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Nurse Practitioner (FNP): Career Summary and Educational Overview

Sep 24, 2019

Working as a nurse practitioner requires significant formal education. Learn about the education, job duties and licensure to see if this is the right career for you.

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Nurse practitioners are advanced nurses who can prescribe medicines and provide some treatment of patients. Nurse practitioners first become registered nurses and then completing a master's degree in nursing. Some states also require additional certification of nurse practitioners beyond that of a registered nurse.

Essential Information

Nurse practitioners are healthcare professionals who provide care to patients of all ages, from adolescents to the elderly. They are part of an in-demand profession. These advanced practice nurses are required to have an extensive nursing education, typically including a master's degree. Additionally, they must be licensed as registered nurses, at a minimum, and often as nurse practitioners, depending on state regulations.

Required Education Master's degree in nursing
Licensure and Certification State licensing as a registered nurse mandatory in all states; many states require additional licensing or certification as a nurse practitioner, obtained through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 28% for nurse practitioners
Median Salary (2018)* $107,030 for nurse practitioners

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Nurse Practitioner Career Summary

Nurse practitioners (NPs) are very similar to physicians in some ways; they are trained to meet most health care needs, including some acute conditions. Like physicians, many NPs can also prescribe medication. In other ways, nurse practitioners are like registered nurses (RNs). They assess, monitor, diagnose and treat patients. They gather and review information and make new entries into patients' health records. They administer medicine and IVs, perform medical procedures and inform patients on best health practices.

NPs might serve as general practice, adult practice or pediatric nurse practitioners, or in many other roles. The majority of nurses of all types are employed in hospitals. However, physician offices, convalescent homes and health clinics are among locations which will see a rise in nurse employment, due to technological advances and an increase in outpatient procedures.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), career opportunities for nurse practitioners were anticipated to grow at a rate of 28% from 2028, which was much faster than average (www.bls.gov). The BLS made this prediction because of the growing need for health care services, especially among the baby boomer population. In May 2018, the BLS reported that nurse practitioners in the 90th percentile or higher earned $150,320 or more per year, whereas the bottom 10th percentile earned $78,300 or less per year.

Nurse Practitioner Educational Overview

While RNs require a four-year bachelor's degree in nursing plus a state license to be able to work, the minimum educational requirement for nurse practitioners is generally a master's degree. Additional state requirements may apply, and vary by state. Some states require evidence of work experience prior to acceptance into a graduate program; other states maintain that a nurse practitioner must be certified in an area of specialization after graduation prior to opening a practice.

Master of Nursing Science

Several colleges and universities across the United States offer graduate-level work in nursing. Majoring as a nurse practitioner in master of nursing degree programs usually requires two years of education. Coursework combines hands-on clinical residency with lectures and seminars. Common courses include:

  • Healthcare assessment and management
  • Advanced pathophysiology
  • Advance pharmacology
  • Ailment diagnosis and reasoning

Licensing and Certification

Basic licensing as a registered nurse is required for all NPs to legally conduct nursing work in the field. In order to be licensed as RNs, candidates must pass the National Council Licensing Examination for Registered Nurses, known as the NCLEX-RN. Passing this exam demonstrates that applicants have the knowledge and skills necessary to work in the nursing field.

Some states will be satisfied with the RN requirement in order for a nurse to work as a nurse practitioner, but many states or employers will require additional certification specific to NPs. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers NP credentials to applicants who pass an additional examination (www.nursecredentialing.org). Completing NP educational requirements is necessary in order to take the exam.

The Family Nurse Practitioner - Board Certified, or FNP-BC, is a credential awarded to family nurse practitioners who pass the exam, which is administered by the ANCC. In order to keep the credential current, NPs must complete continuing education every five years to update and demonstrate knowledge consistent with current healthcare practices for the profession.

A career as a nurse practitioner typically requires a master's degree and state licensure.

Understanding how the profession works, and awareness about the expected job growth, annual median wage and educational requirements can help you decide if this career is the path you want to pursue.

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