Ever since she was a high school student, Stacey Jodice knew she wanted a career in a caregiving profession. In college, Jodice — now a family nurse practitioner (FNP) at Westborough Family Medicine in Massachusetts — thought she wanted to pursue a career as a doctor of medicine (MD), or a medical doctor. She interned for a doctor and soon realized that direction wasn’t for her. Next, she shadowed a nurse practitioner (NP), and something clicked.
“I saw that it was a much different type of health care delivery model they use,” Jodice said of nursing. “I saw [nurse practitioners] take more time to focus on patients; they look at a person in a really well-rounded way. Then I saw they also had a more well-rounded family life at home themselves. I decided to get my NP degree.”
Jodice researched the steps necessary to get that degree and join what the American Association of Nurse Practitioners says are the 270,000 licensed nurse practitioners in the United States (as of 2019). She earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing and worked for several years as a registered nurse (RN) before going on to earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree with an FNP (family nurse practitioner) concentration. She said the most rewarding aspects of the job entail seeing the payoff for all that hard work.
“It’s when a patient comes in for just a physical, and I’m walking them through something like whether they are making good dietary choices, trying to see if that will make them feel better,” she said. “Then, they come in for their follow-up, and seeing that it actually did make a difference — it’s very rewarding to know I had a positive impact on their health care,” she says.
Nurses who enter the field aren’t just advancing their careers; they’re also choosing a direction that allows them to serve as clinicians who can directly diagnose and treat health conditions, either independently or by working with an MD. It’s all about giving patients personalized, targeted care, said Jodice. At the end of the day, she says that this “personal approach” to health care can positively affect patients.
In order to pursue this rewarding career, education is key. An NP falls under the broader umbrella category of being an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), which is a highly skilled nurse who has earned graduate-level training. The first step on the path is to become an RN. Many nurses choose to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) right after high school, while some decide to pursue a two-year associate degree. There is also the option to take on an RN-to-BSN pathway.
After becoming a nurse, there are different options for their more advanced degrees and certifications in order to become a nurse practitioner. RNs may opt to go directly into a nurse practitioner program, while others take Jodice’s path. She said working as a nurse first in the field before earning her advanced degree was ideal for her, as was her clinical and health care training.
Jodice said anyone considering becoming a nurse practitioner or applying to a program should reach out to local NPs in their area.
“Meet one of them or just have a sit down and shadow them,” she said. “Make sure it’s something you’re really interested in.”
A graduate degree is key to becoming a nurse practitioner. A Master of Science in Nursing is seen as the minimum requirement for becoming a nurse practitioner. Some people also choose to pursue a PhD in a related field following their master’s degree.
Those who opt for a master’s degree tend to study for up to two years, while those who pursue the doctoral degree commit to a two- to three-year full-time course of study.
Jodice says that the best piece of advice she received when applying to her nurse practitioner program was “to have an open mind and be empathetic.
That sense of empathy for a patient’s life is necessary no matter what discipline you pursue as a nurse practitioner. The nurse practitioner career outlook is bright, and there are many ways you would be able to apply those skills and empathy for your patients.
Here’s an overview of a few of the most popular nurse practitioner disciplines:
General Nurse Practitioner. GNPs offer care everywhere from large hospitals to private doctors’ practices. If you choose this discipline, you can expect to answer a range of patients’ concerns. The job requires you to be versatile, prescribing medications one minute and addressing questions over a patient’s cold symptoms the next.
Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner. If you enjoy working with older patients, this is the ideal role for you. These nurses have to be versatile, as they will be helping geriatric patients address a range of health concerns. Those who pursue this field will either be an adult gerontology acute care nurse practitioner (AG-ACNP) or an adult gerontology primary care nurse practitioner (AG-PCNP). An AG-ACNP works with those older adults who are acutely sick, meaning they focus on specific areas like oncology or trauma care. The AG-PCNP centers on primary health care. To receive these certifications, you will go through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). As with other nurse practitioners, you will be in a variety of settings. This could include major hospitals, private practices and even community health centers.
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. This type of nurse practitioner offers mental health care. If you pursue this discipline, you’ll be working with people who are living with mental health and mood disorders. These nurses provide diagnostic care and treatment as well as psychiatric and mental health treatment. Given the demand for psychiatrists, nurse practitioners in this field are highly sought out. These nurses will seek their certifications through the ANCC; for those who hope to work as a pediatric primary care mental health specialist, the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board provides its own credentials.
Family Nurse Practitioner. These nurses offer primary health care to the whole family and therefore must be able to administer quality care to people of various ages. These nurses in many ways become part of the family, oftentimes working with people from infancy to adulthood. As the demand for nurses grows and families grapple with increasingly complex health concerns, family nurse practitioners will continue to play a necessary role in the health care system.
Pediatric Endocrinology Nurse Practitioner. You may be drawn to this discipline if you enjoy working with children with hormonal imbalances. These nurses care for their patients from infancy through the teen years and help them manage endocrine disorders including diabetes mellitus, hypothyroidism, childhood obesity and Addison’s disease among others. There are various certifications you can obtain in this field, and you can earn credentials in both pediatric primary and acute care.
Nurse Practitioner Salary and Job Demand Overview by State
BLS data for 2018 indicates that the nurse practitioner salary varies by state. For instance, the registered nurse practitioner salary in California stands at $64.32 hourly average wage and $133,780 annually. The nurse practitioner salary in Texas stands at a $53.39 hourly average wage ($111,060 annually), while the nurse practitioner salary in Florida stands at $48.61 for the average hourly wage and $101,100 annually.
Beyond these states’ employment figures, here are states that have the highest wages for nurse practitioners compared to the rest of the country, according to 2018 BLS data:
Caption: The five U.S. states with the highest annual wages for nurse practitioners include California, Alaska, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.
Number of jobs
Hourly average wage
Annual average wage
Top Employers Hiring Nurse Practitioners and Salary Offers
Nurse practitioners can be found in all kinds of settings including private practices, major hospitals and small clinics. Doctors’ offices were the top employers for nurse practitioners in 2018, while personal care services were the top-paying workplaces for nurse practitioners. Here are overviews of the top employers and best-paying industries for nurse practitioners, according to 2018 BLS data:
Caption:The work environments with high concentrations of nurse practitioner employment include doctors’ offices, general medical and surgical hospitals, outpatient care centers, offices of other health care practitioners and colleges and professional schools.
Caption:The highest-paying workplaces for nurse practitioners in the United States include personal care services, community food and housing, emergency relief services, religious organizations, computer systems and design services and residential developmental and disability facilities.
Number of jobs
Hourly average wage
Annual average wage
Personal care services
Community food and housing, emergency and other relief services
Computer systems design and related services
Residential intellectual and developmental disability, mental health, and substance abuse facilities
Useful Resources for Nurse Practitioners
Stay in the know about industry news, research and educational tools by browsing through these resources for current or aspiring nurse practitioners.
Disclosure: All table data is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018. Salaries vary per state, region and workplace environment. Teach.com is not responsible for changes in the data after November 2019.