I recently received a question from a reader on the MidlevelU message board. The reader expressed concern that the job market for nurse practitioners was becoming saturated. A nurse herself, this individual had encouraged her daughter to go back to school to become a nurse practitioner and was second-guessing her recommendation. “I’m hoping I didn’t steer her wrong…how is the job market out there?”, she asked.
Like this reader, many prospective nurse practitioners I talk with have similar concerns. Going back to school to become an NP is an expensive and time consuming undertaking. One must consider if it’s worth the time and financial investment to get an advanced degree. After all, what could be worse than going through a nurse practitioner program only to graduate and not find a job?.
The answer to the “Is now a good time?” and “Is it worth it?” questions depend largely on several factors. If you’re contemplating taking the nurse practitioner plunge, here’s what you must consider:
1. Local Job Market
It’s true. The job market in some cities is saturated with nurse practitioners. I often talk with new NPs in places like Birmingham, AL and Nashville, TN desperate to find work. Hearing about the nation’s primary care shortage, these providers never anticipated it would be difficult to find a job post-graduation. These locations, however, are home to numerous nurse practitioner schools graduating hundreds of NPs each year. Most cities can’t support such a large number of healthcare providers. So, salaries become artificially low and force some providers to relocate. In contrast, in other cities, healthcare facilities are eager to bring on nurse practitioners, lacking sufficient staff to meet the needs of their patients.
Your ability to find work as a nurse practitioner depends heavily on where you live. If you know you live in a location in need of NPs, you’re in the clear. Or, if you’re flexible as far as where you live, you will be able to find work. Future NPs who live in saturated job markets will face a few challenges, particularly as new graduates.
2. Current Salary and Future Outlook
Nurses can be high earners. Some RNs earn above the $100K mark even without a master’s degree. These nurses may work in specialized settings, work odd hours, or have significant experience. Becoming a nurse practitioner doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get a raise.
I spoke to a new NP living in California, for example, who graduated from his program only to find he couldn’t replace his RN salary working as an advanced practice provider. Employment in the operating room as an RN on weekends proved to be much more profitable than employment as an NP in family practice. Disappointed, he was faced with the decision to use his advanced degree and take a pay cut, or continue with his status quo.
Don’t assume that going back to school translates to higher pay. Do your due diligence when it comes to nurse practitioner salaries for your specialty in your area. Considering your current salary and situation, do the numbers add up favorably for going back to school?
3. Scope of Practice
The role of nurse practitioners looks a bit different in each state. Laws outlining how NPs are allowed to care for patients directly affect how desirable nurse practitioners become to employers. In states where very little oversight of nurse practitioners is required by law, job markets for NPs tend to be more favorable. Employers can use these providers more effectively. In states like Florida, where scope of practice laws are limiting, it becomes more difficult to find a nurse practitioner position. Get the lay of the land when it comes to scope of practice laws in your state. Do you live in a location that is favorable for nurse practitioners? If not, talk to NPs in your area to get their thoughts on the job market and benefits and drawbacks of advancing your education.
4. Financing Your Education
Your NP education’s gonna cost you. A lot. Financing your education is an important piece of the decision to become a nurse practitioner (federal loan repayment options for NPs can help). Not only do you need to look at how you will pay tuition, you need to get a plan in place for repaying student loans post-graduation. Looking at your other financial obligations and the salary you can expect to earn as an NP, can you afford to go back to school? If so, where? If the numbers aren’t adding up in your favor, it may be time to make some changes or press pause when it comes to furthering your education.
Do you think it’s a good time to become a nurse practitioner?
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