Nursing is one of the nation’s fastest-growing professions, and the demand for advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) is likely to skyrocket in the coming years. With the U.S. facing nursing shortages and COVID-19 concerns, pursuing nursing career advancement can pay dividends not only for those moving into leadership roles but also for the nation’s healthcare system.
APRNs work in a variety of roles that feature many of the duties a physician might handle, but perform that work with the level of hands-on care typical of nursing.
Interested in moving up in nursing? An advanced degree program that offers a number of different paths, such as Maryville University’s online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), can help registered nurses (RNs) in their pursuit of any of the broad range of advanced nursing roles, such as nurse practitioner (NP).
What Are Advanced Nursing Careers?
Primary and specialty healthcare features various types of APRN roles, which are centered on coordinating patient care. As the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) explains, these professionals combine clinical expertise with a personalized approach.
NPs, a subset of APRNs, are primary and specialty care providers who typically work with a specific population in areas such as adult and geriatric health or pediatric health. As with all APRNs, nurse practitioners must hold at least a master’s degree, along with state RN and APRN licenses as well as national certification.
Nurse Practitioner Responsibilities
NPs work independently or alongside physicians. Many states permit nurse practitioners to autonomously write prescriptions, order tests, and diagnose health conditions. NPs provide primary or preventive care, with some specializing in work with groups such as children, pregnant women, and patients with mental health concerns.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists the following examples of nurse practitioner responsibilities:
- Noting medical histories and symptoms
- Providing physicals
- Creating or adjusting treatment plans
- Administering and ordering tests
- Operating medical equipment
- Diagnosing health issues
- Providing treatment and monitoring responses
- Educating patients and their families about how to stay healthy
- Working with doctors and other healthcare professionals
- Conducting research
Nurse Practitioner Roles
Advanced practice nursing includes a variety of job titles. Depending on their role, nurse practitioners provide care ranging from physicals for children to therapy for patients with mental health concerns. Registered nurses interested in nursing career advancement could pursue any of the following roles:
- Adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioners (AGPCNPs) assess and diagnose health conditions and plan care for adults of all ages — often focusing on older adults — including helping patients transition between healthcare settings.
- Adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioners (AGACNPs) work with adults of all ages in a hospital setting, with responsibilities such as stabilizing patients, preventing complications, and providing palliative care.
- Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) provide a broad range of family-focused healthcare to patients of all ages, including performing physicals, ordering tests, creating treatment plans, and caring for injuries.
- Pediatric nurse practitioners (PNPs) administer care to children, providing services such as vaccinations, health screenings, and back-to-school physicals.
- Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) assess, diagnose, and treat patients’ mental health and substance abuse concerns, with many providing therapy and prescribing medication.
Where Do Nurse Practitioners Work?
The majority of NPs — 69%, according to AANP — deliver primary care, but all areas of practice are experiencing a growing need for APRNs.
The BLS reports that 47% of nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, and nurse midwives work in physicians’ offices. Other NPs provide care in a variety of settings, with some traveling to meet patients where other assistance is not available. In addition to physician practices, APRNs may work in the following kinds of facilities:
- School-based health centers
- Specialty clinics
- Correctional facilities
- Veterans Health Administration facilities
- Community health centers
- Freestanding emergency rooms
- Urgent care facilities
- Patients’ homes
- Birthing centers
How to Advance in a Nursing Career
Advancing in the nursing field involves education, licensing, skill development, and networking. The path to becoming an NP begins with earning a bachelor’s degree and progresses to attaining NP licensure.
Education and Licensing
Nurse practitioners are registered nurses (RNs) with at least a master’s degree. Nurses with only an undergraduate education who want to advance in the field should pursue a graduate degree, such as Maryville’s online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), which offers an array of specializations.
After earning a master’s degree, the next step is to pass a national APRN certification exam and attain — and maintain — a state APRN license. Nurses can then go on to pursue NP certification from organizations including the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB), and the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB). Other APRN career paths include gaining nurse anesthetist or nurse-midwifery certifications.
Honing Key Skills
Nursing requires stamina and strong ethics, according to career and job search program Work It Daily. The following skills and traits are also key to advanced nursing practice, according to the BLS:
- Communication — to interact with patients and other healthcare professionals regarding treatment
- Critical thinking — to assess changes in patients’ conditions and act quickly
- Compassion — to provide caring and sympathetic assistance
- Attention to detail — to ensure appropriate treatment and note patient responses
- Interpersonal skills — to work with patients, families, and other members of the healthcare team
- Leadership — to direct others and manage treatment
- Resourcefulness — to find information needed for providing care
The benefits of networking with other professionals in the field include making connections, gaining knowledge, and learning about job opportunities. Joining professional associations or workplace committees and attending remote or in-person conferences are among the best ways to network.
Specialized professional organizations include:
- Advanced Practitioner Society for Hematology and Oncology (APSHO)
- American Academy of Emergency Nurse Practitioners (AAENP)
- Gerontological Advanced Practice Nurses Association (GAPNA)
- National Academy of Dermatology Nurse Practitioners (NADNP)
- National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (NAPNAP)
- Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health (NPWH)
What Are the Benefits of Nursing Career Advancement?
Nursing career advancement benefits those pursuing new roles as well as the healthcare system as a whole. The rapidly increasing demand for APRNs is a testament to their positive impact in the field.
Benefits for the Healthcare System
The U.S. is likely to experience a shortage of RNs due to an aging population and increasing need for preventive healthcare, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).
Additionally, advanced practice nursing is a growing component of the team-based approach to healthcare offered in hospitals, physicians’ offices, clinics, and other ambulatory care facilities.
The BLS projects a 45% increase in the employment of advanced nursing roles between 2019 and 2029. That growth, also fueled by retirement and other departures from the profession, is much faster than the average for all occupations (4%).
COVID-19 has exacerbated the already growing need for nurses in the U.S., particularly those who can provide leadership. APRNs can lend their experience and expertise to tackle the challenges of handling a pandemic. They can provide a steady hand for nurses entering the field to replace those who are leaving it.
Benefits for Nurses
Nursing career advancement also holds benefits for those pursuing higher-level positions. The following examples are among the reasons for pursuing an advanced nursing career:
- Longer-term care. NPs and other APRNs go beyond the diagnosis and treatment of a problem. They develop relationships with patients and create long-term health plans focused on preventive care.
- Greater visibility. Nurse practitioners hold positions of elevated profile, with many responsibilities that mirror those of physicians without the requirement of medical school.
- Specialization opportunities. Advancement often brings opportunities for specialization in areas of care and research.
- Patient advocacy. Nurse practitioners often work as advocates for their patients, answering questions and providing information to those in their care as well as their families.
- Employment opportunities. Employers appreciate APRNs’ expertise and its impact on a facility’s status.
- Earnings potential. Nurses in APRN positions typically earn higher salaries.
Start Your Path to Nursing Career Advancement
Ready to take a bold step to prepare to advance your career and help tackle the nation’s healthcare challenges? Explore Maryville University’s online Master of Science in Nursing, which offers specializations in family nursing, adult-gerontology, adult-gerontology acute care, pediatrics, and psychiatric mental health. Maryville’s programs feature high-quality, flexible curricula that are ideal for mid-level professionals ready to advance their careers.