Working as a registered nurse continues to be one of the most popular professions in the United States, and with good reason. The pay is good, the jobs are plentiful and the challenges rewarding for those who want to work in a career serving others.

More than 3.1 million people will have chosen to become a registered nurse by 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That alone is a testament to the attraction of the profession.

However, many nurses decide at some point in their careers to move into a specialty area, including become a nurse practitioner. The reasons are always personal for each nurse, but generally the areas offer a chance for a challenging job in an area of interest. These jobs also tend to pay more than a RN position.

Before looking at how to become a nurse practitioner, here’s a look at some of the potential careers.

Jobs For Nurse Practitioners

Nurse practitioner is a catch-all phrase that encompasses many different nursing specialties. Here are some of the most popular choices.

Nurse anesthetists. These nurses working with surgery patients, providing anesthesia and all related care to patients before, during and after surgery. They also work with patients who are undergoing diagnostic, therapeutic or obstetrical procedures. Part of the job involves working with patients before a procedure, getting all of their medical history, in particular medicine they might be taking or allergies they have that can complicate the use of anesthesia.

Nurse midwives. This important job involves working with women before, during and after they give birth. The wide-ranging duties in this specialty can include prenatal care, handling any complications during labor, delivering babies, as well as working as surgical assistant during cesarean births. Nurse midwives can also work proactively, providing wellness information to patients on healthy, active lifestyles, including information on nutrition and prevention of disease.

Pediatric nurse practitioners. Nurses in this area work with children, providing care before, during and after surgical procedures and diagnostic tests. They also provide wellness information for parents and children on healthy lifestyles, disease prevention and other issues directly involving children.

And that’s just a handful of specialties. Nurse practitioners can also work in geriatrics, family medicine, neonatal care, women’s health and occupational health.

The opportunities are numerous, and the pay tends to be more than what a RN makes. The BLS reports that the median annual salary for all nurse practitioners in May 2016 was $107,460.

How to Advance From RN to Nurse Practitioner

A registered nurse who wishes to advance in his or her career will need to attain higher levels of education to become a nurse practitioner.

Most start with a bachelor’s degree in nursing, with the proper nurse’s certification and licensing in the state where they work.

To become a nurse practitioner, they then must complete a master’s degree program from an accredited school in their field of interest. Wherever they choose to specialize, coursework will include both advanced medical knowledge as well as hours of clinical experience.

Further steps include:

  • Obtaining certification. Aspiring nurse practitioners must pass the national exam for nurse practitioners.
  • Earn a license in the specialty in which the nurse plans to work. For example, the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists, the American Midwifery Certification Board for nurse midwives and the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board for pediatric nurses.
  • Maintain credentials. Because of rapid advances and changes in the healthcare industry, most nurse practitioner specialties require re-certifying every few years, which typically involves attending continuing education classes.

The road to becoming a nurse practitioner is not easy, but it is worthwhile for an RN who wants to advance into the highest positions in their field. With the prevalence of online degree programs that offer flexibility in earning a nurse practitioner master’s degree, the time has never been better to make the move.

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