Do you have high aspirations for a career in healthcare, similar to a physician? Do you seek job flexibility? Are you personable, compassionate, and levelheaded? If your answers are "Yes!" then the nurse practitioner profession may be perfect for you.

The demand for nurse practitioners (NPs) is steadily rising. NP roles are constantly expanding. Now is an ideal time to launch your career. Here are five reasons why.

NP in a Nutshell

An NP is a giant stride beyond a registered nurse and a step shy of a primary care physician. NPs are also termed "Advanced Practice Registered Nurses." Roles vary, depending on the state where you practice. You may be able to function independently or partner collaboratively with a doctor. Some states, mainly in the Pacific Northwest, require NPs to work under physician supervision.

As an NP, you'll perform physical exams, order tests, diagnose medical conditions, recommend treatments, give immunizations, prescribe medications, and admit patients to hospitals. You'll also educate people in how to be healthy. In fact, this counseling role is one that distinguishes NPs from physicians. NPs are more involved than doctors in patient education, preventive care, and wellness.

Since MDs have longer education and training, they acquire more in-depth knowledge of diseases than NPs. They're more adept at treating conditions that require surgery. Other than these two distinctions concerning preventive care and disease management, NPs and doctors have the same responsibilities.

Clinical Focus

What's especially exciting is that you'll specialize! Most NPs choose family medicine as their practice focus. Second in popularity is the field of adult primary care. Other specializations are pediatrics, neonatal care, holistic health, women's health, obstetrics and gynecology, psychiatry, and respiratory therapy.

Or, with more education and training, you can base your practice on a subspecialty, in which you treat a particular condition. Examples are cardiology, dermatology, endocrinology, neurology, oncology, orthopedics, sports medicine, and hospice care. Now, understanding the NP job description, here's why the time is ripe to pursue this career.

1. The occupational need for NPs is high.

Currently, patient numbers far exceed those of primary care physicians (PCPs). One of the main reasons is increasing longevity, with seniors needing more specialist services than generalized care. Additionally, the rising number of people with healthcare insurance outweighs available PCPs. The surge in people obtaining medical treatment is the outcome of the Affordable Care Act and American Healthcare Act.

Moreover, fewer graduating doctors are choosing the field of primary care. At the other end of the spectrum, seasoned physicians are nearing retirement, creating more vacancies.

NPs are qualified to bridge provider gaps. Due to advanced education, NPs can fulfill most of the same duties as PCPs. NPs are trained to multitask and make rapid, informed healthcare decisions. They're skilled in patient communication, organization, and problem-solving.

2. It's never been easier to earn a degree.

First, you need to obtain a bachelor of science degree in nursing. With full-time enrollment, the time frame for this is usually four years. To be eligible for registered nurse licensure and advanced degrees, you must graduate from an accredited program. Upon becoming a licensed registered nurse (RN), it's advisable to work one to two years in a specialty.

Then, after acquiring field experience, you'll be primed to earn a graduate degree in nursing. This can take up to four years, but most RNs enroll in a three-year master's degree program. Then, you'll pass the licensing exam for advanced practice nursing and obtain specialty certification.

You have several options for earning the required BSN and MSN degrees. You can attend a college or university part-time while working. Or you can enroll in an online program, providing the flexibility to study from home, at your own pace.

Like physical colleges and universities, online programs ensure a specialty focus. For example, some colleges offer respiratory therapy online bachelor programs.

With a fully online program, the school advisor will arrange for your clinical training at a local hospital. If you're already employed as an RN, you may be able to do your practicum where you work. If you enroll in a hybrid online program, you'll need to periodically take a class in person on campus.

If you're already an RN, you can apply to an RN-to-MSN program, taking two to three years to finish. This accelerated program is available on college campuses and online, including hybrid courses. You're eligible for this if you have an associate's degree in nursing or hospital diploma. Many RN-to-MSN programs award both a BSN and MSN upon completion.

After obtaining a master's degree in nursing, licensure, and certification, you'll be fully qualified to work as an NP. However, with a doctor of nursing practice degree (DNP), you're an independent professional. You'll have further opportunity to work as a nurse anesthetist, researcher, educator, certified nurse midwife, or clinical nurse specialist. DNP programs are available online. Accredited programs offer financial aid and scholarships.

Currently, US schools and employers are actively promoting the DNP degree. It takes about three to four years to earn it. To help cover the cost, the government offers grants and loan repayment programs. Many hospitals encourage their nursing employees to obtain the DNP by providing tuition reimbursement.

3. The employment options are vast

You can work at a hospital, managed care facility, urgent care clinic, community health center, doctor's office, pharmaceutical company, nursing home, or employee health center. Other job opportunities include research and teaching. Some nursing schools favor employing NPs over RNs due to their advanced knowledge and skills.

Government positions are available in the military, prisons, and health departments. With the increasing trend toward telemedicine, NPs are serving as medical consultants. With a DNP degree, you can own and run a private practice.

If you become certified in more than one specialty, your job opportunities will morph accordingly. Overall, as an NP, you'll have considerably more employment prospects than an RN.

4. NP salaries and benefits are outstanding.

NPs earn slightly more than physician assistants and considerably more than RNs. Salary varies by specialty, years of experience, and geographic area. Aside from NPs who own a private practice, professionals who work evenings, weekends, and holidays receive the most pay.

Like any industry, employers vary in benefits provided. However, NPs are often rewarded for their expertise with bonuses, paid childcare, and flexible schedules. Due to the way NPs streamline healthcare, many employers are paying for their education through tuition reimbursement.
The majority of NPs receive paid time off, paid sick leave, health insurance, life insurance, and professional liability insurance. Most employers offer reimbursement for expenses related to continuing education, conference attendance, licensure, and certification.

For travel NPs, high earnings and generous benefits are standard. If you thrive on challenge and change, working as a travel nurse practitioner may be your calling. You'll function in a temporary capacity, such as covering for a nurse on maternity leave, vacation, or sick leave. Other job possibilities are assisting an expanding practice or replacing a retiree until the position is permanently filled. If you want to test the waters of a new field or geographic area, you can work on a temp-to-perm basis.

The staffing agency will pay for your travel and housing costs. Your salary will be higher than that of a permanent RN. Most likely, you'll commit to working three months or less per assignment. As you rotate through different clinical settings, your medical knowledge and skills will expand. Additional specialization will further hike your salary.

5. Personal fulfillment is significant

RNs who become NPs find their autonomy and expanded roles very satisfying. Responsibilities are so diverse, work never gets monotonous. Practicing at a more comprehensive level multiplies the sense of accomplishment.

When patients see NPs performing the same tasks as doctors, they regard the nurses with keen respect. PCPs appreciate NPs for easing their patient workloads and increasing efficiency. Across the healthcare profession, NPs are regarded highly, due to their clinical expertise. Since your role involves both healing and disease prevention, you'll be helping more Americans enjoy healthier lifestyles.

Seize the Day!

NPs are changing the face of healthcare delivery, working similarly to PCPs. Now is an opportune time to join this profession. Earning a degree is facilitated with online courses and accelerated programs. Job opportunities abound. You'll receive a substantial salary and extensive benefits.

Patients and other medical professionals will hold you in high esteem. Immense satisfaction will be yours, seeing the health improvement of patients under your care.
With the proficient leadership of NPs, Americans are receiving quality healthcare. Our nation needs more of these skilled clinicians. Can you see yourself in this career? If so, the doors are wide open!

Author's Bio: 

Dixie Somers is a freelance writer and blogger for business, home, and family niches. Dixie lives in Phoenix, Arizona, and is the proud mother of three beautiful girls and wife to a wonderful husband.