The demand for healthcare workers will be high for decades to come. Nurse practitioners, in particular, are experiencing enormous job growth. If you are currently working as a registered nurse (RN) or close to finishing your nursing degree, you might want to consider the benefits of an advanced nurse practitioner degree.
What does a nurse practitioner do?
A nurse practitioner conducts many of the same tasks an RN does but has a more expanded role and practice privileges. In many ways, they take on the role that a medical doctor might fulfill. Here are a few of the duties a nurse practitioner might provide in a given workday.
Diagnosing and treating a wide variety of conditions
While nurses typically provide treatments and care after a diagnosis, a nurse practitioner actually spends a considerable amount of time assessing patient health and diagnosing any problems.
Ordering testing and other health screenings
Some medical tests and screenings may be performed at the office of a nurse practitioner, while others may need to be completed at specialty clinics and centers. As a nurse practitioner, you may order a variety of tests and health screenings based on the patient’s age, underlying health issues, and recent complaints.
Referring patients to specialists
Some health conditions require specialists to perform further diagnosis and testing. Treatments for chronic conditions may also need to take place at a specialty office. For example, a nurse practitioner may find a mass during a routine exam and refer a patient to a specialist for further screening.
Managing patients’ overall care
Even if a nurse practitioner refers a patient to many different specialists, they still manage a large part of a patient’s overall care. Thanks to easy access to shared health records, it is a lot simpler for a nurse practitioner to share and receive health information on mutual patients. This helps medical teams provide a higher level of care and avoids mistakes.
Planning diet and exercise, and encouraging healthy habits in patients and their families
It can be hard to maintain a healthy lifestyle in the modern age. Nurse practitioners are a source of healthy eating and exercise plans. Some patients may be concerned about exercise routines if they have limited mobility or other underlying conditions. Having some help in planning out suitable exercise routines or getting suggestions for what exercise classes might be best for them is invaluable.
Eating right is a confusing concept for many. Meal plans and setting realistic weight loss goals with a medical professional can help increase the odds of success and make it more likely that the patient will not return to bad habits when they achieve their goals.
Prescribing medications and specific treatments
A nurse practitioner is authorized to write prescriptions for medications and treatments. There are a few states where prescription writing privileges vary. For example, a nurse practitioner may need a doctor to sign off on a prescription for a medication that is considered a narcotic. These rules are changing, though, so in the future, this may not be an issue at all.
Reasons for increased demand for nurse practitioners
There are many reasons why there is an increased demand for nurse practitioners. Here are just a few of them.
Large aging population
In many countries, but particularly the US and Canada, there is a large population of older adults and retirees. With so many people reaching retirement age at once and people living longer than before, there is an increasing demand for healthcare services.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurse practitioners will have the highest job growth of all professions for the next 10 years.
Shortage of primary care providers
While it may seem like there are a lot of medical clinics, hospitals, and urgent care centers, there is a definite shortage of medical professionals qualified to be primary care providers. This problem became even more apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
When people do not have a primary care provider or they have trouble booking adequate appointments, health issues may be overlooked or not diagnosed as quickly as they should be. When patients do not get the recommended preventative care and checkups for their age and health, conditions may become more serious. The sooner a problem is caught, the better it will respond to treatment. Earlier treatment reduces healthcare costs and lost work time for the patient and their provider.
Nurse practitioners can take care of many of the healthcare needs of the average person. Encouraging more people to train to be nurse practitioners could also help with the shortage of medical doctors.
The role of nurse practitioners is changing
In recent years, there have been some changes in the medical community that have impacted the role that nurse practitioners play. Here are a few of the important changes that have helped others see the value of pursuing a career as a nurse practitioner.
Nurse practitioners are allowed to do more than in the past
Although there is a long way to go, many states have relaxed restrictions on what a nurse practitioner is or is not qualified to do. In the past, nurse practitioners were not allowed to prescribe some medications without having a medical doctor sign off on the prescription. This has changed in some states, and many others are working on making changes to allow nurse practitioners more freedom.
Many people are turning to nurse practitioners for practically all of their primary healthcare needs.
Telehealth appointments are more popular than ever and help reduce healthcare costs
The COVID-19 pandemic led to many people receiving medical care via video chat. For minor issues and some checkups, telehealth makes a lot of sense. Nurse practitioners conducted a lot of telehealth appointments. This helped keep people safer during a time when so many were getting sick. Telehealth appointments are less frustrating for a lot of patients because they do not have to sit in a waiting room for extended periods of time and there is no commute. Medical doctors and specialists can then concentrate on other aspects of healthcare at the clinic or hospital, leading to more people being served despite the overwhelming demand for medical services.
Telehealth appointments also encourage those that live in rural or more remote areas to take charge of their health and not miss important visits. Illnesses that are minor if treated soon are not as likely to be ignored. A good example is urinary tract infections. Screen strips are available on Amazon or a local drug store but antibiotics require a prescription. A telehealth visit can resolve this problem and get a patient treated much faster than if they have an in-person appointment and have to commute a significant distance to receive a diagnosis.
Increased need for follow-up and outpatient care
When someone has a chronic condition or one that needs longer-term care to cure, there is a lot of demand for follow-up care. Plenty of conditions can be treated on an outpatient basis for a reduced cost. There is a trend to reduce the length and occurrence of hospital stays. While less time spent in a hospital is a good thing and reduces the cost of healthcare, it does mean that patients need to have access to a medical team that can monitor their treatment progress, offer advice, and make sure that they are on a good path to recovery. Better outpatient care and follow-ups increase positive patient outcomes and reduce overall medical appointments.
Nurse practitioners may conduct at-home or in-office visits or use telehealth to fulfill the need for follow-up consultations and care. By taking a more varied approach to visits, patients are more likely to be open to receiving the amount of care they need and it is easier to fit everyone’s appointments into a busy day at a medical clinic or hospital.
How to become a nurse practitioner
If you like to help others and are looking for a rewarding career, then you should consider becoming a nurse practitioner. If you already have medical training or an undergraduate degree, you may be able to gain the degree and credentials you need faster than you think.
Typically, nurse practitioners already have an undergraduate or master’s degree in nursing or a closely related medical field and some experience working in a clinic, hospital, assisted living facility, or private practice.
Nurse practitioners enjoy great location flexibility
If you want a job that allows you to work practically anywhere you want to live, then a job as a nurse or nurse practitioner is an excellent choice. Due to the overwhelming demand, and the predicted continued demand, those that qualify as nurse practitioners will find opportunities at a variety of medical establishments all over the country. There may even be some international options open.
The ability to work wherever you like means that applicants can afford to be pickier about what position they actually accept. Some areas may be willing to offer better benefits and salaries if they are experiencing a particularly bad shortage of medical professionals.
Nurse practitioners have the option to specialize in a specific healthcare area
A nurse practitioner degree will qualify you for any general nurse practitioner job, but some degree programs also offer more focused professional development, such as the course offered by Rockhurst University, which allows students to pursue nurse practitioner specialties. These specialties include managing the healthcare needs of older adults with either stable health or those with progressing conditions that need immediate treatment.
Most nurse practitioners are family nurse practitioners. This means they provide care to people ranging from newborns to geriatric patients.
If you are an RN and want to advance your career, then earning an advanced degree and becoming a nurse practitioner can help you earn a higher salary and gain a more advanced position at any number of medical facilities. Mid-career and senior nurses that are looking for a change should definitely consider getting their degree while continuing in their current job.
Nurse practitioners have a very fulfilling and rewarding job
As a nurse practitioner, you get to play a larger role in the health and well-being of your patients. If you love to help others and want to do more, then it makes sense to move into the role of a nurse practitioner. Those that choose to be family nurse practitioners will get to work with patients from all age groups. This can be a refreshing change for nurses working in departments where they just see mostly adults or mostly children.
Nurse practitioners help patients get the preventative care they need to stay healthy
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, people tended to be lax about making and keeping preventative care visits and health screenings. A nurse practitioner is great at encouraging and educating patients on the importance of getting regular healthcare checkups and screenings.
Part of their job is to explain the need for checkups and encourage patients to be honest and not hide a healthcare issue. Many patients can get nervous when medical professionals recommend screenings for major health issues. A nurse practitioner explaining that checking just to be safe can encourage patients to keep appointments.
Preventative care in a post-COVID world needs to be made a priority. Choosing to forgo any care they don’t consider absolutely necessary, many people are still in the habit of just going to their doctor when they have a major complaint.
What variety of jobs are you qualified for as a nurse practitioner?
Even if you do not specialize in a specific area when you earn your nurse practitioner degree, there are many specific areas of medicine that you qualify to work in. Of course, any experience you have in a specific specialty or department as an RN may help your odds of being awarded some positions, particularly if they are in areas that are more competitive and sought after than others, such as neonatal or infant care. Gaining some extra certifications may be required for some positions.
Here are a few examples of specific areas of medicine you might want to consider.
In this instance you would work in the cardiac unit of a hospital or other medical facility. You may also find employment in a facility specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of cardiac specific problems. While cardiac issues are often considered the problem of older people, many younger people are also in need of cardiac care so you will find yourself working with people from varying age groups.
Emergency rooms and urgent care centers are in need of skilled nurse practitioners capable of working in a sometimes hectic and fast-paced environment. Urgent care centers tend to have longer operating hours than regular medical offices. At the same time, emergency rooms are open 24 hours a day, meaning that those who want to work in emergency care must be prepared for slightly different working hours than nurse practitioners in clinics and private practices.
Assisted living facilities are always in need of nurse practitioners to perform routine healthcare checks and screenings as well as manage the care and treatment plans of residents. With a large population of older adults, the demand for nurse practitioners willing to work at assisted living facilities and communities will continue to be very high.
This is a good position for those who connect well with older adults and want a job that allows them to work a more traditional work schedule.
What is the best place to work as a nurse practitioner?
It is important to consider what type of hours and working environment is best for you when applying for any nurse practitioner position. Hospital environments can be very fast-paced and require you to work odd hours, whereas private practices and clinics tend to stick to a more traditional workday schedule but may require the occasional weekend or on-call shift.
Specialist clinics are another option for those who want a regular work schedule. Private practices tend to be more slow-paced and involve more checkups and treatment for minor to moderate problems than hospitals and specialist centers.
Anyone considering a medical career should think about becoming a family nurse practitioner. It is an excellent profession for those who enjoy helping people from many different backgrounds.
Online degree programs make it much easier for working adults or even those just out of high school to earn their undergraduate and graduate degrees.
Entering a profession where you know that if you maintain a good work ethic, you can stay employed practically anywhere is a refreshing and liberating way to experience a great work-life balance.