Are you feeling stuck in your nursing career? Do you want to take your skills and knowledge to the next level? Do you want to earn more money and have more autonomy in your practice? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then becoming a nurse practitioner might be the right choice for you.
As a nurse practitioner myself, I can tell you that it is one of the most rewarding and challenging professions in healthcare. I have been able to provide high-quality care to my patients, expand my scope of practice, and enjoy more flexibility and independence in my work. In this article, I will share with you some of the benefits and challenges of becoming a nurse practitioner, and help you decide if this is the path for you.
What is a Nurse Practitioner?
A nurse practitioner (NP) is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) who has completed a master’s or doctoral degree program and has obtained national certification in a specialty area of nursing. NPs are able to diagnose and treat common and complex health problems, prescribe medications, order and interpret diagnostic tests, and perform some procedures. NPs work in various settings, such as primary care, acute care, specialty clinics, long-term care, schools, and public health.
According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), there are more than 355,000 NPs in the United States as of 2020. The demand for NPs is expected to grow as the population ages, chronic diseases increase, and access to healthcare improves. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the employment of NPs will grow by 52% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations.
What are the Benefits of Becoming a Nurse Practitioner?
There are many benefits of becoming a nurse practitioner, both personally and professionally. Here are 4 of them:
1. Higher income
NPs earn significantly more than RNs. The median annual wage for NPs in 2022 was $121,610, compared to $81,224 for RNs. That’s an increase of almost $40,394 per year or 50% more than an RN. Depending on your specialty, experience, location, and employer, you could earn even more. For example, I made well over $125,000 per year as a new NP in a high-cost area in 2019.
2. More autonomy
NPs have more authority and responsibility than RNs. You can make independent decisions about your patients’ care plans, prescribe medications, order tests, and refer to specialists. You can also practice without direct supervision from a physician in some states. You have more control over your schedule, workload, and work environment.
3. More satisfaction
NPs often report high levels of job satisfaction and career fulfillment. You can build long-term relationships with your patients and their families, educate them about their health conditions, and empower them to make positive lifestyle changes. You can also pursue your interests and passions within your specialty area or switch to a different one if you want to explore new opportunities. I’m much happier as an NP than I was as an RN but I also know many RNs who are happy in their current roles and many NPs who are very unhappy. Consider carefully what your motives are for becoming an NP and what you’re looking for in a career.
4. More impact
NPs play a vital role in improving the quality and accessibility of healthcare in the United States. You can provide primary care to underserved populations, such as rural areas, inner cities, and veterans. You can also participate in research, policy making, advocacy, and leadership activities that advance the nursing profession and influence the healthcare system. RN can and do make a HUGE impact as we’ve seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, so consider how you want to make an impact as you might not need to become an NP to achieve your goals.
What are the Challenges of Becoming a Nurse Practitioner?
Becoming a nurse practitioner is not easy. It requires hard work, dedication, and perseverance. Here are 4 of the challenges that you will face:
1. More education
To become an NP, you need to complete at least a master’s degree program in nursing (MSN), which usually takes two to three years after obtaining your bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN). Most NP programs now require a doctoral degree (DNP), which can take another one to two years with a research project. You also need to pass a national certification exam in your specialty area and maintain your state license and national certification through continuing education.
2. More debt
Pursuing higher education is expensive. I paid approximately $50k for my MSN family nurse practitioner program in 2016, which I thought was a good deal for a brick and mortar school. Expect to pay more than this though as more programs are transitioning to the DNP program which requires more credit and thus more cost.
Our large public university charges $93k total for tuition. My former school now charges $83k-90k for their DNP program. Some schools are quite a bit more expensive. Online programs are more cost effective but many require you to set up your own clinicals which wasn’t ideal for me. This does not include other costs such as books, fees, living expenses, and lost income. You might need to take out student loans or apply for scholarships or grants to finance your education.
3. More stress
NPs face many challenges and pressures in their daily practice. You have to deal with complex and diverse patient cases, manage multiple tasks and responsibilities, collaborate with other healthcare professionals, and keep up with the latest evidence and guidelines. You also have to cope with the emotional and physical demands of caring for sick and dying patients, as well as the legal and ethical issues that arise in your practice. Also the threat of an unjustified lawsuit feels like it’s always looming overhead. No doubt RNs have a ton of stress, so you are hopefully well equipped to adapt.
4. More competition
NPs face increasing competition from other healthcare providers, such as physician assistants (PAs), who have similar roles and scopes of practice. You might have to compete for jobs, patients, referrals, and reimbursements. You might also encounter resistance or hostility from some physicians who do not respect or value your role as an NP. Also the competition for new grad NP jobs can be quite stiff as many employers are looking for experienced NPs. It took me 9 months to find my first NP job.
Is Becoming a Nurse Practitioner Right for You?
Becoming a nurse practitioner is a big decision that requires careful consideration. You need to weigh the pros and cons, assess your goals and motivations, and evaluate your readiness and suitability for this career path. Here are some questions that you can ask yourself to help you decide:
- Do I have the passion and interest for becoming an NP? You need to have a genuine desire and curiosity for learning more about diagnoses and treatments in addition to a strong commitment to providing high-quality care to your patients.
- Do I have the skills and abilities for becoming an NP? You need to have excellent clinical judgment, critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, and leadership skills. You also need to be able to work independently, collaboratively, creatively, and ethically. You’re often the primary provider giving orders and making decisions in collaboration with your patients and families. Imposter syndrome is a real experience as a new grad NP.
- Do I have the resources and support for becoming an NP? You need to have enough time, money, and energy to complete your education and training. School will be challenging. You will lose valuable time at your current RN job while in school. You need to have a supportive network of family, friends, mentors, and colleagues who can help you along the way in addition to a financial plan.
- Do I have the personality and temperament for becoming an NP? You need to have a positive attitude, a growth mindset, a sense of humor, and a resilient spirit. You also need to be adaptable, flexible, confident, and compassionate. The nursing profession shines in these areas but consider that you’ll become a leader and example for your patients and colleagues in these virtues.
If you answered yes to most or all of these questions, then becoming a nurse practitioner might be the best decision for your nursing career. If you are still unsure or have doubts, you can do more research, talk to other NPs or NP students, or shadow an NP in your area of interest. I had coffee with an NP from my former RN unit and was able to ask questions and hear her experience transitioning from an RN to an NP provider.
If this appeals to you as it does me, then you probably should seriously consider becoming a nurse practitioner. If not then that’s okay, there are an almost unlimited number of other career paths you can take as a nurse. A diversity of options is a wonderful aspect of the nursing career that you and I are part of.
I hope this article has given you some insight and guidance on whether you should become a nurse practitioner. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me. I would love to hear from you. Thank you for your hard work as a nurse!