How to Become a Nurse Practitioner in Pennsylvania

How to Become an Nurse Practitioner in Pennsylvania
How to Become an Nurse Practitioner in Pennsylvania

The United States is on the verge of a healthcare staffing crisis —and the state of Pennsylvania is no exception. According to research from the US Department of Health and Human Services, more than 580,000 Pennsylvania residents live in areas categorized as “health professional shortage areas.” People who live in these areas face an acute shortage of access to primary care physicians, making it difficult for them to get to a doctor when they need one.

This is a problem that can’t go unaddressed. The individuals most affected are typically members of communities that are already underserved. Lacking access to regular preventative care across their lifespan can decrease the length and quality of their lives. You could fill a binder with the research that shows that access to primary care is strongly linked to better healthcare outcomes.

The solution, according to some, is nurse practitioners (NPs). NPs can perform many of the same functions as primary care physicians, including ordering diagnostic tests and developing treatment plans. Nurse practitioners have a shorter educational pathway to be able to practice, take on less educational debt, and are more likely than doctors to practice in the rural and lower-class areas where primary care shortages are felt most acutely.

Health care industry insiders are encouraging tomorrow’s nurse practitioners to get in the primary care provider pipeline by enrolling now in NP schools in PA. Nurse practitioners are expected to be in high demand for the foreseeable future, making the NP job outlook in Pennsylvania better than it’s ever been.

Let’s take a look at what nurse practitioners do, who is a good candidate to become a nurse practitioner in Pennsylvania, and how long it takes to earn an NP license.

What does a nurse practitioner do?

In Pennsylvania, NPs are recognized as primary care providers. Certified nurse practitioners with Pennsylvania license are authorized to:

  • Obtain medical histories
  • Perform physical examinations
  • Prescribe medications
  • Order and perform diagnostic tests
  • Diagnose medical conditions
  • Develop and implement treatment plans
  • Answer questions and educate patients and their family members

NPs in Pennsylvania focus their practice in one of six designated population categories, including family medicine, neonatal nursing, pediatric nursing, psychiatric/mental health nursing, adult/gerontology, and women’s health.

Nurse practitioners can work in a variety of health care settings, including hospitals, private practices, adult care facilities, school and college health clinics, hospices, VA facilities, and more. Physician’s offices, medical and surgical hospitals, and outpatient care centers are currently the three top employers for NPs.

It’s worth noting that NPs in Pennsylvania do not yet have what’s known as “full scope of practice.” This just means that NPs need to maintain an ongoing relationship with a licensed physician who can collaborate with the NP when needed and is required for prescriptive authority. NPs in 27 other US states currently have the full scope of practice, and it is expected that many other states will soon follow suit.

How to Become an NP in PA

How do you become a nurse practitioner in PA?

NPs in Pennsylvania are regulated by the state’s Board of Nursing. To be granted licensure by the Board, you must first meet the criteria to practice as a registered nurse (RN). Next, you must complete an accredited, graduate-level program that includes clinical rotation hours and additional training in the demographic of your choice (family practice, mental health, and gerontology are popular options). Finally, you must take and pass a national certification exam that demonstrates your competency with your chosen demographic.

Nurse practitioners who wish to practice in Pennsylvania must submit the following to apply for licensure:

  • A Master’s degree in their chosen NP specialty
  • Passing score on a Board-approved national certification  exam, such as the family nurse practitioner (FNP) exam
  • 3 hours of Board-approved education on child abuse recognition and reporting
  • Registration fee

The time it takes to complete this process will vary according to your current level of education. Candidates who already have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree can earn their Master’s degree in two years. The exact length of that secondary degree will depend on the program option that they choose and the time it takes to complete their clinical hour requirements.

Becoming a nurse practitioner in PA is fairly straightforward, but not all educational pathways are equal. Those who are interested in this career should look carefully at the NP programs in PA. Stronger programs will be able to demonstrate high rates of passage on licensure exams as well as robust statistics on post-graduate employment rates. You’ll find that some schools, like Wilkes, have a reputation for excellence, having been accredited by the CCNE for decades.

Are NPs in demand in Pennsylvania?

Statistics paint an optimistic picture of the job outlook for NPs in PA. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that there will be 118,600 new nurse practitioner jobs within the next ten years; a growth rate of 45%. That means that NPs are among the fastest-growing of any profession.

Demand for primary care providers continues to go up, and as mentioned above, there are currently not enough physicians to fulfill the needs of a growing population. The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates that the shortage of primary care physicians may reach 48,000 by 2034. Nurse practitioners are well-positioned to fill the gap between the care that patients need and how many providers are available.

The salary expectation for nurse practitioners across the United States continues to rise. As of 2023, the median annual salary for nurse practitioners was $121,610, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Pennsylvania specifically, the mean annual wage for NPs is $120,550. That is significantly more than the median household income in PA, which was $67,587 as of 2021. The NY/NJ/PA metropolitan area employs more nurse practitioners than any other metropolitan zone in the US. This area also pays their NPs some of the highest salaries.

Home health care services, psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals, and vocational rehab services are some of the top-paying industries for NPs, and demand for all three is projected to keep rising in Pennsylvania due to the unique demographic needs of the state. Primary care providers who can see patients across the lifespan, such as family nurse practitioners, can expect a high yield on their educational investment.

That’s because the growth rate of the 65 and older population in PA is twenty times higher than the growth rate of the general population. Among the 50 states, Pennsylvania is ranked fifth for the size of its older adult population, with 3.4 million seniors calling the state home. Pennsylvanians with mobility impairments and cognitive challenges represent 11% of residents. The state currently spends 37% of its healthcare spending on older adults and individuals with disabilities, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Aging.

How fast can you become an NP in PA?

If you have already earned your BSN degree, you can become a nurse practitioner in as little as two years. Wilkes University online offers a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree designed for nurses who have a BSN to continue their education, advance in their field, and embrace new opportunities.

Wilkes University’s online MSN has three concentration options: the Adult Gerontology/Primary Care track, the Family Nurse Practitioner program, and the Mental Health/Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner concentration. Coursework for all three programs is asynchronous and 100% online.

The Wilkes Clinical Placement team works with you to secure a placement where you can earn your clinical hours to complete the program.

Click here to learn more about Wilkes University’s online MSN degree.