An advanced practice nurse (APRN) is a registered nurse with advanced education at the master's, specialist, or doctoral level in a specific specialty area of nursing. APRNs use their highly developed knowledge and skills to provide healthcare services independently with little or no supervision from doctors. Since there's a shortage of physicians in the United States, APRNs are playing an increasingly important role in primary and acute care, especially in medically underserved areas. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the employment of advanced practice nurses will skyrocket rapidly by 31 percent, thus creating 47,600 new jobs before 2022. If you're interested in advancing beyond registered nursing and fulfilling this demand without going to medical school, becoming an APRN is the answer.

Types of Advanced Practice Nurses

There are four main types of APRNs practicing in a wide range of healthcare settings. First, Certified Nurse Practitioners (CNPs) are trained for health promotion, disease prevention, health education, diagnosis, and disease management. CNPs can practice in family care, acute care, pediatrics, geriatrics, internal medicine, or women's health. A Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) will provide direct patient care too, but they also offer indirect care by leading other nurses and healthcare teams to improve nursing care. Certified Nurse-Midwives (CNMs) specialize in providing primary gynecological and obstetrical care to women from adolescence throughout their lives, including delivering new babies. Finally, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) are qualified to administer anesthesia for patients undergoing surgery or other invasive medical procedures.

Benefits of Advanced Practice Nursing

Advanced practice nursing offers benefits for both the nurses themselves and the patients they provide medical care to. Registered nurses who become APRNs will enjoy better job stability, more area for specialization, enhanced leadership opportunities, further independence, and a sizeable paycheck increase. After all, the median annual salary for APRNs working in hospitals across America is $101,990. APRNs are still paid less than physicians, but this is good for the healthcare system for keeping medical treatment affordable without skimping on quality. In a study released by Nursing Economics, APRNs actually give better care than physicians in several categories. For instance, CNMs have lower C-section rates, better breastfeeding rates, and fewer perineal lacerations after delivery than obstetricians.

How to Become an Advanced Practice Nurse

Working as an APRN will require that you hold at least a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree in your chosen specialization. Many APRNs choose to go a step further by obtaining a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), which offers the highest level of scientific knowledge and practice expertise for quality patient outcomes. Whichever route you choose, make certain the graduate school is accredited by the CCNE or ACEN for quality career preparation. Master's and doctoral programs are only available for registered nurses with valid RN licensure. Having work experience in nursing is often a required prerequisite too. After graduation, you'll then need to take the national certification exam for your specialty through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

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Overall, advanced practice nurses are primary and acute care providers who have completed graduate-level education. APRNs have the advanced clinical knowledge to diagnose health problems, perform medical procedures, order lab testing, counsel patients, coordinate treatment plans, and often prescribe medications. If you make the decision to become an advanced practice nurse, you'll enjoy practicing at a higher level of nursing care with a variety of practice setting options suited to your interests.