What Is a Nurse Practitioner? NP Overview:
A nurse practitioner is an advanced practice nurse who has more clinical independence and authority than many other types of nurses such as registered nurses (RN) or licensed vocational nurses (LVN).
Nurse practitioners can diagnose and treat patients much like physicians can, and they can bill health insurers for their office time and procedures, although at a lesser rate than physicians. Therefore, NPs are direct revenue producers for practices and hospitals, and as such, they have even more job security than other types of nurses, and can demand higher salaries. NPs allow a medical practice to treat more patients and become more efficient without adding a proportionate amount of overhead expense to the practice.
Nurse Practitioners as "Physician-Extenders":
Some people in the medical community and patient community feel that these “physician extenders,” as NPs are sometimes called, are the answer to the growing physician shortage. On the flip side, other healthcare experts feel that NPs should not be given the same level of independence as a physician due to the relatively brief education and training period NPs have as compared to physicians who must complete many more years of school and residency training before treating patients.
Clinical Authority and Autonomy of Nurse Practitioners:
Nurse practitioner laws vary by state; therefore NP practices vary in the level of autonomy and clinical authority they hold. In some states, Nurse Practitioners can practice completely independently of physicians, treating patients and prescribing medications as a physician would. In other more restrictive states, nurse practitioners must work in a practice with a physician who can essentially “sign off” on all of the diagnoses, procedures, and prescriptions of the nurse practitioner.
As with most advanced practice nurses, most nurse practitioners hold a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) and often are already certified as an RN. The next step is to obtain master’s level education in nursing with an accredited NP track and area of specialization. NPs typically will specialize with a focus in a particular medical specialty, disease area, or patient population. All of the education must be obtained at an accredited nursing school.
Medical Specialties for Nurse Practitioners:
According to the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), some of the most common areas of specialization for NPs are: Cardiology, Gerontology/Elder Care, Pediatrics, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Primary Care, Gastroenterology, and Oncology.
Average Salary for Nurse Practitioners:
According to the most recent MGMA figures, from a 2011 salary survey of 2010 income, average annual income for nurse practitioners is $92,468, which is a slight increase over the previous year.