A projected shortage of physicians could leave the United States in need of healthcare providers to fill the gap. As medical professionals who can offer many of the same services as physicians, nurse practitioners (NPs) are excellent candidates to help ensure that people continue to get the care they need.
In a 2021 report, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) predicted a shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 primary and specialty care physicians by 2034. Nurse practitioner jobs are already growing at a rate that far outpaces the average for all professions, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Nurse practitioners could see the demand for their work increase even further as they’re called upon to treat people who don’t have adequate access to doctors.
However, when considering why to become a nurse practitioner, it’s important to note that strong demand and opportunities to serve are just two of the reasons to do so. It makes sense to take a closer look at all the key reasons to pursue this career — and how earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree can provide a strong foundation for the job.
How Can an MSN Advance Your Career?
An MSN degree can be a key step in the path to becoming a nurse practitioner and can provide various other benefits as well. From skill building to specializing, here are four ways MSN graduates can use the degree to advance their careers.
1. Preparing for a Nurse Practitioner Role
A nurse practitioner is a type of advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) who treats patients by focusing on both clinical expertise and preventive care. Depending on the location of practice, nurse practitioners may work independently or under the supervision of physicians to provide many of the same types of care that doctors offer, including writing prescriptions and ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests.
Although they vary by state, qualifications for the role generally include earning an advanced nursing degree, such as an MSN.
2. Enhancing Your Nursing and Leadership Skills
The advanced skills and leadership competencies that are the focus of the MSN degree can help nursing professionals improve their care and qualify for various higher-level roles in the field. MSN degree programs typically offer advanced training in areas such as:
- Evidence-based practice
As they become leaders in nursing, MSN graduates can pursue opportunities to shape the type and quality of care that patients receive.
3. Specializing in a Patient Population
MSN programs often provide options for students to select a specialization for their practice, whether it’s through degree concentrations or post-degree certificates. MSN students preparing to advance their careers by becoming nurse practitioners, for example, may focus their work on a vast array of areas. Among the most popular areas of specialization are:
- Adult-gerontology acute care
- Psychiatric-mental health care
- Family care
4. Pursuing Other Advanced Nursing Roles
In addition to a nurse practitioner, other advanced nursing careers require graduate degrees like an MSN. Opportunities for higher-level nursing roles include the following:
- Nurse or healthcare management
- Nurse education
- Other APRN careers, such as nurse anesthetist and nurse-midwife
Why Become a Nurse Practitioner?
An MSN can set the stage for an advanced role in nursing, such as a nurse practitioner. Why become a nurse practitioner, though? Opportunities to provide holistic care that’s in demand and to receive pay that’s well above average are among the reasons for pursuing the career. Following is a closer look at the key reasons for becoming a nurse practitioner.
Meeting the Healthcare Demand
The AAMC’s prediction of physician shortages isn’t the only sign of the high demand for advanced healthcare professionals.
In September 2022, according to the U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA), 97 million Americans lived in primary care health professional shortage areas (HPSAs), and 157 million lived in mental HPSAs. Meanwhile, an increasing emphasis on preventive care and an aging population are adding to the need for medical services nationwide.
Because they can, in many cases, perform many of the same tasks as physicians, nurse practitioners can help fill healthcare gaps that already exist and that are projected to grow.
Seeking Strong Job Growth and Pay
Job growth projections reflect the increasing need for nurse practitioners, with the BLS anticipating 46% growth in nurse practitioner roles between 2021 and 2031. This projected growth — representing 112,700 jobs — far outpaces that for all occupations that the BLS tracks; overall projected job growth is 5% from 2021 to 2031.
Median annual salary data shows the potential for wages that also far exceed the average. In May 2021, the median annual salary for nurse practitioners was $120,680, according to the BLS. The median annual salary for all jobs was $45,760 for the period.
Providing Holistic Care
Nurse practitioners provide personalized, holistic care with a scope and level of authority that typically goes beyond that of RNs. Their work emphasizes medical treatment and disease prevention in equal parts. Many of their responsibilities are similar to those of physicians, including the following:
- Managing patients’ overall care
- Educating people about a healthy lifestyle
- Diagnosing and treating medical conditions
- Prescribing medications
- Ordering, performing, and interpreting tests
What Are the Steps to Becoming a Nurse Practitioner?
After examining why to become a nurse practitioner, another consideration is how to pursue the career. The path to becoming a nurse practitioner includes these steps:
- Earning a Bachelor of Science in nursing degree. Students can pursue a BSN as their first postsecondary degree or after receiving another bachelor’s degree or an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN).
- Passing the National Council Licensure Exam. Receiving a passing score on the NCLEX is generally a requirement for state registered nurse (RN) licensing.
- Obtaining an RN license. State licensing typically requires either a BSN or an ADN, in addition to a passing score on the NCLEX, although specific requirements vary.
- Selecting an area of focus. Nurses should select a population to be the focus of their nurse practitioner practice, to inform their plans for graduate studies.
- Completing a graduate nursing program. An MSN is often the minimum degree requirement for state nurse practitioner licensing.
- Passing a national nurse practitioner certification exam. Exam options vary according to the area of specialization, from certification programs such as the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Program (AANPCP) and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).
- Pursuing a nurse practitioner license. States provide licensing for nurse practitioners.
Advance Your Nursing Career With an MSN
Becoming a nurse practitioner can bring opportunities to fill unmet healthcare needs in a growing profession with the potential for high earnings. If you’re ready to pursue an MSN to help you advance to a high-level role like a nurse practitioner, explore the Duquesne University online MSN program.
Duquesne’s online MSN program focuses on the knowledge and skills that are critical in advanced nursing roles, preparing you for your specialization in nursing care and for leadership roles in the field. The program also features the convenience and flexibility of online coursework and access to academic tools and support personnel to help you along your journey.
Discover how Duquesne’s online MSN program can help you advance your nursing career.