A nurse practitioner is a health care professional who provides primary care to patients in specialized settings, such as hospitals and other medical facilities. Typical tasks include taking a patient’s history, ordering diagnostic tests, performing routine physical exams, interpreting X-rays and prescribing and managing medications. In order to become a nurse practitioner, a minimum of a master’s degree is required. Aspiring nurse practitioners may also opt to specialize in geriatrics, neonatal, family, pediatrics, adult or acute health.
Master of Science in Nursing
Candidates for a master of science in nursing must have a bachelor’s degree in a nursing or related field with a good GPA and current registered nurse licensure. The program takes anywhere from two to three years to complete. Common core courses include pathophysiology, pharmacology and nursing theories. Nursing students are also required to take elective courses, complete a thesis and complete a specific amount of supervised clinical hours. Although a master’s degree is the most common type of entry-level education to become a nurse practitioner, some nurses opt to pursue a doctoral degree to enhance their job opportunities and to better meet patients’ needs.
The Credentials for a Nurse Practitioner
After completing a master’s degree program, students must take a national certification exam. The American Nurses Credentialing Center and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners are two credentialing bodies that offer certification for nurse practitioners. In order to continue in the profession, nurse practitioners must renew their certifications every five years.
Job Outlook and Salary for Nurse Practitioners
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of nurse practitioners is projected to grow by 31 percent through 2022. This above average growth is due to several factors, including the aging baby-boom population, increased emphasis on preventative care and health care legislation. More people will have access to health insurance due to federal health reform legislation. In addition, nurse practitioners are now widely recognized by the public as an effective source for primary health care. All around, nurse practitioners will be needed to treat patients with acute and chronic conditions.
The BLS also reports that the median annual wage for nurse practitioners was $96,000 in 2012. The top 10 percent earn more than $160,000, and the lowest 10 percent earn $66,000. Most nurse practitioners work in state and private hospitals, physician offices and outpatient care centers.
New State Law for Kentucky Nurse Practitioners
For nearly 20 years, nurse practitioners in Kentucky were only permitted to prescribe drugs, if they had a collaborative agreement with a physician. As of July 2014, those who have completed a four-year collaboration with physicians can now prescribe most medications without a physician’s involvement. However, drugs like oxycodone and Adderall still require a collaborative agreement. According to the Kentucky Board of Nursing, about half of the nurse practitioners in the state have a collaborative agreement to prescribe the more restrictive drugs. The new state law not only gives nurse practitioners more autonomy, it may help improve patient access to care, especially in Kentucky’s rural areas.