Nurse practitioner specialties serve as opportunities to tap into specific areas of interest as a nurse practitioner (NP). Each specialty offers a multitude of clinical settings and patient populations to work with, in addition to a highly rewarding practice.
There are many different nurse practitioner specialties and subspecialty areas. In this article, we discuss the most commonly available nurse practitioner specialties and how to choose which to focus on while earning your online MSN degree.
What is the Role of a Nurse Practitioner?
A nurse practitioner is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) who has graduate-level education (e.g. master’s or doctoral degree) and has received advanced clinical training. NPs undergo six or more years of academic and clinical preparation.
Requirements for NP practice include:
- Bachelor’s degree in nursing
- Registered nurse license
- Graduate nursing education
- National board certification
- State NP licensure/ registration
For RNs who are not yet BSN holders, an RN-MSN bridge program is an effective way to start working towards your MSN degree, earning your bachelor’s along the way.
Nurse practitioners have a depth of knowledge and clinical competency, and can practice in the following:
- Primary care
- Acute care
- Long-term health care settings
More NPs are focused in primary care than physicians and physician assistants. Healthcare trends from 2019 showed that, “more than 89% of NPs were prepared in primary care programs, while only 8% of physicians entered a primary care residency.”
The NP scope of practice combines nursing and medical services for populations including individuals, families and groups. NPs practice autonomously and in collaboration with physicians and other healthcare providers.
Responsibilities for NPs vary based on their specialty and state-granted practice authority, although they typically include:
- Patient evaluation and diagnosis
- Developing treatment plans that may include medications or repeated visits
- Furthering testing such as imaging, lab work, or various types of therapies
- Prescribing medications
- Referrals to other providers if needed
Nearly half of the country recognizes full practice authority for NPs. This grants them the ability to work independently and treat patients without physician supervision. Many NPs can also run their own practice.
Other states require collaboration between an NP and a supervising physician as an ongoing part of their day-to-day functions.
Advanced practice nursing is a relatively new field. Nonetheless, with over 270,000 licensed nurse practitioners working nationwide, the role is growing exponentially.
As NPs continue demonstrating quality with patient satisfaction scores comparable to that of physicians, more states have granted them rights to full practice authority.
Nurse Practitioner Specialties: Exploring Interests
Choosing among nurse practitioner specialties is a personal decision, allowing for the opportunity to fine tune your interests. NPs have the option to choose one or multiple certifications, depending on their career goals.
The AANP lists a number of nurse practitioner specialties, though due to the retirement of some certification exams, NP certifications have changed over time. Current nurse practitioner specialties include:
- Family Practice
- Adult-Gerontology, Primary or Acute Care
- Pediatrics, Primary Care
- Women’s Health
- Psychiatric/Mental Health Care
- Hospice & Palliative Care
NPs can explore certifying bodies for information about exams, such as the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) or American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).
Nurse Practitioner Specialties: Family Nurse Practitioner
Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) provide care for all ages—from infants to the enderly. They have flexible work settings and can be found in hospitals, primary care and specialty clinics, and long-term care facilities.
It’s also becoming increasingly common for school systems to employ family nurse practitioners to care for their students. FNPs may also work in occupational health.
FNPs manage chronic conditions in a primary care setting, as well as evaluate and treat acute, non life-threatening ailments. They conduct physicals, oversee routine health needs, and perform the general duties of a nurse practitioner.
“Although FNPs have a broad scope of practice, from educating patients on disease prevention to treating serious illnesses, they can also obtain additional certifications in areas such as diabetes, pain or obesity management,” notes the AANP.
These additional certifications are not required for FNPs.
The FNP is the most common of the nurse practitioner specialties, largely due to the flexibility that entails in the role. Indeed, 65.4% of nurse practitioners are certified as FNPs.
Since FNPs treat across the lifespan, they often develop long-term relationships with their patients. FNPs are seeing high demand, as they are uniquely suited to help fill the gap in primary care due to the shortage of physicians.
Nurse Practitioner Specialties: Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner
The Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (AGNP) focuses on the care of patients ages 13 and up. AGNPs may choose to focus on either primary care or acute care. In fact, 7.8% of AGNPs have a primary care focus, while 3.4% of AGNPs specialize in acute care.
AGNPs specializing in primary care help their patients manage chronic conditions, especially those that come with advanced age. They perform annual physicals, order screening labs and tests, and make adjustments to their patients’ treatment plans.
Primary care AGNPs also educate patients on normal age-related changes and on what to expect as they grow older. They most often work in primary care offices, long-term care facilities and nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and may also work in occupational health.
AGNPs focused in acute care are more often stationed in hospital settings. These AGNPs provide a range of care including disease prevention and acute care management, which may involve specialist treatment and discharge aftercare.
They are prepared to work on any hospital floor, including the emergency department, intensive care unit, and urgent care clinics.
Nurse Practitioner Specialties: Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, Primary Care
Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (PNPs), see patients from birth up until young adulthood. Approximately, 3.7% of nurse practitioners are PNPs in the U.S. This specialty differs from the FNP in that PNPs do not treat patients who are older than 21 years of age.
PNPs have plenty of options when it comes to practice settings. They may opt to work in pediatric primary care offices, hospitals, and urgent care centers that specifically treat children and young adults, as well as schools.
Some of the PNPs duties include performing wellness visits, routine physicals, managing childhood vaccinations, providing parents with education on milestones and development, and identifying any problem areas in patients’ development.
Nurses with a passion for young children may choose to become a PNP, as it’s the only certification among nurse practitioner specialties focusing solely on pediatrics.
Nurse Practitioner Specialties: Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner
Women’s Health Nurse Practitioners (WHNPs) are unique among nurse practitioner specialties in that they provide health care exclusively to women.
WHNPs comprise 2.8% of nurse practitioners. They often work in women’s health offices, community clinics, and hospitals.
Nurses who enjoy working in labor and delivery, or mother-baby units in the hospital, may benefit from choosing this specialty. WHNPs, however, differ from Certified Nurse Midwives in that they promote women’s health through the lifespan.
WHNPs often provide primary care services with a focus around gynecology or pregnancy management for low-risk patients. They perform wellness exams and provide education for expecting mothers. Many also conduct labs to investigate symptoms or as part of routine health maintenance.
Nurse Practitioner Specialties: Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
PMHNPs work with patients with mental health conditions such as depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and anxiety. They provide patients with counseling, resources, medication management and monitoring, and may also prescribe therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy.
These nurse practitioners may also work in many different settings, including community clinics, hospitals, psychiatric specialty hospitals, and outpatient mental health clinics.
Among nurse practitioner specialties, this one is in high demand as 1 in 5 adults experience some form of mental illness in the U.S.
Nurse Practitioner Specialties: Hospice & Palliative Care
Hospice and palliative care nurse practitioners (HPCNPs) work with patients who have chronic, debilitating health conditions or terminal illnesses, and who are close to death.
These NPs focus care on keeping their patients comfortable, and managing their symptoms, which often include pain, discomfort, or anxiety.
HPCNPs may also guide conversations relating to end-of-life planning, including advance directives, and the patient’s wishes.
More Options for NPs: Subspecialties
Nurse practitioner specialties offer the opportunity to hone clinical skills and allow NPs to work with specific patient populations. For NPs who would like to meet the needs of their patients and enhance their careers, subspecialties are available.
Subspecialization allows nurse practitioners to focus on specific body systems and treat disease processes related to their subspecialty.
Common NP subspecialties include:
Many NPs also join interactive communities based on their interests. The AANP runs a list of current specialty practice groups, with the goal of “advancing knowledge and professional development in select areas.”
What to Do: Considering Nurse Practitioner Specialties
To help you decide which of the nurse practitioner specialties is best for you to choose, consider these top factors:
1. Your Interests
Areas that you find interesting should be at the top of your list. If you enjoy forging long-term relationships with patients and providing care at different stages of life, then a career as an FNP may suit you well.
If you’d prefer focusing on adults and their special set of health needs, becoming an AGNP may be best for you.
2. Employment Opportunities
Although NP outlook is bright, another factor to consider is which specialty offers the most opportunities near you. Some specialties may have more job openings in your area compared to others.
We recommend researching local job postings to gauge demand, especially if you plan on working in a specific location.
3. Career Flexibility
Many students know which area they’d like to specialize in, while others pursue different specialties throughout their careers. Although the NP role is flexible overall, some concentrations offer more opportunities.
The FNP role, for example, cares for patients of all ages and is desired in countless healthcare settings.
While most NPs have rewarding salaries, some specialties tend to earn more than others. Adult-gerontology nurse practitioners and family nurse practitioners earn median salaries between $94,413 and $110,181 annually.
Alternatively, pediatric nurse practitioners earn a median salary of $90,159.
A Bright Career Outlook
Demand is high in all nurse practitioner specialties, but especially those geared towards primary care.
With 89% of NPs working in primary care, nurse practitioners are helping alleviate a nationwide physician shortage, especially in rural areas.
Research published by the Health Affairs journal highlights how over the last few years, the amount of NPs as primary care providers grew from 17.6 to 25.2% in rural practices, and from 15.9 to 23% in non-rural practices.
As the Baby Boomer population ages and requires more complex medical care, the need for healthcare services will rise. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that the NP field will grow by 26% through 2028.
In addition to a healthy career outlook, nurse practitioners see excellent salaries that continue to rise with experience.
The NP role also offers more work-life balance, career autonomy, and high levels of job satisfaction. In fact, nurse practitioner ranks #4 in Best Healthcare Jobs, #5 in Best 100 Jobs, and #5 in Best STEM Jobs in 2020 by U.S. News.
Nurse practitioner specialties make this line of work even more exciting. With the ability to choose an area of focus, NPs can align clinical competence with their passion to serve specific populations.
Make a Difference as a Nurse Practitioner
Spring Arbor’s online MSN-NP program offers two focused pathways allowing you to become a Family Nurse Practitioner or Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner.
The nurse practitioner specialties of family care and adult-gerontology are both in demand. Meet the need for primary care in your community through the highly desired roles of FNP or AGNP.
Spring Arbor’s online MSN-NP program is uniquely designed for working nurses, offering:
- A flexible 7-1-7 class model with one week off in between classes, so you can recharge
- No mandatory login times, letting you do coursework anytime and anywhere
- A caring community of faculty and students who are driven to serve and embrace learning from a Christian perspective
- Ongoing support from a Student Success Coach, who is dedicated to helping you find work-school-home life balance until you graduate
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