The country is facing a dire nursing shortage, and experts don’t expect the situation to improve any time soon. But there is some good news to come out of the current staffing crisis: salaries for specialized nurses are expected to go up. That means nurse practitioners and other nurses with additional training and degrees could get a major pay increase over the next few years.
The role of the nurse practitioner is now the fastest-growing job in the country from 2021 to 2031, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The industry is expected to add some 113,000 new NP positions over the next nine years.
NPs play a vital role in the country’s healthcare system. They often bridge the gap between nurses, who administer exceptional bedside care, and physicians, who are tasked with treating and diagnosing the person’s condition. Many NPs provide primary care services to communities with a dearth of healthcare options, including rural areas where it is difficult to practice medicine. They work out of hospitals, doctor’s offices, or their own private practice.
Experts say the growing demand for primary care services will lead to higher salaries, which could convince more people to pursue a career in nursing. The average salary for NPs was just over $120,000 a year in 2021, but it will likely keep climbing in the years to come.
“Nurse practitioners are a different group from registered nurses, as they can practice independently in many states,” says Bianca Frogner, director of the Center for Health Workforce Studies.
“They have a different slate of work and slate of training,” she says, adding that the role of nurse practitioner has become “a more appealing profession” because people can run their own clinics.
Many nurses are attracted to the idea of running their own business. The added autonomy that comes with being an NP is often seen as a welcome alternative to working in a hospital setting.
But data shows the potential to earn varies dramatically based on where the provider is working. An NP practicing in New York City is likely to make more money for their time compared to an NP in Missouri, but less populated areas are the ones in greatest need of primary care services. They also have a lower cost of living, which ultimately affects the provider’s take home pay.
Some specialties pay higher than others.
For example, a nurse practitioner working in psychiatrics earns a median of $140,000 a year, while adult-gerontology nurse practitioners tend to earn closer to $108,000.
But experts say many nurses do not have the resources or funds to pursue additional certifications and degrees. They must earn a master’s degree and become licensed in their state to work as a NP.
“Becoming a nurse practitioner requires a master’s degree—there’s an additional educational requirement,” says Mary Molloy, a clinical assistant professor of nursing at the School of Nursing and Allied Health at Fairleigh Dickinson University. “Nurse practitioners also need certifications, depending on the population that they’re interested in working with,” she adds.
In some cases, nurses may be looking at anywhere from three to eight years of additional education requirements, which often requires a sizable financial investment.
However, most NPs consider the costs to be worth it in the end, says Molloy. Healthcare is seen as recession-proof and nurses stand to make a relatively high salary compared to the average U.S. household income of $71,000 a year.
In the end, NPs “take care of the health of the U.S. population at a more reasonable cost with better health outcomes,” Molloy says, adding that these roles often carry job satisfaction because people are “preventing disease, promoting and maintaining community health,” among other wide-ranging aims.