How to Excel as a Nurse Practitioner in 2021 – Embrace a Specialty

When choosing the perfect career path, there is a whole lot to consider. Typically it involves finding a career path that speaks to your passions, skills, talents and knowledge but it needs to go further than that to be a lasting and successful career. You also need to be mindful of such things as the job outlook, in particular, predicted job growth, whether or not you will have to relocate for your job, the salary, the work-life balance that it will afford, and how you can be competitive with those who are also eyeing the same career.

For those considering a career as a nurse practitioner, there are a lot of very positive signs right now. The job outlook isn’t just good, it’s excellent, with this field expected to grow much faster than the national average. This translates to job opportunities for graduates, which means you are one step closer to your career goals. There’s also the fact that you can create a very healthy work-life balance as a nurse practitioner and enjoy a great salary. But for all the positives, it can still be tough to “make it”, and that’s why embracing a specialty can help.

Here we’ll take a closer look at what it takes to become a nurse practitioner and a few of the specialty areas that are currently trending and worth considering.

How Do I Become a Nurse Practitioner?

Before you can even start to think about a specialty, you need to lay out the process that will allow you to become a nurse practitioner. This is a graduate-level education, which means a doctoral or master’s degree. As well, you’ll need advanced clinical training. You can expect to spend at least six years of both clinical and academic preparation – so as you can tell this is a very advanced level job.

To become a nurse practitioner (NP), you’ll need to already have a bachelor’s degree in nursing, your registered nurse license, a graduate nursing education, the National Board Certifications, and then your state NP licensure/registration.

Because this is such an advanced position in the health care industry, this is why you can demand a high salary. The median pay for nurse practitioners in 2020 was $117,670, with some states paying well above the average. And as mentioned, this is a field that is growing extremely fast with predicted job growth of 45% from 2019 to 2029.

Once you can start practicing, you have the option of working in acute care, primary care, or long-term health care. This provides you with a lot of different career paths, allowing you to choose the one that fits your passion and interests.

Why Choose a Specialty?

This brings us to the question of choosing a specialty in the nurse practitioner field. While it’s not necessary, it can certainly help you to achieve your career goals much faster. Choosing a specialty allows you to set yourself up as an expert in that area. Patients often prefer to visit a health care professional that specializes in a specific area, as it can make them feel more comfortable. It also means you will stand out from other health care professionals in that town/city, as you’re targeting a very specific patient.

Your first impulse may be that choosing a specialty will make you feel pigeon-holed, and as though you are closed in. That doesn’t have to be the case at all. There will still be plenty of day-to-day challenges and each patient interaction and issue can feel unique. It comes down to picking a specialty that excites you and provides you with that opportunity to make a difference.

What Are the Common Specialties to Pursue?

As for what kind of specialties you can pursue as a nurse practitioner, the good news is that there are many paths to take. This can speak to the interests of different people and their specific skill sets.

Here’s a look at some of the more common nurse practitioner specialties, and as you’ll see, they are very different from one another. It will not only determine the patients you see but the kind of issues you are diagnosing and the treatments you prescribe (if allowed under a full practice authority).

Women’s Health

Here’s a specialty that has grown quite a bit over the past decade or so. Many women are looking for a health care provider that doesn’t just offer a basic level of care, but that deals specifically with women’s health and women’s issues. This can include typical women’s issues, which include labor and delivery. You may even wish to work in the labor-and-delivery ward of a hospital.

As a women’s health nurse practitioner, you can work in a hospital, a community clinic, or a women’s health office, among other places.

Family Practice

If you like the idea of doing it all, then a family nurse practitioner could end up being the best specialty to pursue. In this job, you’ll help patients of all ages and with a wide variety of health concerns and issues. It’s common to work in specialty clinics, primary care, long-term care facilities, and hospitals. You have no shortage of options with this path.

You will be evaluating, managing, and treating a variety of non-life-threatening, acute and chronic conditions.

Hospice & Palliative Care

Not every health care worker is cut out for hospice and palliative care, and with it being such an important aspect of health the nurse practitioners in this specialty are highly regarded. The patients you will be seeing will have debilitating, chronic, and/or terminal illnesses. They will be nearing the end of life, so the goal is on keeping them as comfortable as possible. Not only will you be helping them from a pain and comfort standpoint, but you will typically have end-of-life conversations with them to help them to understand what is happening and what their wishes are (health-wise). It’s about providing these patients with dignity, respect, and understanding in their final days.

Pediatrics, Primary Care

Do you love working with kids? Do you like the idea of being able to make a difference in a child’s life? If that’s the case then a pediatric nurse practitioner, primary care could provide you with the challenge and rewards you’re after.

You will be working with patients up to the age of 21 conducting routine physicals, wellness visits, administering childhood vaccinations, and much more. In terms of where you can work – you’ll find these types of nurse practitioners in hospitals, primary care offices, and urgent care.

This job is ideal for those who have that special touch with kids and can show patience, kindness, and empathy.

Adult-Gerontology, Primary or Acute Care

If you like variety and want to be able to treat patients that span a wide age range, and with different health concerns and issues, then the adult-gerontology, primary, or acute care path may be perfect. In this role, you will work with patients from the age of 13 and older. It’s quite common for the majority of your patients to be older, which means you’ll be dealing with chronic conditions that are common with seniors.

With that said these nurse practitioners often work in nursing homes, long-term care facilities, occupational health facilities, rehabilitation centers, and primary care offices. If you choose the acute care pathway, then it’s more likely you will work in a hospital setting. Within the hospital, you may be needed in the urgent care clinic, the intensive care unit, the emergency department, or any other ward/area of the hospital. You need to be prepared to handle anything.

Psychiatric/Mental Health Care

There has been a lot of progress in bringing mental health issues to the forefront as of late. Mental health issues aren’t uncommon and they are nothing a person should be embarrassed by or just need to live with. With that said, it has sparked growth for those working in mental health. If this is an area that interests you, then a psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioner could be a perfect choice.

Some of the mental health issues you may be dealing with in patients include bipolar disorder, depressions, anxiety, and schizophrenia just to name a few. Your job will be to offer resources, provide counseling to your patients, monitor them, help with medication management, and more. As you can imagine there are many different locations you can work and this is a field that is particularly in demand at the moment.

Setting Yourself Up for a Rewarding Career

If you are pursuing a career as a nurse practitioner, there are plenty of ways for you to be successful and ensure you have a rewarding career, but choosing a specialty can help to solidify that success. Any time you can pick a niche, grow your skills and knowledge, and provide patients with exceptional care, it will pay off. What this means is that it’s well worth looking into the various specialties and determine if one speaks to you.