Nurse practitioners are an incredibly important group of professionals. From working within small communities to improve overall health to guiding global health organizations, nurse practitioners play an important role in today’s healthcare systems. This article explores the profession and what career progression looks like for nurse practitioners.
Progressing to a degree and license
Before you begin working toward your goals as a nurse practitioner, you must complete your education and earn your license. This first section will look at the progression from student to professional, and later in the article there is a discussion about progressing from nurse practitioner entry-level positions.
Luckily, the process here is pretty easy to understand. First, aspiring nurse practitioners must complete high school. Once they have graduated or received an equivalent degree, they are ready to begin undergraduate work. This is essential – there are very few if any, options available to students who want to become nurse practitioners but don’t want to pursue an undergraduate degree. If you want a career in this field, you will need to finish an undergraduate degree first.
Once you’re finished with your undergraduate degree, you must earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). Postgraduate education is also non-negotiable for aspiring nurse practitioners, though there are a few ways that they can achieve this goal. If working toward a master’s degree doesn’t seem like something that you would like to pursue, you can always go straight to a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. This is a higher level of education than the master’s degree, so it won’t save you time. However, it will make it much easier to achieve your career goals in nursing management and similar positions.
DNP degrees focus on teaching nurse practitioners how to educate other nurses, develop and maintain nursing informatics systems, draft health policies, manage large nursing departments, and even provide executive-level leadership to global medical organizations.
Are you still interested in learning more about the nurse practitioner field and the kinds of jobs you might have in store? We explore this topic a bit deeper in the following sections.
Why do nurse practitioners want to progress in their careers?
It might seem like an obvious question, but it’s not a simple one for many people. This concern usually comes from people unfamiliar with the different responsibilities and roles that nurse practitioners play in healthcare. It’s understandable to have that assumption, because most people only interact with one kind of nurse practitioner.
With that said, it is not a one-size-fits-all role. Nurse practitioners exist in many different medical specialties. A family nurse practitioner, for example, usually works with family members of all ages and provides primary care. This includes routine care and also health screenings and exams to detect potentially harmful abnormalities.
Mental health nurse practitioners, on the other hand, work closely with patients as they attempt to navigate their daily lives while struggling with a mental health disorder. Some mental health nurse practitioners also prescribe and adjust medication. They listen to patients, consider their symptoms, and make recommendations and medication and lifestyle changes that might help manage their conditions.
These are far from the only two specializations in the industry. Some of the other common specialties include:
- Pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP)
- Adult-gerontology nurse practitioner (AGNP)
- Neonatal nurse practitioner (NNP)
- Women’s health nurse practitioner (WHNP)
As you might imagine, each of these specializations requires different skills and involves different responsibilities and tasks.
We mention this to illustrate that the nurse practitioner field contains professionals with many different interests and backgrounds. Nurse practitioners might want to progress from general practice into any of the specialties listed above. They might also want to advance to managerial roles and other leadership positions.
Another reason to progress up the ladder is salary.
Nurse practitioner salary
One of the main reasons why anyone in any field wants to progress in their career is money. Wanting recognition for a job well done is completely normal. Salaries increase along with experience and expertise, which means that the most reliable way for most people to make significantly more money while working is to ascend the corporate ladder.
Nurse practitioners face the same progression pipeline. The main way for them to earn more money for their work is by taking new and more complex jobs. We’ll take a closer look at those in just a bit, but for now, let’s discuss the nurse practitioner’s salary and how it varies from role to role.
In Texas alone, there are around 20,000 nurse practitioners. This includes all specialties and sub-specialties. The average salary among these professionals is roughly $60 as of 2023. Salary depends highly on both specialty and experience. Entry-level nurse practitioners begin their careers earning around $46 per hour, while nurse practitioners with 20 years of experience or more make closer to $80 per hour.
When we look at salary per specialty, it is clear that there is quite a difference between them that has little to do with experience. A psychiatric nurse practitioner makes around $64 an hour as compared to the statewide average of $60 an hour. Neonatal nurse practitioners make even more, earning an annual wage of roughly $135,000. Family nurse practitioners, on the other hand, earn approximately $126,000 a year, making the specialty one of the least profitable. With that said, it’s still a great-paying career when compared to other professions!
If you want to secure a job with the best nurse practitioner salary in Texas, you’ll need a degree from an excellent university and the specialty and experience to match. Consider enrolling in a well-respected university such as Texas Woman’s University, that ticks all the above. The MSN-FNP program they offer is designed to help you develop the necessary skills to thrive as a nurse practitioner. It also presents opportunities to expand your network through an efficient clinical placement process.
Next steps for nurse practitioners
Once you have your degree and you are ready to start working toward your dream job, it’s time to get serious and pick the right position for you. Because the medical field is so vast, there are many different career paths for nurse practitioners that suit different specializations and goals. We’ll look at some of the most common of them below.
One of the most popular nurse practitioner career options for professionals ready to move on from practicing full-time is nurse education. Nursing students are best educated by career nurse practitioners in the field who have the experience they haven’t yet been able to secure. From real insights into common issues and struggles in entry-level positions to the red tape that sometimes hinders career growth and how to circumvent it, experienced nurse practitioners make excellent nurse educators.
Nurse practitioners interested in this route should pay special attention to their continuing education choices. Consider involving yourself in learning opportunities above the requirement to maximize your knowledge and build a healthy base of nursing information to then pass on to other professionals and students alike in the future.
This is a job that you might not be overly familiar with, but it has been increasing in popularity over the past few years. Nurse informaticists specialize in information technology. More specifically, they focus on the technology important in the profession, such as the tools used to communicate with care teams and process private and sensitive patient information.
With the proper education, nurse practitioners can help optimize information systems, both existing and future, to better work for the nurses they serve.
Nurse policy specialist
Health policies play an important role in society. They help society meet health goals, for example, and are regularly maintained by health organizations around the world. Nurse practitioners with an interest in this field can consider working as a nurse policy specialist. This position allows nurse practitioners to weigh in on important changes to health policies and regulations, giving them a way to leverage all of the information they acquired while working in the medical field.
Chief nursing officer
Nurse practitioners interested in ascending to what is arguably the highest level of nursing will be interested in the chief nursing officer position. Chief nursing officers are responsible for directing the operations regarding nursing staff, most commonly in medical organizations such as hospitals.
Note that while these professionals always make decisions with the patient’s best interests in mind, they also serve as important advocates for the nurses and nurse practitioners operating under them. This includes developing, proposing and analyzing various professional and health policies designed to safeguard professionals.
Chief nursing officers are critically important when it comes to running on-floor operations, but nurse researchers are arguably even more important when it comes to determining the best courses of action based on science. The best chief nursing officer will be operating at less-than-optimal efficiency when the information they have regarding patient treatment choices and the best health practices in the industry is faulty. Nurse researchers help ensure that professionals are always operating with the most effective and accurate information.
From conducting clinical research to delving into how various health systems function and the way that these functions impact patients and other professionals, nurse researchers are critically important at every level of the nursing profession. Nurse practitioners are often the obvious choice for nurse researcher positions thanks to their ongoing education requirements and a healthy love of the academic field.
Finally, nurse administration is another area in the medical field that welcomes experienced nurse practitioners. Nurse administrators are responsible for filling leadership and management roles in various healthcare organizations. Their responsibilities differ depending on the position in question, but often include managing nursing units, nursing teams and nursing departments throughout the entire healthcare system. They don’t just work in small clinics, in other words, but also work to guide how systems operate on a practical level.
Remember that while these are some of the most common and popular career paths for nurse practitioners, there are other paths you can take instead. It all depends on your goals, your specialty and your abilities.
Tips for advancing your career
If you’re already a nurse practitioner and are looking for ways to progress in your career, you’re in luck! We have a few tips to help make the advancement process as simple as possible.
Pick a specialty
The first thing you need to do is pick your specialty. While this is ideally done while you’re still studying in school, it is possible to branch out into different areas once you begin working. Find a job you’re passionate about and start looking at how to progress in that specific specialty.
Note that some specializations do better in some states than in others. If you are interested in earning more money but don’t want to move, you should consider your specialty carefully. Do some research before making a decision so that you know what to expect once you begin working toward your goal. If you care more about the specialty than you do the money or the locale, you can either watch the market to find a job close to where you live, or you can travel around the country until you find the right fit. Just make sure that you pay close attention to licensing laws in each state so that you know how to practice safely and legally.
Continue your education
Unlike some other career paths, nurse practitioners don’t just graduate and never look back. In order to maintain your license, you will have to continue studying after you’ve graduated. This might not sound like your idea of fun, but rest assured that not only does continuing education ensure that you always have the most accurate and effective information for your patients, but it can also help you advance your career.
As long as your continuing education meets the standards set forth by the Board of Nursing in your state (the state where you were licensed), you can pick from a wide variety of options. From live conferences to text-based courses or even online video courses and lectures, there are many ways that you can meet these continuing education standards. The good news is that you can pick topics that interest you and those that can help you develop the skills and expertise you need to move on in your career.
Consider reaching out to respected organizations in nursing such as the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), the Advanced Practice Education Associates (APEA), Fitzgerald Heath Education Associates, Barkley & Associates, the Nurse Practitioner Associates for Continuing Education, and PRIME Education for more information. Not only will picking the right educational opportunities help you gain more knowledge in your chosen field, but it is also a good way to make connections with other professionals in the field. Sometimes these connections can be incredibly useful when you’re looking to make a career move.
Mentorship is an important part of nursing. Whether you are a registered nurse, a nurse practitioner or a nursing student, working with mentors and mentoring others is a significant part of the experience. Learning from other people should always be a priority, especially when they’ve been in your field of choice for a long time and have the experience you haven’t yet secured. Handing over that information to professionals with less experience than you should also be second nature.
If your goal is to progress to a specific job or field, reach out to other professionals who are already working there. Talk to them about their experiences and their feedback regarding your experience and your next steps. Actively seeking a mentor and mentoring others is a good way to establish yourself as an up-and-coming professional in the industry.
Are you interested in becoming a nurse practitioner? If so, begin your education right by picking classes with your dream job in mind. Consider the information above as you register for classes and start your path to professional work!