5 types of nurse practitioner specialties

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A nurse practitioner fills out a patient form.

As the baby boomer generation ages, requiring a higher level of intervention for chronic health concerns, many experts believe that a physician shortage is looming. In the near future, there may be too many patients and too few doctors. As the health care system prepares for future patients, other health care professionals are poised to fill the gap, with nurse practitioners (NPs) leading the way.

Nurse practitioners are nurses who have received additional training and certification, qualifying them to play a more autonomous role in diagnosis, disease prevention, and clinical treatment. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners notes that these professionals “are quickly becoming the health partner of choice for millions of Americans” due to their comprehensive approach to health and wellness as well as their “personal touch.”

For those who aspire to improve lives and play an active role in the health care system via direct patient interaction, becoming a nurse practitioner can be rewarding. As you consider this career path, keep in mind that nurse practitioners can choose from many different specialties, each representing a unique approach to patient care. Here are five of the most popular types of nurse practitioner specialties:

Becoming an adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner

If you are drawn to the idea of managing chronic health conditions and aspire to make a positive impact on the health and wellness of your community, then a role as an adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner (AGPCNP), may be ideal. To practice in this role, you will need to pass the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s AGPCNP-Board Certified (AGPCNP-BC) examination.

Adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner job description

AGPCNPs treat adult patients of all ages, from young adults to senior citizens. In providing care for adult and geriatric patients, AGPCNPs assess needs, diagnose medical conditions, and design and implement treatment plans. Due to their patients’ ages, many adult-gerontology nurse practitioners focus on helping patients manage chronic conditions, which can range from diabetes to hypertension.

Adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner duties

While the specific duties and responsibilities associated with this role can vary, a few primary tasks include the following:

  • Performing physical examinations and collecting medical histories to make accurate diagnoses
  • Ordering screening tests and other forms of lab work
  • Interpreting diagnostic tests
  • Developing and implementing age-appropriate treatment plans, which can include pharmaceutical intervention or other kinds of therapy
  • Educating patients on preventing disease, making healthy lifestyle choices, and living with chronic conditions

Why choose the adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner?

Nurse practitioners in this role may work in private practice, community clinics, or long-term care facilities. Regardless of the practice environment, one common benefit that draws nurses to this role is the chance to get to know patients, form relationships with them, and provide them with treatment over their lifetimes. Because their work tends to be less focused on acute issues, adult-gerontology nurse practitioners typically have the opportunity to see their patients regularly, which can be personally and professionally rewarding.

Working as a family nurse practitioner

Becoming a family nurse practitioner (FNP) may be appealing if you’re interested in wellness promotion and disease prevention among patients of all ages. Licensure requires completion of an FNP examination from either the American Association of Nurse Practitioners or American Nurses Credentialing Center.

What is a family nurse practitioner?

An FNP is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) with extra education and training that allows them to provide diagnostics, treatment, and ongoing care to their patients. A hallmark of an FNP is the ability to see patients of all ages; if you choose this path, you may end up treating infants, children, adolescents, adults, and senior citizens. Indeed, many FNPs are drawn to the role because they wish to have a family practice that provides primary care for patients spanning multiple generations.

Family nurse practitioner job description

In their mission to deliver a full range of health services to patients of all ages, FNPs have numerous roles and responsibilities. Some standard duties are:

  • Maintaining patient medical records
  • Performing physical evaluations and taking medical histories to arrive at diagnoses
  • Ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests
  • Prescribing medications as needed
  • Developing and implementing age-appropriate treatment plans for both acute and chronic conditions
  • Educating patients about disease management and healthy lifestyle choices

While FNP practice is notable for its breadth, you may choose to get additional academic training in a subspecialty to focus your practice more narrowly. Many FNPs seek additional certification in areas such as pain management, obesity management, and diabetes care.

Why become a family nurse practitioner?

FNPs may choose many different care settings: hospitals, private practices, long-term care facilities, community clinics, or even universities.

The role, like others, also enables you to see the same patients routinely, forming relationships and consistently caring for their families. While they do treat acute or emergency issues, including injuries and sudden illnesses, FNPs are just as likely to perform routine checkups or assist with chronic conditions.

Among the many types of nurse practitioner specialties, FNP may be the best choice if you are drawn to the idea of family-focused primary care.

Choosing the pediatric nurse practitioner role

If you enjoy working with children, or feel passionate about direct care and education to kids and their caregivers, a career as a pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP) may be the best path. Practicing in this role means passing the Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner-Primary Care (CPNP-PC) examination from the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board.

About the pediatric nurse practitioner role

As a pediatric nurse practitioner, you’ll provide care to infants, toddlers, children, adolescents, and young adults. The role entails not only diagnosing and treating your patients but also disseminating instruction and education to parents and other caregivers.

An important part of the job involves well-child care. This means seeing young patients for routine evaluations and checkups to ensure that their bodies are growing and developing as expected. In this role, you may also design and implement treatments for acute and chronic conditions. Finally, you will educate patients and caregivers on healthy lifestyle management and pediatric disease prevention, minimizing patients’ risk of acute or chronic disorders.

Nurses who take on this role may work in a range of settings, including private practices, community clinics, schools, and hospitals.

Duties of the pediatric nurse practitioner

The specific responsibilities of a pediatric nurse practitioner can vary, but generally include tasks such as:

  • Performing wellness checks and physical examinations to ensure patients’ proper growth and development
  • Evaluating patients and ordering lab tests as needed to diagnose acute or chronic conditions
  • Designing and implementing age-appropriate treatment plans
  • Counseling parents and caregivers on issues such as proper nutrition, sleep patterns, and developmental milestones

Why choose the pediatric nurse practitioner role?

The primary reason nurses choose this specialty is that they enjoy being around kids and wish to focus their practices on caring for young people. Additionally, some practitioners feel called to serve parents and guardians, helping them to make wise, healthy choices on behalf of their children.

Another benefit to this role is that it allows for getting to know patients and their families over the long haul, serving as a primary care provider over the course of many years, watching patients as they develop and grow. Those in the profession sometimes continue to see patients well into the patients’ adolescence or early adulthood. This can be a source of great personal and professional satisfaction.

Pursuing a career as a forensic nurse practitioner

Forensic nurse practitioners provide not only direct patient care but also crucial voices for victim advocacy, serving as essential participants in the criminal justice system. The role can be emotionally draining, but for some, it may also be highly rewarding.

Forensic nurse practitioner job description

Forensic nurse practitioners provide diagnostics and care for patients who are experiencing acute or long-term consequences related to victimization or violence. For example, practitioners may evaluate a patient who has been injured as the result of an assault or domestic abuse, cataloging any injuries, recommending treatment, and referring the patient to specialists as needed.

The primary goal of forensic nursing is to ensure that victims of crime or abuse get the clinical attention they require. Additionally, these nurse practitioners can help attorneys and prosecutors secure the evidentiary requirements of a criminal case. A forensic nurse’s testimony can present physical evidence of battery, rape, or assault that helps build a legal argument in court. In this way, forensic nursing represents an integrated approach to health care, criminal justice, and victim advocacy.

Becoming a forensic nurse practitioner

Beyond becoming a registered nurse (RN), additional training is necessary to be credentialed in forensic nursing. The International Association of Forensic Nurses offers examinations focused on different specialties, for example, working with victims of sexual assault.

Forensic nursing includes many subspecialties; depending on your interests, you may wish to pursue training and credentialing in specialized fields such as domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse and neglect, or eldercare abuse. Additionally, some forensic nurses specialize in caring for patients following mass disasters, which can encompass everything from shootings to hurricanes. Nurses interested in an investigative role may want to explore opportunities to work in death investigation, helping law enforcement officers determine or confirm cause of death under dubious circumstances.

Why go into forensic nursing?

Forensic nursing is not always an easy profession. Depending on the nature of the role, you may spend a lot of time counseling those who have been victims of assault or abuse and who, therefore, may bear both physical and emotional symptoms of trauma. Due to the emotionally intense nature of the profession, not everyone will find it suitable.

However, for those who are passionate about health care and also have a zeal for victim advocacy or who are drawn to both clinical work and the criminal justice system, becoming a forensic nurse may be the most effective way to unite these passions.

Becoming a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner

For those who value direct patient interaction and have an interest in emotional, mental, or behavioral issues, a career as a mental health nurse practitioner can be a satisfying way to make a difference in people’s lives. The American Nurses Credentialing Center administers examinations that allow you to practice in this role.

Understanding the role of the psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner

Mental health nurse practitioners, also known as psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs), assess, diagnose, and treat mental health concerns, which can include substance abuse disorders.

PMHNPs may design and implement treatment plans that include pharmaceutical intervention, counseling, and cognitive therapy. In some cases, nurses who work in psychiatric care also conduct basic physical examinations, particularly in instances in which the patient’s mental health disorder can manifest with physical symptoms or self-harm.

Mental health nurse practitioners are generally certified to treat patients from children to senior citizens. However, the specific population they serve can depend on the treatment setting; for example, a mental health nurse practitioner may work in a clinic or facility that focuses on adolescents, or on elderly patients, or in family practice.

Should you become a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner?

Mental health care can be a challenging field, especially because patients with more acute or advanced conditions may be reluctant to receive care. However, those who are enthusiastic about addressing underserved communities or who want to provide long-term care to patients with chronic problems may find this role satisfying.

When considering a career as a mental health nurse practitioner, take into account that it may require being on call for emergency cases, which can happen at all hours. Patients who are exhibiting symptoms of self-harm may need clinical intervention sooner rather than later. Even those in private practice may sometimes need to be available after hours.

How to choose a nurse practitioner specialty

Given the number of specialties to choose from in advanced practice nursing, determining how to choose a nurse practitioner specialty can be complicated.

To begin, keep in mind that these roles have significant areas of overlap, all of which allow for a high level of practice independence and autonomy, especially compared with standard nursing roles. Also, remember that each of these roles includes an opportunity for direct patient interaction, save for the investigative side of forensic nursing. As such, the most notable differences between these roles largely relate to the population served.

For those who are curious about the salary range associated with nurse practitioner roles, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that the median salary for nurse practitioners was around $111,680 in 2020. The highest salaries tended to go to NPs who worked in hospital settings, followed by those who worked in outpatient care facilities, and at the lower end of the spectrum, those who worked in schools.

Choosing from different types of nurse practitioner specialties

If you are seeking a way to play a direct role in improving patient lives through clinical care, becoming a nurse practitioner offers many ways to do so. Northeastern University offers an online Master of Science in Nursing program with three NP concentrations: adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner (AGPCNP), family nurse practitioner (FNP), and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP). Pre-qualify online and begin the next phase of your career today.

Sources:

American Association of Medical Colleges, “U.S. Physician Shortage Growing”
American Association of Nurse Practitioners, Are You Considering a Career as a Family Nurse Practitioner?
American Association of Nurse Practitioners, Are You Considering a Career as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner?
American Association of Nurse Practitioners, Are You Considering a Career as an Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner?
American Association of Nurse Practitioners, Are You Considering a Career as Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner?
American Association of Nurse Practitioners, What’s a Nurse Practitioner (NP)?
International Association of Forensic Nurses, What Is Forensic Nursing?
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners