Exploring Different Nurse Practitioner Specializations

Have you ever considered becoming a nurse practitioner (NP)? You are not alone. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) states that more than 36,000 new NPs completed their academic programs between 2020 and 2021. A significant reason for this massive uptick is the endless benefits that being a nurse practitioner brings.

While several jobs are becoming obsolete because of technological advancements, the job outlook for NPs has never been better. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals NP employment is projected to grow by 45% from 2019 to 2029. On top of that, NPs are also paid handsomely. According to a report NPs earn somewhere between $110,000 and $130,000, with an average salary of around $122,000, depending on their educational background, skills, and experience.

But perhaps the most significant reason NP roles attract students from multiple fields is the ability to specialize. Unlike typical nurses, NPs can work and specialize in various fields. This allows NPs to pursue professional growth and become experts and leaders in areas that impact healthcare outcomes, education, and practice. NP specialties correspond to a particular patient population or concerns, such as psychiatric mental health or adult gerontology. Below is an overview of the different NP specializations available to student nurses.

Family nurse practitioner

As mentioned, there are several advanced practice registered nursing roles and even more patient population and specialty focus areas for NPs. However, none are even close to as well-established and widespread as family nurse practitioners (FNPs). According to the AANP, FNPs account for 70% of nurse practitioners. FNPs work with individuals of all ages in multiple settings, such as public hospitals and private clinics.

Their scope of practice differs depending on the state. While every state authorizes FNPs to order medical evaluations and create comprehensive care plans, only 28 states grant full-practice authority. FNPs in other states must work with or under a physician’s supervision. Regardless, FNPs play a crucial role in healthcare and serve individuals and families for extended periods, making this specialization ideal for individuals who value developing long-term patient relationships.

FNPs are among the most close-knit and sympathetic healthcare professionals. After all, their work is established on long-lasting and occasionally multigenerational patient relationships. FNPs have a meaningful sense of their communities’ general health because of their comprehensive grasp of treatment across all age groups. Depending on organizational and patient needs, NPs can perform tasks such as monitoring patients’ health histories and records, conducting diagnostic assessments and analyzing the results, evaluating and diagnosing medical conditions, prescribing and dispensing medications, and conducting or assisting in minor invasive medical procedures.

With the opportunity to collaborate with doctors and other medical professionals, FNPs can create practical and long-term treatment plans for their patients. Although FNPs have an extensive practice scope, they can also acquire certifications in areas such as obesity or pain management and diabetes to improve their credentials and reputation. If you want a change of scenery, an FNP career might be a good option.

FNPs have always been in demand. However, a recent shortage of family physicians has increased the number of primary care positions FNPs can fill, particularly in underserved populations. Like physicians, FNPs can interpret laboratory results to make comprehensive diagnoses and develop an all-encompassing care plan inclusive of pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic treatments as required.

Simply put, FNPs combine nursing skills and a practitioner mindset. This can be especially beneficial in rural areas where providers and specialty providers are lacking. Rural American areas have been plagued with medical shortages, with primary care physicians retiring without replacements. According to PubMed Central, the federal government is projecting over 20,000 doctors to be needed in 2025.

This healthcare gap increases the likelihood of more extended patient waiting times. This, in turn, may prompt patients to ignore treatment altogether and suffer an increased risk of contracting complex illnesses. Since FNPs can work more independently and perform physician duties, they can offset the shortage of primary care providers in rural America. Doing so makes detecting and treating chronic diseases more straightforward and quicker while increasing the likelihood of preventing outbreaks.

Adult gerontology primary care nurse practitioner

Geriatric care is growing in importance within the country with the growing baby boomer population. Data shows the oldest members of the baby boomer generation retired in 2012, while the younger members are expected to do so by 2030. Adult gerontology primary care nurse practitioners (AGPCNPs) are advanced practice nurses providing medical services for older patients.

Senior healthcare institutions depend on AGPCNPs to provide in-depth physical evaluations, create comprehensive care plans, educate patients and family members, treat injuries from falls, and monitor vital signs. They work throughout the healthcare industry, although their duties and responsibilities may vary depending on their specialty. While communicating with patients and family members, AGPCNPs must relay information and instructions to avoid miscommunication.

The Joint Commission reveals poor communication in healthcare contributed to 80% of critical medical errors. Through simple and clear communication, AGPCNPs can establish an open and secure dialogue that encourages patients to disclose their symptoms. Doing so allows AGPCNPs to create a treatment plan that addresses the patient’s healthcare needs and requirements.

As an AGPCNP, your practice scope will depend on your certification, experience, and state licensure. Some establish practices, providing their jurisdiction lets them. Moreover, diverse regulations are decided by individual states regarding medication prescribing rights. This means state laws determine whether or not an AGPCNP must work in collaboration with a doctor.

Women’s health nurse practitioner

Demand for women’s healthcare is increasing exponentially, as is the need for women’s health nurse practitioners (WHNPs). Recent data shows demand for WHNPs is expected to rise 26% by 2028. WHNPs are healthcare professionals providing specialized and quality care to women across their lifespans. WHNPs can conduct primary care, prenatal care, preconception counseling, well-woman visits, contraceptive care, and pre or post-menopausal care. Like FNPs, they work with female patients across different lifestyles and ages. This includes pediatric patients, female adolescents, pregnant women, and older women. The highly specialized work of WHNPs may mean that they work in a narrower selection of healthcare environments than other NPs. WHNPs, without an individual practice, work with OB-GYNs and other physicians, focusing on women’s health issues.

Becoming a WHNP can be a rewarding experience, especially if you want to advance your career. Not only will you significantly impact women’s health, but you can also advocate for their rights and access to reproductive care. By joining organizations such as the Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health, you can speak for marginalized communities, shape policies, and ensure comprehensive women’s healthcare.

Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner

As the country encounters a mental health crisis, healthcare professionals are needed more than ever to support people with mental health issues and enhance their quality of life. Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNP) are among the nurse practitioner specialization roles that are experiencing enormous demand. According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, approximately 2,000 mental healthcare positions are needed yearly to manage the existing mental health crisis.

PMHNPs are advanced practice registered nurses with specialized training in evaluating, addressing, and monitoring mental health and behavioral issues. Their duties and responsibilities vary depending on where they work, their training, and their patients’ requirements. However, typical responsibilities include evaluating patients’ mental health statuses, providing and coordinating treatment based on care plans, prescribing medication and evaluating responses, providing case management, practicing crisis intervention, and educating patients and their family members about their symptoms and choices of treatment approaches.

As a PMHNP, you can also write prescriptions, perform advanced evaluations, and provide counseling. With an in-depth mental health evaluation, PMHNPs can better identify the root causes of a patient’s distress and ensure they receive appropriate treatment in an emotionally safe environment. Depending on their condition, PMHNPs may ask a patient’s friends and family members for input to establish deteriorating cognitive capacity and develop care options.

However, PMHNPs are different from psychiatrists. While their careers overlap in more ways than one, their roles and responsibilities are not entirely similar. Beyond treating patients, PMHNPs can also shape mental health policy and reduce the stigma associated with mental health. Since mental health nurse practitioners are armed with real-world experiences, they can help lawmakers understand the symptoms and find ways to support those with mental illnesses.

As frontline healthcare members adhering to multiple patient needs, PMHNPs are vital in relating personal experiences of how existing policies impact mental healthcare. Using their influence in creating mental health regulations, they can encourage ways to reduce the mental health crisis and improve care at a policy level. Doing so allows them to demystify the stigma around mental health rather than talking about mental illness in hushed tones.

Registered nurses wanting professional advancement may benefit from taking the PMHNP route. This is because RN skills are transferrable when pursuing a PMHNP career. For example, as an RN, you must have excellent analytical skills to recognize patient comfort shifts and then identify the adjustments required in their care plan to help their condition improve. This is similar to being a PMHNP, wherein you must analyze the patient’s condition and existing treatments to identify issues and predict outcomes.

Like RNs, PMHNPs collect significant patient data through evaluations, tests, and patient conversations. This information is then interpreted and assessed to identify the ideal action to improve the patient’s mental health. For PMHNPs to be effective, they must learn to examine this information and better communicate across disciplines to ensure everyone knows the patient’s status, requirements, and treatment responses.

When PMHNPs can evaluate information effectively, they can make educated decisions and collaborate effectively with other healthcare professionals. It also lets PMHNPs adapt their patient treatment plans and adjust based on the situation and patient requirements. Top-notch analytical skills are vital in the treatment stage, where mental health nurse practitioners must determine potential risks and predict incoming issues. When mental health nurse practitioners project future challenges, they can minimize medical errors and deliver care plans based on the patient’s medical history.

As a nurse practitioner, you can specialize in any of the roles above. For those who already hold a bachelor’s degree, accredited online ABSN programs, such as those offered at Wilkes University, can be invaluable. The accelerated nature of these courses gives students the opportunity to qualify as an RN in just one year with online study elements. Students will learn a variety of skills in these programs, and upon completion, they will be ready to begin specializing.

As well as those already discussed, some additional transferable skills that are vital when pursuing a nursing career are:

Communication skills

RNs in any specialization often spend their workdays interacting with patients, family members, and other healthcare professionals. So, it is no wonder that they must be excellent communicators. PMHNPs, for example, deal with patients who often have differing behaviors that impact their communication and willingness to work with care experts.

Nurses can quickly understand what their patients are trying to communicate due to their RN training and education. This allows them to empathize with the patient experience and build trust. By building trust, nurses can help patients learn more about their illnesses. This is especially important considering nearly half of American adults and children living with cognitive health problems go without treatment because of the associated stigma.

Problem-solving skills

Creative problem-solving as an RN is crucial. As mentioned, every patient encounters unique issues. As such, nurses in a variety of specializations must adapt to these particular problems and develop a tailored care plan to deal with an increasingly complex array of health issues.

In these unforeseen instances, nurses must be ingenious in creating a solution to manage duties, determine patient problems, and select the appropriate care interventions. While all nurses depend on clinical experience and expertise in several situations, those with creative problem-solving skills can view problems not as barriers but as opportunities to improve the patient’s quality of life.

Are you ready to become a nurse practitioner?

Working as a nurse practitioner opens you up to a world of possibilities. By training as an RN, you open the door to specializing in a wide range of areas, meaning you can tailor your career to suit your needs, interests, and skills. With an accredited education, you can soon begin your nursing career and get to work helping those in need.

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