If you are currently working as a registered nurse, or even considering a career in nursing, it can be useful to consider what career paths may be available to you in the future.

One of the most popular ‘next steps’ for registered nurses is to become a family nurse practitioner. According to the AANP (American Association of Nurse Practitioners), almost 67% of registered nurse practitioners are working as family nurse practitioners.

It is a career path that allows you greater autonomy and the opportunity to specialize in a branch of medicine that allows you to hone your skills. The salary expectations for nurse practitioners are also higher than those for registered nurses, which is a huge draw.

It is a commitment though, as becoming a family nurse practitioner requires additional training and it is a role that comes with a higher level of responsibility, meaning that it might not be right for everyone.

Salary and career prospects

According to the BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) the median pay for nurse practitioners in 2019 was $115,800. This is higher than the pay for a registered nurse which is $73,300 per year and considerably higher than the average pay across all professions which is $39,810.

In 2019 there were 263,400 nurse practitioners employed in the US. By 2029, this is expected to increase by 117,000. This is a 45% increase – much higher than the average for other professions.

There are a few reasons why the number of nurse practitioners is expected to increase so much. The main reason is the same reason that there is an increasing demand across the healthcare sector – the population is ageing and with that comes an increased need for healthcare. There is also an increase in the number of people with chronic conditions like obesity and diabetes.

Nurse practitioners in particular are more in demand because a lot of their focus is on preventive care. This means that they spend a lot of their time educating patients on how to make decisions about their lives which will keep them healthier for longer and help to prevent the formation of chronic conditions. There is a huge demand for this sort of work to try and reduce the number of people suffering from chronic health conditions, and therefore relieve some of the strain on the healthcare system. 

What exactly is a family nurse practitioner?

A family nurse practitioner works in a similar way to a primary care physician.

They will work with patients from a variety of different age ranges and backgrounds, often working with families throughout their lives. Like a physician, a family nurse practitioner will assess your symptoms, order tests, make a diagnosis and prescribe treatments. They also work within families and communities to promote healthy lifestyle choices and educate about disease prevention.

In some states, family nurse practitioners can use their advanced training to operate autonomously. In others, family nurse practitioners must work under the supervision of a physician. This means that although they will be allowed a certain level of autonomy, the supervising physician will still have the ultimate say over care decisions.

Family nurse practitioners can work in a variety of settings. They might work in a community center, in a private hospital, or in a university, for example. The institution which they work in will have an impact on the scope of their work, their working conditions and also their salary.

Nurse practitioner vs registered nurse

Although both nurses and nurse practitioners work with patients and are concerned with their wellbeing, there are a number of differences between the two career paths:

  • Autonomy. Nurse practitioners have a greater level of autonomy than registered nurses. They are able to prescribe medicines, order tests and recommend treatment plans much as a physician would. Registered nurses cannot prescribe medicines, and they will generally work under the supervision of a physician to a much greater level than a nurse practitioner.
  • Work environment. Registered nurses will generally work in settings like hospitals or surgical clinics. Because of the nature of the Institutions they are working in, they often work irregular hours and will work on a shift basis. Nurse practitioners are often able to work in settings like private clinics or educational institutions, which means that they are able to work more regular hours.
  • Level of education. As you might expect, nurse practitioners require a higher level of education to allow them the level of responsibility that they have. Nurse practitioners must be registered with their state, which usually requires at least a masters level degree and a set number of clinical hours. Registered nurses also need to be registered with their state, but the level of education required is a bachelors degree.

Is becoming a family nurse practitioner a good choice?

If you are considering becoming a nurse practitioner this article offers some great information around some of the benefits. As we have discussed here, nurse practitioners are well remunerated and it is a profession that is likely to keep growing.

Getting a masters degree to become a family nurse practitioner does come with a cost associated, so it is worth doing your research around what nurse practitioners are likely to be paid in your area and specialization, and whether you think that the salary you are likely to achieve will make up for the costs. 

However, the higher levels of autonomy that nurse practitioners can operate with often means that they feel more satisfied in their roles, because it can feel as though they are making more of a contribution to the care of their patients. They also have the opportunity to work closely with people from a variety of different ages and backgrounds which allows room for both personal and professional development. Plus, the opportunity for a role that allows more regular hours while still working in healthcare is a huge draw, because it can mean that it is easier to achieve a good work-life balance.