisting the nurse practitioner in providing support for patients’ wellness and developing methods of preventing illness. Through the examination of case studies, students are able to figure out what worked under certain situations and what didn’t.
Along with these courses, nurse practitioners enrolled in the degree program will be afforded guidance and training from other health professionals. Earning a master’s in nursing opens the door to many different areas of specialization. Graduates can explore these different areas to discover which one best suits their abilities and personalities.
Family Nurse Practitioners (FNP)
The largest subsection of nurse practitioners in healthcare today are family nurse practitioners (FNPs). The greatest number of FNPs works in doctor’s offices or private group practices. The family nurse practitioner’s scope of practice includes private homes, hospitals, schools, and clinics. FNPs are focused on primary care and are generalists in nature, aiming to provide many healthcare services to all members of a family. They train in conducting screening and diagnostic tests, as well as in treating mild to severe illnesses among their patients. They try to promote healthy lifestyles, including positive habits and preventive care.
The FNP is the most common nurse practitioner specialty, but that doesn’t mean the job is easy. Because of their position as generalists, they are required to have a wider scope of practice.
- Interaction and Communication: The ability to interact with patients and communicate clearly with them is essential to imparting critical information.
- Interpersonal Skills: In this profession, interpersonal skills are among the most important tools, as they enable nurse practitioners to develop a rapport with patients.
- Enabling Patients to Relax: The ability to help patients relax is also a significant skill since patients are more forthcoming about their illness when they trust their caretakers.
- Compassion: The interactions between FNPs and their patients and their patients’ families are a significant test of their ability to be compassionate and empathetic. An FNP role is a good fit for individuals who have an easy time building caring, understanding relationships with others.
- Attention to Detail and Organizational Skills: Nurse practitioners who can pay close attention to detail and be organized are good candidates to become FNPs.
- Confidence: Persons who wish to become FNPs should also display confidence in their diagnoses and their ability to treat ailments.
These traits enable someone who wants to become an FNP to excel at the position and may even increase recommendations to other families by satisfied clients. While some FNPs have these traits as an innate part of their personality, others need to train in these skills to be better nurse practitioners for their patients.
PayScale reports that FNPs earn a median annual salary of around $93,000, with the upper 10th percentile making a median salary of $115,000 per year. Their flexibility allows them to fit into several different roles in an organization. To this end, graduates who finish training as specialist FNPs will likely be able to find an organization that needs them.
Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioners (AGACNP)
The adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner (AGACNP) is responsible for providing advanced nursing services to elderly patients. An AGACNP collects and compiles patients’ medical histories, data on their symptoms, their physical test results, and their diagnostic results into comprehensive reports. The AGACNP can then use these reports to develop plans for caring for the patients. Dealing with elderly patients means the AGACNP’s methodologies need to be reevaluated regularly, as patients’ needs change continually.
Individuals intending to become AGACNPs should be aware of the skills the field demands.
- Helping Others: The AGACNP role is best suited to individuals who enjoy helping others.
- Patience: They must be patient with their charges, since many of the elderly may take a longer time to do specific tasks.
- Anticipation: The ability to anticipate the needs of the patient is also an important skill.
- Attention to Detail: Attention to detail is essential, since many of the elderly need more assistance in keeping track of information than younger patients.
- Interest in Caring for the Elderly: Finally, a love for the elderly is necessary to provide the level of care these patients need.
The route to becoming an AGACNP is straightforward, although it can be very labor- and time-intensive. Graduates intending to enter the specialization must take the following steps:
- Proceed from an RN degree into a BSN and then to a master’s in nursing, specializing in the field of AGACNP
- Apply to take the practitioner exam for AGACNPs, which is available through national nursing bodies such as the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
- In states where it is required, apply for state certification to practice
- Renew certifications every five years to remain a qualified professional
The median salary for AGACNPs, according to November 2019 PayScale data, is around $96,100 per year, with the highest-grossing earners making as much as $113,000 per year. The earning potential is relatively good for the amount of work that a qualified AGACNP needs to put in. Maintaining their professional certification requires that they stay abreast of new developments in the field. The combination of a love of the elderly and a thirst for knowledge are signs that a nurse practitioner should specialize in the field of AGACNP.
AGACNPs may further specialize in other areas. Depending on the types of patients that they want to work with, the AGACNP may opt to continue studying areas such as oncology, emergency department/trauma, cardiopulmonary, or critical care. These nurses typically work in professional settings such as intensive care units, inpatient hospitals, or specialty clinics. The demand for acute-care specialists remains high.
Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP)
The adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner (AGPCNP) is the second area that nurse practitioners in the adult-gerontology field can specialize in. These professionals aren’t solely concerned with the elderly, however; they specialize in providing care to people ranging from adolescents to the elderly. Occasionally, AGPCNPs may need to consult with other healthcare professionals and refer patients to specialists. By instilling good habits and proper practices, AGPCNPs encourage illness prevention and promote good health. The availability of adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner jobs is expected to continue to grow in tandem with the growth of the population as a whole.
The aspiring AGPCNP should be able to demonstrate essential skills such as:
- Advanced Clinical Skills: Anyone intending to become an AGPCNP needs to be more than comfortable performing various clinical tasks
- Critical Scientific Disciplines: AGPCNPs are also required to understand pharmacology and pathophysiology as part of their profession, to better guide their patients and peers.
- Effective Communication: Advanced health promotion is also a significant skill that AGPCNPs should have, ensuring their message gets across to their target audience.
- Interpersonal Skills: The primary goal of the AGPCNP is educating their patients about living healthier lives, so interpersonal skills are also essential to their goals.
The career path for AGPCNPs starts with an RN program, then continues as one advances to a BSN and finally a master’s in nursing. Specialization in the field requires taking courses that focus on AGPCNP skills and practices. Professional certification is required if the AGPCNP intends to have a private practice. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers accreditation to AGPCNPs, which allows them to be classified as AGPCNP-BCs (board certified). These professionals must renew their certification every five years. According to November 2019 PayScale data, AGNPs (which encompasses AGPCNPs) earn a median salary of around $89,200, with the most well-paid earning $108,000.
The places at which an AGPCNP will find employment can range from private practice to long-term care facilities. Some professionals even offer their services in home care. Job outlook for AGPCNPs is excellent, both in healthcare organizations and in private practice. Certified professionals have a much higher chance of being noticed by organizations.
Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP)
Pediatric nurse practitioners (PNPs) make up a small percentage of the overall nurse practitioner workforce. Their primary focus lies in providing healthcare for children, from birth to their late teens. PNPs are also focused on helping parents understand their responsibilities when it comes to creating a healthy environment for their children. PNPs should seek to engage families in discussing their child’s health. They are responsible for spotting emerging situations and responding appropriately. Their responsibilities range from serving as child advocates to evaluating children for any signs of abuse.
After obtaining a master’s in nursing, a professional in the discipline might consider becoming certified. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers certification as a registered nurse-board certified (RN-BC).
PNPs needs to demonstrate a few skills that are key to their success in the field:
- Communication/Interpersonal Skills: Communication and interpersonal skills are vital components of a PNP’s role, in particular being able to connect with children in a way that encourages them to open up to strangers and that helps their families trust the PNP.
- Critical Thinking Skills: Diagnosis of illnesses from information given by the patient requires some level of critical thinking as well, since sometimes children may not be able to communicate their symptoms accurately.
- Care for Children: The most important consideration for a nurse practitioner thinking about specializing in PNP is the love of children.
- Specific clinical skills are also requirements to being a competent PNP.
- Laboratory Procedure: A deep understanding of laboratory procedure enables the PNP to better inform parents and patients of what they are doing.
- Practical Application: The PNP also needs to be extremely competent in laboratory practice themselves. One of their responsibilities involves medication titration by weight, requiring them to be versed in the use of lab equipment for measurement.
Because of their specialization in working with children, these professionals typically find a home in school-based and ambulatory clinics, as well as private practices. The median annual salary of PNPs, according to November 2019 PayScale data, is around $88,600, with the top 10% of earners making $111,000 per year.
Despite the declining birth rate, the existing population of children means that the need for PNPs will continue to be relevant. This specialization is an ideal fit for those nurse practitioners who enjoy working with children, can establish a rapport and build trust with them, and are comfortable with managing the emotions of their patients. Pediatric nurse practitioner schooling helps these professionals adapt to their patients and the environments they work in.
Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)
A psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) is a specialized nurse practitioner who works with patients dealing with psychological ailments. PMHNPs assess the mental health needs of individuals, groups, and communities. They also develop diagnoses and implement healthcare plans, which they continually evaluate for improvement. PMHNPs offer a broad range of treatments to their patients, including group therapy and counseling sessions with individuals. In some states, they can write prescriptions for their patients.
The practicing PMHNP should demonstrate a few critical skills such as:
- Effective Communication: For nurse practitioners aiming to specialize in this field, the ability to communicate is a significant asset. Mental health ailments sometimes make it difficult for patients to make themselves understood, and that leads to them becoming frustrated.
- Data Collection and Analysis: Gathering clues and using them to help understand the patient’s mental state is critical to making a connection.
- Compassion and Rapport: Creating a rapport with patients requires a certain level of trust, and empathy and compassion help to build that understanding.
- Working as a Team: Teamwork is one of the most vital traits that a PMHNP needs. Many times, the nurse practitioner needs to enlist the help of other healthcare providers to make their treatment plan a success, and teamwork facilitates this.
- Psychopharmacology: Knowledge of drugs and their uses,as well as being versed in the latest developments in the field are core requirements for the PMHNP.
- Technical Knowledge: Neurobiology and a familiarity with psychopathic disorders throughout the lifespan of an individual help the PMHNP diagnose abnormal mental health conditions.
A PMHNP must be certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and have a license to practice in their state. Certification usually requires nurses to have a master’s in nursing as well as a track record in the profession. The ANCC certification is valid for five years, requiring nurses to retake the examination to retain their credentials.
Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner jobs are available in many different organizations. Typically, they find employment in outpatient clinics, schools, community mental health programs, and addiction recovery centers. They can also set up a private practice where they work with individual clients. Government agencies have in-house mental healthcare professionals who aid in dealing with staff issues. Some PMHNPs have a specific type of patient they specialize in, for example, trauma patients or those who display mental health disorders. According to November 2019 PayScale data, the median annual salary for PMHNPs is around $103,500, and the highest 10% of earners make as much as $137,000.
Choosing a Nurse Specialization
Specializing in a field allows nurse practitioners to focus on a particular discipline of nursing. Nurses should specialize in areas that they have skills and interests in. The more well suited one is to a field, the easier it is to enjoy the work. Earning a master’s in nursing is the first step toward specialization. The Maryville University online Master of Science in Nursing program is ideal for students who want to expand their knowledge in the field and work on a specialization.
At Maryville University, the goal is to provide quality education to students who want to excel as professionals. The MSN program is designed to provide the technical and soft skills that professionals need. Interested in expanding your knowledge in the field of nursing, or trying to decide what specialization is right for you? Check out the course list today to see which concentration is best suited to the skills you already have.
American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (A-GNP)
American Association of Nurse Practitioners, Are You Considering a Career as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner?
American Psychiatric Nurses Association, Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses
The Balance Careers, “What Does a Nurse Practitioner (NP) Do?”
Daily Nurse, What to Know if You’re Interested in a Career in Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nursing
Health eCareers, “What Do Nurse Practitioners Do? NP Job Description”
Houston Chronicle, “Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Job Description”
Johnson & Johnson, Gerontological Nurse Practitioner
Maryville University, Master of Science in Nursing Online
PayScale, Average Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Salary
PayScale, Average Pediatrics Nurse Practitioner (NP) Salary
PayScale, Average Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner (NP) Salary
Pediatric Nursing Certification Board, The Primary Care Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (CPNP-PC)