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Home > Articles > Explore a Career as a Nurse Practitioner in the Growing Health Care Field
Nurse practitioners bridge the gap between medical doctors and regular nurses. For example, nurse practitioners have advanced degrees and certifications that allow them to perform physical examinations, make initial diagnoses of illnesses and injuries, interview patients, and, in some cases, prescribe medications. As a nurse practitioner, you may work in hospitals or health care facilities under the supervision of a medical doctor. Nurse practitioners often perform the initial patient interviews and then refer patients to the appropriate doctor or other health care professional.
To succeed as a nurse practitioner, you should have the ability to work as part of a medical team and sometimes take orders from doctors, but you also need the ability to take control of a situation and make crucial decisions. Nurse practitioners must be able to work under stress and remain calm in hectic environments. While working with patients, you should be caring and sympathetic.
The latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that in 2008, registered nurses (RNs) had a median annual income of $62,450. The top 10 percent earned about $92,240 per year. Because nurse practitioners are highly trained, their salaries are often in the higher range of this average.
Training and Education
Nurse practitioners start their careers earning an undergraduate degree in nursing. This is usually a four-year program that involves classroom study and clinical work. Classes may include anatomy, physiology, microbiology, chemistry, and nutrition. After you have earned your nursing degree, you need to take a national licensing examination before you may work as a nurse. Some schools have programs that allow you to earn your undergraduate degree in nursing a little more quickly if you already have an undergraduate degree in another field.
If you want to continue on and become a nurse practitioner, you will also need to earn a graduate degree in nursing, usually focusing on a specialty area. Some graduate schools require that you have one to two years of clinical experience prior to being accepted into their programs. After receiving your graduate degree in nursing, you must pass a certification examination prior to working as a nurse practitioner. Some advanced specialties may require additional study for you to obtain certification.
The BLS data shows that in 2008, there were 2.5 million RNs working in the U.S., making this the largest group in the health care profession.
According to the BLS, the projected employment for the healthcare field is excellent. The aging baby boomer generation, a growing concern with leading a healthy life, and the retirement of those currently working in the field combine to create outstanding potential for those entering the nursing field. If you pursue the advanced certifications required of a nurse practitioner, you may enjoy above-average job prospects and career opportunities. Also, physician shortages in some areas of the country often create additional demand for nurse practitioners.