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Now more than ever, the role of the nurse practitioner is hitting new heights in terms of career opportunities, NP autonomy, and patients’ ability to access expert care provided by dedicated advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) throughout the U.S. If any group of healthcare professionals is in the ascendant at this time in history, there is no doubt that nurse practitioners are the ones whose star is most certainly rising.

The Numbers Tell the Story 

Let’s examine the statistics underlying the argument that nurse practitioners are indeed having their day. We can clearly see that career opportunities for NPs are currently robust and should remain so for at least the rest of the decade.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the mean annual wage for NPs is currently $118,040, with the 2021 median pay for nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, and nurse midwives as a collective group at $123,780 (the BLS does not specifically differentiate between different types of APRNs, nor between nurses with an RN or BSN, for that matter). The BLS also projects 40% job growth for NPs through 2031, while, by comparison, physician job growth is projected as 3% and RN job growth as 6%.

The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) reports that there are 355,000 NPs in the U.S., with 36,000 having completed their education in 2020-2021, adding their enthusiasm and expertise to the NP workforce.

In terms of scope of practice and the environment for NPs seeking increased autonomy, AANP statistics demonstrate that more than 25 American states and territories currently allow for full NP independence, with more states hopefully coming on board in the years ahead.

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Other numbers provided by the AANP add more to the overall NP picture:

  • 88% hold a primary care certification
  • 3% are certified FNPs
  • 2% are certified in women’s health
  • 9% are certified in geriatrics
  • 3% practice primary care
  • 2% prescribe medications
  • 6% working full-time have hospital privileges
  • Average age: 46

The numbers tell an optimistic story of how nurse practitioners are moving into a territory of increasing opportunity.

A Promising Future for Nurse Practitioners

For those keenly interested in a career as an NP, the available clinical tracks offer several choices that involve acute care or an ambulatory focus. Nurse practitioners can be found in hospitals, community health centers, private practice, research, specialty clinics, the corrections system, occupational health, and numerous other clinical settings.

While family nurse practitioner (FNPs) remains the most popular choice among those seeking NP education, there are other fascinating potential pathways. From a certain perspective, the low percentages of NPs certified in women’s health (2.2%), acute care pediatrics (0.6%), neonatal (0.5%), and several other specialties demonstrate that the potential exists for curious NPs to seek out opportunity in less common — and thus less competitive — practice areas. In addition, many specialty certifications and training can empower NPs to carve out a uniquely fulfilling career.

Especially in states where NPs enjoy full practice authority without the need for physician oversight, entrepreneurship is an attractive option. As a result, nurse practitioners have launched concierge medical practices, house-call practices, and all related business ventures.

In the final analysis, the sky’s the limit where nurse practitioners’ potential can lead.

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Depending on the practice environment, supply and demand, and specific geographic needs regarding particular NP specialties, there is no doubt that nurse practitioners’ timely ascent into the very epicenter of the healthcare delivery system is upon us. Thousands of skilled, knowledgeable NPs will continue to lead the way into a promising future.

Daily Nurse is thrilled is welcome Keith Carlson, “Nurse Keith,” a well-known nurse career coach and podcaster of The Nurse Keith Show as a guest columnist. Check back every other Thursday for Keith’s column. 

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