Nurse practitioners, also called NPs, are nurses who have earned a nursing bachelor's degree and a master's or doctoral nursing degree. They are licensed by the state in which they practice and are frequently board certified in specialties such as psychiatry and family practice. The question of whether the need for psychiatric nurse practitioners will outstrip the current demand for family medicine nurse practitioners involves looking at three factors -- the nurse practitioner profession's gradual split into specialties, the career paths available to family medicine NPs and psychiatric NPs, and the number of current job vacancies for both specialties.
Development of NP Specializations
The earliest NP programs focused on producing NPs as assistants to family practice doctors, responding to the continuing national shortage of physicians in this specialty. NPs subsequently branched into other specialties, following the specializations taken by physicians. As of 2013, the American Nurses Credentialing Center officially certifies nurse practitioners in the following specialties: acute care, adult care, gerontology, psychiatric-mental health, family medicine, pediatrics, schools, diabetes management and emergency medicine. Other specializations include neonatal health, oncology, women's health and numerous other medical fields.
Family Medicine NPs
In 2012, 117,000 doctors and 134,000 nurse practitioners specialized in family medicine, but thousands of these family doctors will retire in the near future. A 2012 study by the National Governors Association estimated that an additional 4,000 to 7,000 additional family physicians will be necessary by 2019, a gap unlikely to be filled because of an existing shortage of family doctors. Nurse practitioners have started setting up independent family medicine practices to meet the need for primary care. While most states still require NPs to practice in tandem with a doctor or under a doctor's supervision, 18 states and the District of Columbia allowed NPs to set up independent practices, as of 2013. In some areas, such as rural counties, NPs will likely be replacing family physicians.
Psychiatric-Mental Health NPs
Prospects for psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners, also known as PMHNPs, are different from those of family practice NPs. A national shortage of psychiatrists parallels that of family physicians. Psychiatric NPs can prescribe psychiatric medications in most states, but as of 2013, legal and regulatory constraints prevent psychiatric NPs from setting up independent practices and replacing psychiatrists. Clinical psychologists trained in pharmacology will probably replace psychiatrists. Psychiatric NPs will continue working for mental health clinics, social service agencies, psychiatric hospitals, health maintenance organizations and other medical groups.
A 2011 national salary survey by the Advance Healthcare Network showed that psychiatric NPs made an average yearly salary of $92,396, while family medicine NPs made $89,317 per year. Family medicine NPs outnumbered psychiatric NPs -- 15.68 percent of the survey respondents were family medicine NPs, and 2.83 percent were psychiatric NPs. As of 2013, family medicine NP online job openings outnumbered psychiatric NP jobs. There appears to be a greater demand for family medicine NPs than for psychiatric NPs. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Labor estimated that jobs for all nurse practitioners would increase by 20 to 28 percent between 2010 and 2020.
- KidsHealth: What's a Nurse Practitioner?
- American Association of Nurse Practitioners: What's an NP?
- American Nurses Credentialing Center: Nurse Practitioner Certifications
- CNN.com: Nurse Practitioners Were 'Lone Rangers,' Founder Says
- American Association of Nurse Practitioners: Historical Timeline
- The National Governors Association: The Role of Nurse Practitioners in Meeting Increasing Demand for Primary Care
- American Association of Nurse Practitioners: 2013 Nurse Practitioner State Practice Environment
- Rural Health Research Center: The Aging of the Primary Care Physician Workforce: Are Rural Locations Vulnerable?
- Kaiser Health News: Nurse Practitioners Slowly Gain Autonomy
- Medpage Today: Independent NPs Must Go, AAFP Says
- American Board of Behavioral Healthcare Practice: The Impact of Psychiatric Shortage on Patient Care and Mental Health Policy: The Silent Shortage That Can No Longer Be Ignored
- Wall Street Journal: Should Nurse Practitioners Be Able to Treat Patients Without Physician Oversight?
- Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America: Repairing the Mental Health System
- HealtheCareers Network: Nurse Practitioner Jobs
- National Alliance on Mental Illness: Prescribing Privileges for Psychologists: An Overview
- American Nurses Credentialing Center: 2011 Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Role Delineation Study -- National Survey Results
- Advance Healthcare Network: National Salary Report 2011 A Dramatic Drop in PA Salary, But Just a Dip for NPs
- American Nurses Credentialing Center: Adult Psychiatric -- Mental Health Nurse Practitioner: 2013 Certification Application Form
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012 29-1171 Nurse Practitioners
- O*Net Online: Summary Report for: 29-1171.00 - Nurse Practitioners
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