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If you’re considering a new career and have an interest in the field of health care, or are a nurse who would like to further your career, studying to be a nurse practitioner could be the perfect choice for you. Nurse practitioners not only have a challenging and diverse careers, they are paid well and have plenty of work opportunities in an occupation that’s in high demand.
While the duties of a nurse practitioner or advanced practice nurse, as they are often called, go back as far as the 1940s, the current incarnation of the nurse practitioner emerged in the 1960s during a shortage of medical doctors and with a need to balance rising health care costs.
Nurse practitioners have the highest levels of education amongst the nursing profession and require either a Masters of Science in Nursing or Doctorate of Nursing degrees, which can involve up to ten years of education, to achieve certification to practice. But as a result of their high levels of education and training, nurse practitioners are also afforded many of the duties traditionally assigned to doctors, including: managing acute and chronic physical and mental medical conditions, diagnosing illnesses, ordering treatments, prescribing medications and referring patients to other advanced health professionals and doctors.
Nurse practitioners also have the opportunity to specialize in a variety of fields if they so choose. Specializations available include: family health, pediatrics, neonatology, gerontology, women’s health, psychiatry, acute care, oncology, emergency and more. So as a nurse practitioner you will have the chance to direct your career into an area of care that really interests you and fuels your passion for nursing.
As a nurse practitioner, you’ll get the opportunity to help and serve a broad range of people, from adults to children and teenagers – as well as their families. You’ll work in a variety of settings, including: primary care facilities, outpatient mental health clinics, psychiatric emergency services, skilled nursing, assisted living facilities, private practices, hospitals or community health centers.You also have the choice to work as a consultant or en educator for families or staff. Depending on where you work, you may have to work long shifts in a hospital or be on-call. Or you may have a regular shift during business hours at a doctor’s office or clinic.
Achieving your nurse practitioner certification will also give you the opportunity to provide your patients with more comprehensive health care than is possible in other areas of medicine. Whereas doctors usually stick to diagnosing and treating patients’ problems, nurse practitioners work to create integrated health care plans that address a person’s health as a whole, instead of just individualized symptoms. Nurse practitioners also monitor the health of their patients on an ongoing basis and focus on preventative medicine and treatment instead of waiting until symptoms arise and then treating them.
You will also act as an advocate and liaison for your patients as they navigate their diagnoses, treatments and the health care system. A nurse practitioner helps patients to understand what their diagnoses mean and decipher complex medical terms that might otherwise remain unclear, and at the same time outlining medications and treatments available and consulting with doctors and other medical professionals.
Of course we can’t forget the nuts and bolts of choosing to be a nurse practitioner – salary and jobs. The salary range for nurse practitioners of various levels goes from about $78,000 for a general practice nurse practitioner to about $116,000 for a nurse practitioner with a specialization in oncology. The average salary for a nurse practitioner is about $91,450.
Demand for nurse practitioners in the U.S. has been high in recent years, but 2014 is expected to be an even better year to become a nurse practitioner. The implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act that could see as many as 30 million more people have access to health insurance, it’s expected that the number of nurse practitioners will have to be doubled within the next 15 years.
So there has never been a better time to enter a rewarding career as a nurse practitioner. Becoming a nurse is an ongoing educational experience as well. As you develop, you may specialize or simply require courses to maintain your relevance, be sure you are prepared for this kind of career.