What Is A Nurse Practitioner?

doctor and smiling male and female nurse in a hallway

When talking about medical professions, there is quite a bit of confusion between a nurse practitioner and a registered nurse. Most people are wondering what is a nurse practitioner, and how is it different from the registered nurse or a doctor? 

In a nutshell, a nurse practitioner is a registered nurse who has additional training and education in a specialty area

In other words, any nurse practitioner (NP) is also a registered nurse (RN), but only those registered nurses who pursued higher education and gained an additional qualification and licensure can be nurse practitioners. 

The main difference between NPs and RNs is that the former has a master’s degree in nursing and board certification in their chosen specialty. A nurse practitioner is an independently licensed professional who can serve as a primary care provider and mitigate the effects of the national physician shortage, according to the Nurse Journal

Nurse practitioners follow the rules and regulations of the Nurse Practice Act of the state where they work, and often have additional credentials, such as a Certified Family Nurse Practitioner, for example, if they are accredited through the national board exam. 

According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), a nurse practitioner works autonomously or in collaboration with other healthcare professionals to provide a range of primary, acute, and specialty healthcare services. 

NPs work directly with patients and are directly involved in the diagnose and management of both acute and chronic illnesses. 

Just like physicians, they are authorized to execute physical examinations, provide counseling and education, order and interpret diagnostic tests, and even write medical prescriptions. 

Nurse practitioners are specialists in either a specialty or sub-specialty area, including: 

  • Gerontology
  • Acute care 
  • Family health 
  • Neonatal health
  • Pediatric health
  • Oncology 
  • Adult health 
  • Women’s health
  • Mental or psychiatric health 
  • Allergy and immunology 
  • Dermatology
  • Gastroenterology
  • Hematology 
  • Neurology
  • Emergency
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Orthopedics 
  • Respiratory health 
  • Endocrinology 
  • Urology
  • Sports medicine 
  • Occupational health 

Like registered nurses and other healthcare professionals, nurse practitioners can work in hospitals, clinics, schools, doctor’s offices, health maintenance organizations, or hold other public healthcare roles. 

The main difference between an RN and an NP is that nurse practitioners can also open their own private practice.

What Is The Difference Between A Nurse Practitioner and A Doctor?

Since both nurse practitioners and physicians can interpret diagnostic results and prescribe treatments, you might wonder what’s the difference between a nurse practitioner and a doctor. 

The main difference is education. While nurse practitioners have at least two years more of formal education than a registered nurse, they have less training than a doctor of medicine (MD). That’s why they are considered the bridge between nurses and doctors. 

Nurse practitioners also follow the regulations of the Nurse Practice Act and are licensed by the Nursing Board rather than the Medical Doctor’s Board. Furthermore, only registered nurses can become nurse practitioners. 

Due to these differences, 34 states around the country require all prescriptions and diagnostic decisions taken by an NP to be co-signed by a physician. 

The other 16 states allow nurse practitioners to work without the supervision of a doctor. 

How Long Does It Take To Become A Nurse Practitioner?

Because nurse practitioners are the most highly educated people in the nursing profession, the educational requirements to become licensed involve many years of formal training beyond high school. 

Because you will be responsible for the primary care of patients – with or without a doctor’s supervision – and have the medical authority to administer drugs and fluids, the educational path is more complex than that of a registered nurse.

Indeed, it usually takes at least 6 years of education to become a nurse practitioner; if you aim for a complex specialty, such as neurology, your formal education may easily take 8 years.

To become a nurse practitioner, you must first complete a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN). If you have an associate’s degree, you must still obtain a BSN before applying for a master’s degree program. 

It is not necessary to become a registered nurse to apply for a Nurse Practitioner master’s program, although it could help if you want to work part-time while you continue your studies. 

Most master’s programs have a duration of two years, but this could vary based on your chosen specialty. 

Once you’ve obtained the master’s degree, you can apply to get licensed as a nurse practitioner by the Nursing Board. 

At this stage, you could also continue your education and pursue a doctor’s degree in nursing. 

How Much Does A Nurse Practitioner Make?

Because nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses, they hold much more responsibilities than a registered nurse. For this reason, the salary of an NP is higher than the salary of an RN. 

So, if you’ve chosen to become a nurse for a financial reason, studying more to become an NP could pay off in the long run. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a nurse practitioner earns $51.46 per hour on average, or $107,030 a year. 

Depending on your specialty, though, wages vary widely from $37.46 to $72.27 per hour. 

Not only your salary can vary based on the career path you intend to take, but may also vary from state to state. 

According to the Nurse Journal, the state of New York has the highest employment level in this occupation, but California offers the highest salaries. 

According to the AANP, your salary will also increase as you gain more experience. For instance, nurse practitioners with an experience of 5 years or less can earn a total mean income of $101,946 a year, whereas NPs with an experience between 6 and 10 years can take home about $10,000 more.

Considering all the above, whether you should become a nurse practitioner or not is down to you. If you’re happy with a lower wage and fewer responsibilities, working as a registered nurse is perhaps the best you could do. 

If you’d like to be involved more directly in patient care but still follow the nursing principles and ethics, then you should consider becoming a nurse practitioner. Whatever your choice, this profession will surely bring you satisfaction.

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