Career as a Nurse Practitioner

The Ladder

How to Advance as a Nurse Practitioner

NPs have advanced -- from being RNs to more autonomous positions.

However, there are opportunities for even further advancement. As an NP, you may choose to move into administration, managing other nurses and staff members. You may decide to teach other nurses. And NPs who hold doctoral degrees may go into medical research.

When it comes to "related," all is relative. In fact, the careers most connected to that of nurse practitioner can be wildly different in terms of the education required, salary earned and common work activities. Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, here are four somewhat similar jobs to keep in mind.


DegreeMedian Salary (2015)Job Growth (2014-2024)
AudiologistsDoctoral or professional degree$74,89029%
Occupational therapistsMaster's degree$80,15027%
Physical therapistsDoctoral or professional degree$84,02034%
Physician assistantsMaster's degree$98,18030%
Physicians and surgeonsDoctoral or professional degree$187,20014%
Registered nurses (RNs)Bachelor's degree$67,49016%
Speech-language pathologistsMaster's degree$73,41021%

Career Comparison: Nurse Practitioner versus Physician’s Assistant

Both NPs and PAs are involved in assessing, diagnosing and treating patients, however, there are notable differences between the two careers. Nurse practitioners (NPs) attend nursing school, become RNs and obtain clinical experience. They may work as a member of a health care team or independently. All NPs work in a particular specialty that they choose, including geriatrics, mental health, pediatrics and others. NPs collaborate with doctors. Physician assistants (PAs) attend a medical school or a center of medicine and pass the national certification exam administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. PAs complete clinical rotations in various specialities. PAs work under the supervision of doctors.

Two Steps to Advance

All NPs must take continuing education classes in order to recertify their certificates. There numerous programs available across the country. For example, AANP’s comprehensive Continuing Education (CE) program was developed by and for NPs.

  • 1. Network

    It's vital to every NP’s career. When you join a state or national professional association, you’ll have access to valuable workshops and conferences, and find the continuing education programs you’ll need to maintain your credentials. Not only can networking lead to unexpected career opportunities, but your new contacts may share how they overcome challenges specific to your state or specialty. As part of a local association, you’ll learn about industry news that might affect your state. And national organizations like the American Association of Nurse Practitioners may offer access to free continuing education courses.

  • 2. Start a practice

    Many nurse practitioners are choosing to open their own practices in order to offer patients personalized, high-quality care. If you’re thinking of going this route, some things to consider include the legal requirements for the state in which you wish to practice, the need to create a business plan, to rent office space, to buy furniture and medical equipment, to hire a medical biller, accountant, attorney and office staff, and to determine if you’ll need to work under a supervising physician. It’s a wise idea to speak with NPs who’ve gone this route, so you can benefit from their experience.

Poll: What Separates a Great Nurse Practitioner from an Average One?

Just as no two nurse practitioners are identical, no two nurse practitioners are of the same caliber. What, then, is the difference between a great NP and a so-so peer? Of course, there is no single correct answer. Here are 14.

Shamika Brooks, RN-BSN, MSN-FNP (Maryville University, 2014): "You have to realize that the real learning begins after school ends. The great nurse practitioners are continually learning new knowledge every day. It is reading a journal article, attending a conference or researching a patient's condition while on the job. I feel that I am truly learning something new every day. There will be days when you feel on top of your game and then there are days when you feel that everything is going wrong. However, the great ones always start each day anew."

Temeka Gillespie, FNP-C (Hampton University, 2006): "Great NPs relentlessly go above and beyond to ensure all patient needs are being addressed while consistently demonstrating quality compassionate care. Great NPs are good listeners, they value what patients say and how they feel about their medical issues/concerns. We act simultaneously as provider, advocate, change agent, counselor, compassionate caregiver and educator."

Margaret (Peg) O’Donnell, DNP, FNP, ANP, B-C, FAANP (SUNY Stonybrook, 2016): "A great NP will 'dig in deeper' with each patient encounter. Knowing how to help our patients on multiple levels, and advocate for them, is what makes an NP outstanding."

Christopher Caulfield, ​FNP, MSN (​Frontier Nursing University, Boston, MA​ 2016): "A combination of efficient Interviewing, assessments and planning/treatment skills. With this efficiency, the great nurse practitioner has more time to spend getting to know his or her patients and understanding the reasons behind their lifestyle practices and causes of their illnesses."

Nancy Brook, MSN, RN, CFNP (Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, 1992): "A great practitioner is someone who is reliable, responsible and goes the extra mile. Someone who follows up on details and is part of the team day in and day out. What separates good from great is an open mind, a team mentality and someone who considers themselves a lifelong learner. Things change rapidly in the medical field; whether it is an electronic medical record, new billing and coding protocols or new drugs, so being able to adapt well is key."

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