As the title implies, the Advanced Practice Nurse (APN) is the highest and most advanced nursing degree currently available in the U.S. Additionally, this profession is entrusted with the widest range of responsibilities.
APNs are often considered primary health care practitioners. As such, they are legally able to prescribe drugs and medication in the majority of states. Advanced practice nurses have proven extremely useful as a substitute for general practitioners in geographic areas where traditional medical services are rare.
The educational pathway that leads to a degree in advanced practice nursing begins by obtaining an RN (Registered Nurse) degree. To qualify as an APN, the registered nurse must also possess an advanced degree (master’s or doctorate)and pass additional testing, examinations and licensing.
There are four specific specialties in advanced practice nursing: clinical nurse specialist, nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife, and nurse practitioner.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employment of all nursing levels and professions is expected to grow “much faster than average for all occupations” during the upcoming decade. Job opportunities for advanced practice nurses in all four fields of specialization will be excellent.
Department of Labor figures indicate that the median annual salary of registered nurses in 2004 was $52,330, with a range running from less than $37,300 to a high of more than $74,760. Wages and salaries for advanced practice nurses in all four specializations can be significantly higher, as these practices require more schooling and training, and because their range of responsibilities is wider than that of an RN.