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Hot Nursing Career: The Skinny on Nurse Practitioners

January 19th, 2011

Nurse practitioners entered the health care scene in the mid-1960s in response to a nationwide shortage of physicians, according to the Mayo School of Health Sciences. Today, they are some of the most in-demand nurses in the already high-demand field of nursing. Advanced practice nurses—such as nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and clinical nurse specialists—will be in great demand in medically underserved areas such as inner cities and rural areas well into the future because they provide primary care at a lower cost than a physician, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Aside from charging less for health care services, nurse practitioners are generally more accessible than physicians.

Nurse practitioners are advanced practice nurses who are authorized to perform many of the same primary and preventive care duties typically associated with physicians due to their specialized graduate training and extensive clinical experience as registered nurses. In fact, the American Nurses Association reported that nurse practitioners can perform 60 to 80 percent of all primary and preventive health care duties, according to the Mayo School of Health Sciences. NPs can diagnose and treat a wide variety of illnesses and injuries and even prescribe medications. They can also perform and order diagnostics tests, such as lab work or X-rays for patients.

Nurses who want better compensation for their work and more autonomy on the job often choose to become nurse practitioners. In many states, nurse practitioners open their own practices to treat patients under the oversight of a physician or work collaboratively as part of a larger health care team, seeing patients individually as a doctor would. And the pay is far better than what is earned as an RN who isn't an advanced practice nurse. In 2008, the base salary for full-time nurse practitioners was $84,250, according to the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. When you factor in benefits and other perks, the average nurse practitioner brings in $92,100 annually. Compare that to the average annual salary of all registered nurses, which is $62,450, according to labor statistics.

Finally, nurse practitioners often specialize in one particular area. Most nurse practitioners work in family practice, adult practice, pediatrics, women's health and acute care, but a few work in less common areas, such as oncology, neonatology, gerontology and mental health.