What's Here? - Table of Contents
Last Reviewed: October 16th, 2022
If you’re reading this page, there’s a good chance that you are interested in various nursing careers. Or, you might already be a registered nurse, and hoping to elevate your career. Whether you’re seriously considering this career path or just “getting your feet wet,” we’ve created this article to help you decide whether or not this is the career for you.
One of the greatest things about being a nurse is that you get to care for patients, whether as an RN or nurse practitioner. In addition, most people know that nurses are among the best-respected professionals in America. However, as nurses we also have to look after our own wellbeing: our salaries, ability to pay for healthcare, time off, retirement, and other factors.
However, many professionals can get a job with medical, retirement, and time off. But they don’t have much flexibility in their schedules, or as many places that they can work. At the same time, because nursing is such an in-demand career, you’ll enjoy a high level of job security. You’ll also enjoy some of these benefits listed below as an RN, but others are more specific to nurse practitioners (NPs).
With that in mind, let’s take an in-depth look at the career benefits for nurse practitioners.
First, let’s look at the salaries of nurse practitioners. As a general rule, an RN can make more money than the average American, mean annual salary being $82,750 (Bureau of Labor Statistics - 2021). However, for an NP the mean salary is significantly higher ($118,040) than it is for an RN. Becoming an NP (or Advanced Practice Registered Nurse – APRN) can easily add 30% to your salary. That’s a lot of extra money for you and your family.
With that said, there are variations in salary depending on what kind of job you have. This is not only true between employers in the same niche, such as hospitals or rural health clinics, but also for different specialties, such as family practice or research. For example, you can make more money as a psychiatric practitioner than you would in women’s health.
When you choose an area of practice as a nurse practitioner, you can select something that you love while also getting the right salary. No matter which career path you choose within the APRN world, you’ll make enough money to support your family, because healthcare companies can afford to pay well for professionals that are also part of their revenue cycle.
Here’s the best part: most places you can work as an APRN are financially secure. And just as important, the demand for this job should rise rapidly over the next few years to grow 28.2% from 2018 to 2028. If you have the compassion, problem solving skills, and patience to work in this field, you stand to have a rewarding, and well-paid, career.
For many nurse practitioners, and professionals in general, career advancement opportunities are very important. After all, if you keep doing the same job for many years, you won’t make as much money than you would with career advancement. While changing jobs within the same level can increase your income, for many nurses this isn’t enough. Nurse practitioners must have some experience as an RN to get an NP license, so it isn’t an entry level choice. In addition, you need to be an NP, not an RN, to have some jobs.
Depending on the state where you practice, you might be able to work independently of other medical professionals. More than half of US states have a “full practice” provision, which means that you can prescribe medications, do some procedures, and even run your own practice. In other states, you need some level of supervision from a doctor to fully perform your role. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners has a list of privileges and restrictions by state. However, even in the most restrictive states, you can be much more independent as an NP than you are as an RN.
While some registered nurses are “nursing managers,” nurse practitioners often go even higher. For instance, some nurse practitioners will become the Chief Nursing Officer at a hospital or clinic. These professionals are in charge of all aspects of nursing practice within that institution and are an essential part of the executive staff. For a more modest management role, NPs can also become nurse educators who teach new skills to nurses wishing to advance their own careers.
Most states require nurse practitioners to be board certified, similar to doctors. You’ll apply for certification through the appropriate certifying authority based on your desired career path, then pass the exam. If you want to specialize in more than one area, you’re free to get multiple board certifications. No matter where you work, these certifications show that you know what you are doing and will meet certain quality standards.
Nurse practitioners have the luxury of being in one of the most flexible careers that exist. People need healthcare in all corners of the country and at all times of the day. There are many different settings and populations you can work with and try out for a little while, or a long while. Let’s look at how the works in practice.
If you have family or prefer to work only during certain times of the day, nurse practitioners can usually get what they need. Sometimes, scheduling will heavily influence chosen workplaces, while in other cases an employer will have many possibilities. For instance, a lot of hospitals will let NPs work three 12-hour shifts, just like the RNs do. And because you’re a highly trained professional, you can pick between day and night shifts. Likewise, if you want to be home to help the kids with homework every night, working as a family nurse practitioner in a clinic is often a good option.
Being a nurse practitioner means that you can work with whatever population you want to. For instance, you could choose to work in a rural healthcare setting where there are a lot of families. Often, these people have lived in an area for generations, so you’ll treat the parents, kids, and even grandparents. This is a rewarding option, because you not only get to see the kids grow up, but you also know about patient family histories firsthand as you treat parents and grandparents.
So far, we’ve mostly talked about generalist nurse practitioners, such as family practice or pediatrics. However, some NPs work in specialized fields. Prime examples include nurse midwives, who deliver babies, pass out birth control, and order routine testing. In some states, they can even do certain types of procedures. Similarly, some nurse practitioners work in psychiatry, where they help people with mental illness recover and get the most out of life. NPs who love babies and children might settle on a pediatrics specialty. At the end of the day, nurse practitioners have a lot of options.
Whether you’re still in school or in the middle of your career, it’s important to plan for retirement. Even with a high salary, nurse practitioners want to ensure they have a nice nest egg. In addition, while anyone can save money independently, and everybody gets Social Security, getting employer-driven retirement plans is a great bonus.
While fixed-benefit pensions are less common than they used to be, they’re most common with large employers and government agencies. The Federal government is a major nurse practitioner employer, such as through the Veterans Administration and the military. For Federal employees, and those of most states, the benefits are second to none.
Likewise, most hospitals are run by large companies who, consequently, have generous 401(k) plans and matching contributions. Nurse practitioners are in a position of strength here, because there’s a long-term shortage of nurses. Additionally, these large businesses work hard to have solid investments to fund employee benefits, whether they’re profit or nonprofit hospitals. Making poor investment simply isn’t an option for them.
Did anyone say, employer match? This is a major feature of the 401(k) system. With employer matching, employees make contributions to their accounts through payroll deduction. Then, employers contribute money based on a stated ratio, with a limit on the percentage of income contributed by the employee. To maximize your retirement benefits, be sure to contribute the maximum amount that’s employer matched. You can, of course, put more money away for retirement in other places, like investments.
Government and large employer-based health insurance benefits are typically top tier in quality and low cost for the employee. Along with the power of numbers for negotiating health care rates comes better prices. Additionally, access to great medical minds is free of cost and getting professional opinions can be as simple as walking down the hallway to a specialist. Sometimes, just a quick question can mean all the difference-and an appointment saved.
Maximizing your employee medical benefits isn’t necessarily difficult. For one thing, many major medical employers like Massachusetts General Hospital provide coverage for an employee’s spouse or partner, and their children. Especially with several children, this flexibility can easily add up to hundreds, even thousands of dollars’ worth of savings. In addition, if your spouse doesn’t have as good of health coverage, you’ll often be able to add them for low cost. Either way, check out this advice from Harvard Pilgrim on how to maximize your benefits.
Vision and dental are common benefits that many people do not consider; however, the costs of regular dental and vision visits can shave off $100’s as an individual and $1,000’s as a family from a budget. In the case of emergency dental care or restorations, the saved costs with dental insurance can be huge.
Likewise, the cost of glasses and contacts can be hefty. Without vision insurance, glasses often cost $2-300 per pair. With a growing family, this can be a significant cost, and it doesn’t count the cost of exams. On the other hand, vision benefits provide free or discounted exams and an allowance to buy glasses or contacts.
Maintaining your license, acquiring required continuing education and advancing education for new certifications can cost significant amounts of money. For instance, one NP grad spent over $1000 after graduating, including exam and license fees. These are really expensive, especially if you aren’t working while in school.
In addition, all states require some level of continuing education. Medical best practices change, new drugs get approved by the FDA, and procedures are always being developed. In addition, nurses sometimes need a refresher course to ensure their skills stay sharp.
Fortunately, a lot of employers cover these costs, at least on some level. In some cases, a potential employer will advertise that they do this on recruitment sites. However, you can also ask during the interviewing process, or while negotiating salary and benefits.
For many nurse practitioners, taking care of their family is important. However, nurse practitioners with children often find that the long hours require them to spend a significant amount of money on childcare. Even if you have four days off, those 12-hour shifts are certain to involve some hours when you and your spouse aren’t home.
Luckily, an increasing number of employers are discovering the benefits of paying for childcare. Not only does it help attract employees, but employers can get some tax credits to help defray the cost. And, these benefits are available to employees that need it, whenever they need it. Since NPs usually stay with employers for years, you want to know if your employer provides it.
Similarly, parental leave is a great fringe benefit. According to the Society of Human Resources Management, about half of employers are offering some form of paid parental leave. This benefit can be used by either or both parents, and sometimes applies to adoptive children joining the family. In general, it’s a recognition that employees need to take time to attend to family needs.
While employers are required under Federal work rules to provide some family and medical leave (FMLA), they aren’t required to pay employees during that time. However, many employers, especially in the medical field, provide paid leave.
While a growing number of states are requiring this benefit, a lot of high-quality employers are choosing to provide it voluntarily because it shows that they care about employees and their families. In addition, providing this benefit helps boost employee satisfaction and loyalty. This type of leave is used when an employee needs to take care of their family, such as when a child is sick, or when they need to take several days or more off to deal with a medical issue. In some cases, the death of a family member will also trigger this benefit.
Besides leave for family or medical issues, many employers provide a paid leave of absence or personal leave options where the nurse practitioner can have their job guaranteed when they return. This benefit can last for several months, and sometimes up to a year. Often, it’s referred to as personal leave, a sabbatical, or study leave.
This kind of perk is a huge benefit to those who wish to have intermittent life experiences as they continue along their career path. Feel like traveling in Europe for 6 months when you’re 35 and have a family in tow? If you’ve saved up enough money, but need to have guaranteed income the moment you get back home? Unpaid leave benefits will guarantee that your job will be waiting for you.
Here’s another reason you might use a leave like this: burnout, for you or your partner. Some jobs have a lot of stress, and occasionally professionals need to step away for a while. So, rather than quit for a while and then try to get a new job, you can try and get unpaid leave. In most cases, it’ll provide the break you need to resume your happy career.
Finally, as a nurse practitioner you can expect to have paid sick leave, holidays, and vacation. Some companies put this time in a common pot and call it paid time off (PTO). In this case, you can take any of your leave days for any reason. If you have three separate types of leave days, you’ll have to use them when eligible, such as sick days when you have the flu, and vacation to hit the beach. According to the AANP, you will usually get 3-4 weeks per year of vacation, and 10-12 days of sick leave. Keep in mind, however, that you’ll likely get less vacation when you’re starting out.
As you can see, becoming an NP has a lot of benefits. Not only do you get a rewarding career where you help people live healthy lives, but the pay and fringe benefits are great. If you have the patience, compassion, and skill to become a great nurse practitioner, then this is an excellent career choice. Best of all, you’ll have one of the most respected professions in our modern world.