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What is an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)?

What is an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)?

An advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) works on the cutting edge of healthcare. APRNs provide safe and cost-effective care to a wide variety of patients. If you’re looking for a career in which you have the ability to utilize all of the skills and knowledge you’ve acquired in your nursing education to practice to the full extent of your training, you may want to consider a career as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN).

What is an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse?

Advanced practice registered nurses have additional responsibilities above those of a registered nurse (RN). The APRN group includes not only nurse practitioners, but also nurse midwives, nurse anesthetists, and clinical nurse specialists. As an APRN, you can become a Certified Nurse Practitioner (NP), Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA), Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS), or Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM).

What does an advanced practice registered nurse do?

APRNs provide a full range of health care by providing both acute and specialty health care. APRNs are typically involved in all aspects of health care from assessment to diagnosis to treatment.

Many APRNs often serve as primary care providers in public health care roles, serving to provide preventative care to the people who need it the most. As part of their duties, an APRN may:

  • examine patients
  • treat common illnesses
  • perform wellness exams
  • diagnose and treat illnesses
  • advise the public on health issues
  • help patients manage chronic disease
  • prescribe medication

In fact, the American Nurses Association (ANA) would like APRNs to be able to have full practice authority in every state, with no barriers regarding the services they could provide. The ANA has long advocated for this position to meet the need being caused by the tremendous shortages in primary care providers. Today, about 20 percent of all Americans don’t have regular access to a primary care physician. The ANA supports allowing non-physician professionals like APRNs to fill this gap in care by giving patients more options and healthcare services.

Still, APRNs have many options regarding the geographical location, area of specialty and type of healthcare facility in which they work. These days, health care is being offered in so many non-traditional places outside of the typical doctor’s office or hospitals such as retail clinics, onsite corporate health clinics, and in-home healthcare companies. Healthcare practitioners are needed to fill all these roles, and APRNs are definitely well-suited and well-trained to meet these needs.

Why is an advanced practice registered nurse so important?

Advanced practice registered nurses provide high-quality medical care equivalent to the care that a doctor can provide. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports show that APRNs can provide as much as 90 percent of the same primary care services provided by general practitioner physicians.

Despite the lobbying by the ANA, the organization is certainly not pushing to have APRNs replace physicians. Instead, the ANA would like to see APRNs supplement that care and fill gaps created by the physician shortage. For example, APRNs could practice in rural areas which tend to have an overall lack of access to physicians. Only 10 percent of physicians have rural practices, yet 20 percent of Americans live in these areas. The reality is that the healthcare industry overall has a physician shortage, so APRNs are needed everywhere.

Many states have expanded APRN authority to work more independently and without necessarily needing to be physician-supervised. These states realize that APRNs are highly trained and skilled to fill an extremely important healthcare role. Many APRNs have found rewarding careers in rural and other underserved areas, or in urban areas where it has been necessary to expand healthcare services to non-traditional care settings. Many APRNs choose to become locum tenens nurses, traveling to different areas of the country and working on a short-term contract basis. In the last few years, locum tenens nurse numbers in all areas of specialty have tripled.

How to Become an APRN

APRNs have an advanced education and extensive nursing experience, and many use that experience and education to fill roles typically held by doctors. APRNs hold master’s degrees and have generally already spent many years working as a registered nurse (RN). Even after obtaining an MSN, an APRN will generally take frequent continuing education courses to remain current on nursing techniques and technological and methodological developments in medicine.

APRN Education Requirements and Training

Your first step on the road to becoming an APRN is first becoming an RN. You must also have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. It is great if you are already an RN who has earned a BSN degree, but if not, don’t worry. There are special accelerated BSN programs or bridge programs if you have a bachelor’s degree, but it is in another field instead of nursing.

There are even special RN-to-MSN bridge programs for nurses who would like to not only earn the BSN but pursue the MSN as well. After your undergraduate education is complete, APRNs embark on a two-year intensive Masters of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree program. It is important to keep an active RN license that is in good standing while you pursue your MSN. Furthermore, choose an MSN program with national accreditation and rigorous coursework in pharmacology, anatomy and physiology and more. Reputable MSN programs will always require a clinical rotation component.

Once you have your MSN degree, it will be time to obtain your APRN license for advanced practice nursing. Exams and certification criteria vary from state to state, but there are only a few national credentialing organizations, and you must have certification from one of the following:

  • American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
  • American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP)
  • American Association of Critical Care Nurses Certification Corporation (AACN)
  • Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB)
  • National Certification Corporation of the Obstetric Gynecological and Neonatal Nursing Specialties (NCC)

APRNs are periodically required to relicense, which does vary from state to state and is regulated by the state’s board of nursing.

The APRN Career Outlook

APRNs have a great career outlook. They are needed in every healthcare setting from home to hospital, but especially in non-traditional ones. As an APRN, you have lots of flexibility to choose your location, type of healthcare facility and whether you want to work day or night hours, as well as whether you want to work full-time, part-time or in a locum tenens capacity.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) expects that APRN jobs will grow by 31%, much faster than the national average, so your job outlook is excellent for at least the next decade.

Salary and Employment

APRN salaries are very high, with the median salary being $114,000. This amounts to $55/hour, which is not bad for a fulfilling day of work. You can make even more depending on your healthcare setting and geographical location.

Although the number of U.S. physicians is shrinking, this is certainly not the trend for PNPs. Their numbers are growing. In fact, AANP estimates that over 250,000 nurse practitioners in all specialty areas currently practice in the United States, an exponentially higher number than just a decade ago.

Top 5 APRN Specialties

APRNs have several specialized career options. If you already have an idea of what specialty you’d like to pursue, be sure to choose an MSN program that offers that specialization. It is important to note that not every MSN program offers every specialization, so do your homework and choose wisely. Some nurses actually enroll in several programs to ensure they get a complete set of specialization coursework, often working through a variety of in-class, online or hybrid learning options. The MSN must cover health assessment, advanced physiology and pathophysiology, pharmacology and clinical experiences.

Once you have your APRN credentials, you can begin your exciting career. An APRN can specialize, but cannot be solely licensed within that specialty area. The general APRN certification allows you to work in a variety of healthcare facilities including hospitals, clinics and nursing homes, but APRNs can also specialize in a variety of areas:

  • Nurse Practitioners: assess, diagnose and treat illnesses and injuries
  • Clinical Nurse Specialists: support other nurses who care for patients and use best practices and evidence-based care to better manage healthcare organizations
  • Certified Nurse-Midwives: gynecological health care.
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists: anesthesia and pain management services

While you get your general APRN education, you can concurrently earn one of these specialties. While boards of nursing assess the APRN education, professional organizations assess competency in a specialty area. Taking all of these requirements into consideration, about 41 organizations have developed a standard consensus model regarding the APRN specialty. All training programs are nationally accredited. This model recognizes the above four specialties. APRNs are also expected to practice in one of six population focus areas:

  • family health
  • gerontology
  • pediatrics
  • neonatal
  • women’s health
  • mental health

APRN Resources

Advanced Practice Registered Nurse FAQs

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about pediatric nurse practitioners.

As an APRN, can I further specialize? Yes, APRNs often further specialize to become nurse practitioners, pediatric nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, certified registered nurse anesthetists or clinical nurse specialists. Many often obtain the specialization concurrently while attaining the APRN education.

What core competencies must I have to be an APRN? The National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF) has established the following nine core competencies that they feel must apply to all APRNs:

  • Scientific foundations
  • Leadership
  • Quality
  • Practice inquiry
  • Technology literacy
  • Policy
  • Health delivery system
  • Ethics
  • Independent practice

What is an accelerated RN-to-MSN program? Various people interested in becoming an APRN often have different academic entry points. You may have an RN but not a BSN, or you may have a bachelor’s degree in another non-nursing field. RN-to-MSN programs are designed as bridge programs to help nurses bridge the gap between the Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and graduate studies. These programs typically allow the student to earn a BSN and immediately or concurrently work on the master’s level coursework. Most require you to already have an RN license and to keep the license in good standing while you pursue your advanced degree.

If I am not a nurse, can I still become an APRN? Yes, the direct entry program described above allows you to enter the MSN program even if you have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree. This is a great track for professionals interested in making a career change into nursing. Most direct-entry programs allow you to become an RN and a credentialed APRN in as little as two years; it may take longer depending on where you are starting from regarding your education.

Helpful Organizations, Societies & Agencies

You can learn more about nurse practitioners by following these great resources:

Advanced Practice Registered Nurse Scholarship

We know that going to school can be expensive, and we want to help! Apply for our nursing scholarship today!

List of APRN Programs

The hardest part of getting started is taking the first step, so we’ve made it easy for you! Check out our article of the best MSN degree programs.

Now what?

If you are looking to obtain a graduate education and have a rewarding career in an advanced nursing role, consider becoming an APRN and further specializing in the area. You will be challenged to serve populations in need in areas where healthcare expertise is desperately in demand. You will have a rewarding career on the front lines of medicine. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions.

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