Partly because of an increase in people needing medical care due to aging baby boomers, the health care industry is seeing a shortage of licensed physicians. With available appointments becoming more and more scarce in some communities, nurse practitioners are stepping up in droves to help. According to one recent study, there are over 150,000 nurse practitioners currently working in the United States. This number represents a twelve percent increase since 2004.
Nurse practitioners are generally advanced practice nurses who have furthered their educations and completed clinical training. They are able to see most patients that a general physician would serve, and pretty much have the same duties and responsibilities. They diagnose illnesses, interpret medical tests, write prescriptions (though some states regulate what prescriptions they are legally allowed to write) and refer patients to more specialized care. Today it is very commonplace to find at least one nurse practitioner in a medical office along with several general care doctors serving the same patients and treating the same illnesses.
A lot of nurses are venturing into the nurse practitioner area for many reasons. One very attractive benefit to becoming a nurse practitioner is the pay. Annual salaries for these nurses can reach as high as $100,000. Another is a higher level of autonomy and the ability to help patients on a broader scale. Some nurse practitioners do specialize as far as family care or pediatrics.
They are also popular with patients because the wait time to see them for appointments and walk-ins is generally much shorter than that of a physician and the care they receive is the same quality as that of a physician. Nurse practitioners also handle a lot of the overflow when doctor’s offices get very busy. Another advantage that some nurse practitioners have is that they have already served many hours in hospitals and doctor’s offices as nurses, so they are already familiar with the pace of the job as well as situations that they may find themselves in. And no one will argue that nurses give excellent care by their very definition.
The general outlook for nurse practitioner employment is very good. Based on the twelve percent increase in the last eight years, demand for these highly trained health care workers is expected to grow along with the increase in people seeking medical care.