Types of Nurse Practitioner Specialties
All nurse practitioners (NP) can write prescriptions for controlled substances, order lab tests, and diagnose conditions. Their exact responsibilities and patient bases will vary, however, depending on what they've pursued as specialization(s). Their scope of practice is further contingent upon their state's laws and regulations.
Types of Nurse Practitioners
NP specialties correspond to a specific patient population and/or concerns, like adult-gerontology or psychiatric mental health. Level of acuity is also a factor since NPs can be certified to provide either primary (non-urgent) or acute care. Below is an overview of the different licenses that NPs can obtain.
Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
FNPs make up the majority of nurse practitioners – nearly 70%, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). In many instances, the role of an FNP mirrors that of a primary care physician, in that they provide comprehensive primary care to patients of all ages. Typical responsibilities of a family nurse practitioner include:
- Performing physical exams and health screenings
- Monitoring patient updates and maintaining records
- Developing and adjusting treatment plans for non-acute issues
- Providing continuing education and support for patients
The US is seeing aging populations and a growing shortage of medical professionals, rendering the holistic primary care that FNPs provide invaluable to the greater health care system.
Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP)
Pediatric Nurse Practitioners in Primary Care (PNP-PC) work with child patients of all ages, with settings ranging from private practice to public health centers. They help patients and their families understand and manage their health care. As with FNPs, they perform physical exams, health screenings, and diagnose and treat non-acute conditions.
PNPs working in acute care (PNP-AC) provide family-centered care for young patients dealing with acute, critical, complex, and/or chronic issues. PNP-ACs practice in pediatric ICUs, emergency departments, and specialty-based clinics.
AGNPs work with adult and teenage patients. They can work either in primary care (AG-PCNP), which entails comprehensive care for a broad spectrum of needs, or they can provide acute care (AGACNP), typically to patients in ICU, emergency, or acute care units. AGNPs can work in private practice, hospital settings, nursing homes or in the homes of their patients. They also have expertise in helping older adult patients address the unique processes and needs related to aging.
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)
PMHNPs are nurse practitioners who work in mental health care. Depending on the state in which they practice, they may have full license to diagnose and prescribe medication to treat mental illnesses, disorders, or substance abuse problems. They may also work in collaboration with a psychiatrist. PMHNPs can work across different settings, including private psychiatric practices, schools, and community mental health centers.
Neonatal Nurse Practitioners (NNP)
NNPs work with infants up to two years of age who are born prematurely and/or with an illness (such as infection), birth defects, or other health conditions. They often work in neonatal ICUs, where they collaborate with a health care team. The role of a NNP also includes screening, diagnosing, and treating the neonates in their care, and educating parents and family.
Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP)
NPs who specialize in women's health provide gynecologic care, including reproductive and sexual health services, as well as diagnosing and treating reproductive system disorders. While many WHNPs work in private practice, including at OB/GYN offices, they can also work at fertility clinics, hospitals, or other settings.
Regardless of their specialty, all NPs are required to maintain their license (for example, through clinical practice and continuing education) in order to continue practicing.
Different Work Environments for Nurse Practitioners
A nurse practitioner's license isn't workplace specific. This means all types of NPs can work in varied settings like hospitals, private practices, schools, or via telehealth. However, the setting in which they choose to work will make a difference in their overall schedule and salary.
NPs can switch specialties at any point in their career; depending on the context of the shift, doing so may entail additional training, as well as a new certification exam. For example, a pediatric nurse practitioner working in primary care (CPNP-PC) who wishes to switch to acute care may need to seek out a designated program to refresh, retrain, and gain additional licensure.
Also, a nurse practitioner's precise scope of practice is specific to the state in which they're licensed. Nurses in states that offer full practice authority (FPA) can provide care without the supervision of a physician. Reduced- and restrictive-practice authority require varying levels of collaboration or oversight, depending on the area of practice.
Interested in becoming a nurse practitioner? Read our guide on how to go from RN to NP or learn more about the different nursing career pathways.
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