Perhaps no profession is more important than that of a front-line medical worker. Nurse practitioners (NP) serve patients in need, applying their advanced medical knowledge and experience to deliver top-tier health care for all varieties of illness and injury. A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is the requisite degree for nurse practitioners, who provide many of the same health care services as physicians.
As a result of their education and the amount of responsibility they’ve assumed during the current nursing shortage and pandemic, NPs have stepped into leadership roles to ensure that patients continue to receive high-quality health care during this challenging time. Nurse practitioners with full practice authority diagnose and treat illnesses in patients, order diagnostic tests, conduct telehealth and in-person visits, and are authorized to prescribe medications in some states. They also act as mentors to nurses new to the field, ushering in the next generation of front-line health care workers.
A combination of extensive knowledge and training is required to become a nurse practitioner. Consequently, the education requirements for nurse practitioners are more demanding than those for registered nurses (RNs).
Education Requirements for a Nurse Practitioner
The path to becoming a nurse practitioner entails many years of higher education. The education requirements for a nurse practitioner include earning at least a Master of Science in Nursing and then obtaining NP certification.
Bachelor of Science in Nursing
Meeting the education requirements for a nurse practitioner begins with earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Typically a four-year program (120 credit hours), the BSN degree covers core coursework, along with foundational medical knowledge individuals need to become a registered nurse. Health care-specific courses are in the following areas:
- Introduction to nursing
- Family nursing
- Nursing management
- Nursing leadership
- Psychosocial nursing
- Adult health nursing
- Community and mental health nursing
- Evidence-based practice in nursing
- Health assessment and promotion
- Medical and surgical care
- Professional nursing
- Public health
BSN programs vary by university, but most have considerable overlap in their curricula because all prepare students for the NCLEX exam, administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). The NCLEX tests the skills and knowledge of a BSN graduate and is a prerequisite for becoming an RN.
Master of Science in Nursing
Completing a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is the next step after earning a BSN, as an MSN degree meets the minimum education requirements for a nurse practitioner. When enrolling, students will have the option to take the MSN generalist program or choose a specialty. Examples of specialties include:
- Family nurse practitioner (FNP). Students pursuing an MSN with an FNP specialization will develop a strong foundation in advanced practice nursing that translates to them treating a wide range of patients in primary care settings.
- Psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP). In an MSN program with a PMHNP specialization, students will develop a strong foundation in advanced practice nursing that will give them the knowledge to assess, diagnose, and treat patients with unique mental health needs.
- Adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner (AGACNP). This program combines core courses, specialized electives, and more than 600 clinical hours. In the MSN-AGACNP program, students will develop a strong foundation in advanced practice nursing that will allow them to treat adolescent, adult, and geriatric patients diagnosed with complex illnesses or who are facing age-related healthcare challenges.
As the specialty dictates the curriculum, an AGACNP program, for example, focuses on delivering health care to adults. MSN programs also offer a selection of core courses that build on the knowledge students gained at the undergraduate level. Advanced courses on health assessment, health care policy and ethics, principles in nursing management, and physiology/pathophysiology are traditionally part of an MSN program.
Because of the various specialties available, MSN degree programs differ in the length of time and number of credit hours required for completion. However, they generally number between 30 and 50 credit hours. Moreover, all MSN programs require students to complete a certain number of clinical hours to graduate. This requirement also varies by program.
Once a student has obtained their MSN degree, they must then get certification through one of the certification boards such as American Nurses Credentialing Center. There are four types of nurse practitioner certifications included under ANCC:
- Family Nurse Practitioner Certification (FNP-BC™)
- Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Certification (AGPCNP-BC®)
- Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Certification (AGACNP-BC®)
- Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (Across the Lifespan) Certification (PMHNP-BC™)
To sit for a certification exam, the individual will have to meet the certification’s distinct eligibility requirements. All four certifications require an active RN license, a postgraduate degree (such as an MSN), and an exam fee. Each exam will test on content that is specific to that certification.
What Is the Nurse Practitioner Salary and Job Outlook?
The United States is experiencing a dramatic shortage of nurses, resulting in a healthy job outlook for these in-demand professionals, as the need for medical services likely will continue to increase. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the employment of nurse practitioners will grow by an estimated 52% from 2019 to 2029. The median annual NP salary was $111,680 in 2020, according to the BLS.
While nurse practitioner salaries vary by specialty, they are generally high. According to PayScale, the median annual salary of a family nurse practitioner was approximately $96,800, as of June 2021. The median annual salaries for psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners and adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioners were about $99,200 and $96,000, respectively, as of May 2021, according to PayScale. These nurse practitioner salary figures, however, are meant to provide a baseline. Education, years of experience, region, and other factors all affect what an NP ultimately is paid.
Trends and Issues in Nurse Leadership
As leaders in the health care industry, nurse practitioners strive to stay up to date on emerging technologies, novel illnesses that pose an immediate threat to the population, and innovative ways to increase efficiency and improve patient satisfaction. As history has shown, health care is in a constant state of flux and can be shaped by a single event.
While the nursing shortage predated COVID-19, the pandemic revealed just how understaffed the medical community was when the demand for health care peaked. Now that the country can no longer ignore its nursing shortage, nurse practitioners and other health care leaders are focusing on recruiting and retention. According to the American Nurses Association, an estimated 500,000 seasoned RNs will likely retire by 2022. The urgent question for many health care facilities is how to do more with less until the staffing issue is resolved.
Other pressing issues in nurse leadership include adopting new technologies and best practices to improve patient care, increase efficiency, and comply with HIPAA standards and regulations. Top of mind for many nurse practitioners is the transition from paper records to electronic health records, which have been shown to increase the speed and efficiency in health care facilities that have gone digital. The health care sector moves quickly, and every second counts, which means secure health care portals, telehealth expansion, and smart equipment, such as portable monitors and wearable technologies, are quickly becoming standards in the field. Using their leadership skills, nurse practitioners will help to adopt innovative solutions and develop a new generation of RNs to meet the nation’s health care challenges.
Make a Critical Impact on Care Delivery
Nurse practitioners and other health care workers are a vital resource for our growing and aging population. Regardless of specialty, nurse practitioner salary figures are high, and the career offers plenty of job security. More than ever, the United States needs nurses and nursing leaders to meet its current and future health care needs.
A great way to begin your journey to becoming a nurse practitioner is by enrolling in Hawai‘i Pacific University’s online Master of Science in Nursing program. This 100% online program, which students can complete in as little as 28 months, provides students with the education and hands-on experience needed to pass a national NP certification board exam and pursue their professional goal of becoming a certified nurse practitioner.
Start making a positive difference in the world today at Hawai‘i Pacific University.
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American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Master’s Education
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