Types of Advanced Practice Nurses: APRN Specialties & Roles

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What is an APRN? An APRN is an advanced practice registered nurse — someone who has received advanced education and training. There are four main types of advanced practice nurses: clinical nurse specialist, nurse practitioner, certified registered nurse anesthetist and nurse midwife.

A nursing career opens a world of opportunities, such as the possibility of advancement through graduate-level education. After earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), obtaining nursing licensure and gaining clinical experience, you can pursue advancement as a highly trained practitioner who works with greater autonomy, such as an APRN.

It all starts with earning your BSN through a nursing program like the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program at Northeastern University. After earning a BSN, you can continue your education with a master’s or doctorate degree.

If you’re interested in expanding your job opportunities, honing a nursing specialty and widening the scope of your patient care authority, pursuing APRN roles could be the right move for you.

What Is an APRN?

So, what is an APRN? An APRN is an advanced practice registered nurse. This is a nursing professional who has completed graduate-level nursing education and obtained board certification in one of the APRN specialties. There are four main types of advanced practice nurses:

  • Nurse practitioner (NP)
  • Clinical nurse specialist (CNS)
  • Certified nurse midwife (CNM)
  • Certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA)

In addition, an APRN may choose a subspecialty within their main specialty.

An APRN retains all the rights and privileges of an RN, as well as some normally handled by physicians. They can provide primary and specialty care and, in many states, write prescriptions. There are a variety of APRN roles available to nurses in just about any clinical specialty you could imagine.

Here, we’ll explore the types of advanced practice nurses and explore the pathway for pursuing career advancement in nursing.

1. Nurse Practitioner

nurse checking heart

Becoming a nurse practitioner could be a good choice for you if you enjoy working directly with patients and want to play a more active role in diagnosis and treatment. Nurse practitioners perform physicals, administer vaccinations, diagnose and treat acute illnesses and chronic conditions, analyze x-rays and lab tests and provide patient education.

They have the legal authority to prescribe medications in all 50 states (with varying levels of physician involvement) and practice independently without doctor supervision in more than half the states, according to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data from May 2022, nurse practitioners earned a median salary of $121,610 per year.

Nurse practitioners have diverse options, with the ability to choose from a wide range of APRN specialties. These include:

  • Family NP (FNP): FNPs treat patients of all ages, predominantly providing primary care.
  • Neonatal NP (NNP): An NNP specializes in the treatment of newborns with severe health complications.
  • Pediatric NP (PNP): A PNP treats children from infants through young adulthood, typically providing primary care with an emphasis on parent/caregiver health and developmental education.
  • Women’s Health NP (WHNP): As the job title suggests, a WHNP specializes in the care of female-identifying patients, including gynecological care and obstetric health services.
  • Psychiatric Mental Health NP (PMHNP): This type of NP works with patients who are struggling with mental health disorders and symptoms, such as eating disorders, drug use disorder, depression and traumatic disorders.
  • Adult-Gerontology NP (AGNP): An AGNP diagnoses and treats adults of any age, but primarily works with the elderly population, many of whom suffer from chronic health conditions and functional challenges. An AGNP may focus on primary care or acute care.

You’ll need to choose your ideal APRN specialty when you’re applying for an NP-focused graduate degree program. Nurse practitioner programs include general and specialized education, ensuring nurses spend sufficient time learning their NP specialty.

Northeastern University offers several master’s degree programs that prepare nurses for nurse practitioner certification. These include family, pediatric, adult-gerontology acute care, neonatal and psychiatric mental health. Attending a top-quality university like Northeastern for your advanced degree will prepare you well for your NP career.

Requirements for becoming a nurse practitioner include:

  • BSN degree
  • Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree
  • Passing the national board certification exam for your population specialty
Northeastern nursing students posing and smiling

There are lots of different types of nursing professionals. Check out some other types of nurses here.

2. Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist

A certified registered nurse anesthetist administers anesthetics and provides pain management for patients undergoing surgical procedures. They also monitor anesthetized patients during surgery and treat any complications. Nurse anesthetists work in hospitals, surgery centers, outpatient medical clinics and physicians’ offices.

As a CRNA, you will literally have your patients’ lives in your hands. Anesthesia is a necessary part of surgery, but it can also be incredibly risky. Because of the significant challenges of this particular APRN specialty, CRNAs are very well compensated. The BLS states that the median annual salary for CRNAs as of May 2022 was $203,090.

If you enjoy working alongside other healthcare professionals and being in the surgical environment, becoming a CRNA may be a great career goal for you. Northeastern University offers a Doctor of Nursing Practice - Nurse Anesthesia, which prepares you for CRNA certification.

There are fewer subspecialty options available for CRNAs than there are for NPs. Generally, a CRNA may choose to specialize further in a particular patient population (e.g., pediatrics) or in a type of surgery (e.g., dental, neurosurgical, obstetric, cardiovascular or plastic surgery).

Requirements for becoming a nurse anesthetist include:

  • BSN degree
  • Doctorate degree (the preferred degree for CRNAs)
  • Experience in an acute care setting such as the ER or ICU
  • Passing the National Certification Exam for CRNAs

At Northeastern, you can start the path to becoming a CRNA by earning a BSN in our accelerated nursing program. For more information, such as admission requirements, reach out to an admissions counselor.

northeastern student studying on laptop

3. Certified Nurse Midwife

If you have a passion for women’s health, becoming a certified nurse midwife can be one of the more rewarding career choices among the types of advanced practice nurses. Nurse midwives make a median salary of $120,880 per year, according to BLS data from May 2022.

Nurse midwives focus on women’s health, caring for women before, during and after pregnancy and childbirth. They perform gynecological exams, prescribe medications including contraceptives and order lab tests. They also provide prenatal care, support Ob/Gyn physicians during the delivery of babies and provide newborn care.

CNMs work in hospitals, birthing centers and private practices. Many nurse midwives also serve as home birth attendants. CNMs are legally authorized to practice in every state, according to the American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB), and are vital members of the women’s healthcare team. Because this APRN role already has a narrow focus, there are no subspecialties.

Requirements for becoming a nurse midwife:

  • BSN degree
  • Active RN license
  • Completion of a nurse midwife program and a master’s or doctorate degree in nursing
  • Certification as a midwife, including passing the national certification exam

4. Clinical Nurse Specialist

Clinical nurse specialists are trained to provide acute care and mental health services and diagnose and treat conditions in a specific clinical field. They also develop quality assurance standards and serve on the faculty of nursing schools across the country.

Within the CNS category, there are several subspecialties to choose from:

  • Pediatric clinical nurse specialist (PCNS): A PCNS focuses on the care of children. They also provide health education to parents and other caregivers and contribute to process improvement initiatives at their healthcare facilities.
  • Neonatal clinical nurse specialist (NCNS): An NCNS fulfills many of the same job duties as a neonatal NP, such as the care of newborns with severe health complications. However, they also work on neonatal process improvements, such as the improvement of treatment plans with the aim of reducing the length of neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) stays.
  • Adult-gerontology clinical nurse specialist (AGCNS): An AGCNS works with adults and elderly populations. Chronic illness management is a major area of focus for this subspecialty.

Requirements for becoming a clinical nurse specialist:

  • BSN degree
  • MSN or DNP with a focus on a clinical nursing specialty
  • Passing the National Nurses Licensing Exam and the Certified Nurse Specialist (CNS) exams

6 Steps to Becoming an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse

If you’re interested in becoming one of the types of advanced practice nurses, it’s important to understand the scope of the journey before beginning. Here are the six main steps toward becoming an advanced practice nurse:

Before becoming a nurse, you’ll need to pass the NCLEX. Get tips on how to prepare for the NCLEX here.

Northeastern nursing writing on whiteboard

1. Earn Your BSN

To get into an advanced nursing degree program, you’ll first need to have a bachelor’s degree in nursing. If you have a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field or a minimum of 62 college credits, you can leverage that prior education and enter an accelerated BSN program, like ours at Northeastern. At our ABSN program, you can earn a BSN in as few as 16 months through the hybrid curriculum at Northeastern.

2. Gain Experience as a Nurse

Once you graduate from nursing school, the next step is to pass the NCLEX and become licensed in your state. Now, you’re ready to gain some bedside nursing experience. Before applying to graduate degree programs, you’ll need to have at least a few years of full-time clinical experience.

neu nursing student practicing on manikin

3. Decide Which Specialty to Pursue

While you’re working in the clinical environment, consider all your options for APRN specialties and decide which type of advanced practice nurse you want to become. It’s also helpful — and in some cases, mandatory — to select an APRN subspecialty, as some graduate-level nursing programs are designed with specific subspecialties in mind.

4. Apply for Graduate-Level Nursing Degree Programs

Next, you’ll need to apply for master’s or doctorate programs for your specialty of choice. These programs can be competitive, so focus on making yourself into a competitive candidate.

Consider sending out multiple applications to increase your chances of acceptance. In addition, you should consider whether you will continue working full-time while earning your degree or if you’d rather focus all your attention on your studies.

5. Graduate and Pass the Certification Exam

After acceptance into your specialty-specific APRN program, you’ll shift to the school mindset again and focus on learning all you can about your area of practice. After graduation from an advanced nursing program, you’ll sit for a national certification exam specific to your specialty; passing this will enable you to become licensed in your state.

6. Start Working as an APRN

Finally, all the hard work has paid off and you can start working as an advanced practice registered nurse in your specialty. Note that people often start applying for APRN jobs before graduation and are hired contingent upon their certification. Therefore, it’s a good idea to start the job search early, as this makes it possible to land a job offer before you graduate.

Begin Your Journey Today

Are you ready to pursue one of the advanced practice registered nurse specialties? The first step is beginning your nursing journey by earning your BSN. At Northeastern University, we are here to support you every step of the way. Our ABSN program is renowned for providing a top-quality education in as few as 16 months.

If you aspire to take your nursing career to the next level by pursuing an advanced practice nursing education, earning a BSN from Northeastern can allow you to prepare for success.

To learn more about how you can launch your nursing career at Northeastern, contact an admissions counselor today.

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