What is a Pulmonary Nurse Practitioner? (Answered by an NP)

Written By: Kasee Wiesen DNP, APRN, FNP-C

Nurse practitioner (NP) is a general term for a registered nurse (RN), who completed graduate school and passed a board certification exam. There are numerous opportunities for an NP and one of these opportunities is to become a pulmonary nurse practitioner. There is no specific path to become a pulmonary NP, but you must complete family practice, acute care, pediatric, or adult-gerontology track while in NP school.

You might wonder, what is a pulmonary nurse practitioner? Pulmonary NPs are passionate about delivering care to people experiencing an acute or chronic respiratory illness. A pulmonary nurse practitioner's duties include assessing, diagnosing, treating, and evaluating people experiencing respiratory illness/disease. Examples of disease processes they could specialize in include asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer, acute respiratory failure, Covid-19, and sleep apnea. They will also assist patients in smoking cessation. Below, I have provided information that further explains how to become a pulmonary NP, their daily responsibilities, and resources to help pulmonary NPs in their practice.

What Does A Pulmonary Nurse Practitioner Do?

A pulmonary nurse practitioner delivers care to patients who suffer from either an acute or chronic respiratory illness. Examples of illnesses a pulmonary NP may care for include asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, Covid-19, and sleep apnea. The pulmonary nurse practitioner will assess, diagnose, treat and evaluate the patient experiencing the respiratory illness. They can manage patients in both the inpatient and outpatient/clinic settings.

Specific tasks the pulmonary nurse practitioner performs, in either the inpatient or outpatient setting, include assessing the patient and determining appropriate tests to order, interpret the lab or x-ray results and prescribe treatment as needed. In the inpatient setting, the pulmonary NP focuses on acute illness. This involves rounding on the patient routinely (minimum of once a day), manage ventilator settings if needed, and work directly with the interdisciplinary team to provide care to the patient. In the outpatient setting, the pulmonary NP will manage more of the chronic respiratory illnesses including COPD, asthma, and sleep apnea. They will order and interpret specific tests, prescribe medications such as inhalers and oxygen, and follow up with patients as needed.


Where Do Pulmonary Nurse Practitioners Work?

A pulmonary nurse practitioner has the opportunity to work in a variety of settings. The pulmonary NP may work in the inpatient setting (ie. medical-surgical (med surg), telemetry, step-down, or intensive care unit (ICU)). Working in the inpatient setting, the pulmonary NP usually works alongside a team of providers (MDs, NPs, PAs, etc.) to care for patients during an acute illness. They may also work in an outpatient setting which includes a clinic. In the clinic, a pulmonary NP delivers care to patients who have long-term or chronic pulmonary problems such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or more recently, patients who are experiencing long-term complications related to Covid-19. In the inpatient setting, the pulmonary NP can also aid in smoking cessation and complete lung cancer screenings.

What Is The Typical Work Schedule For A Pulmonary Nurse Practitioner?

The work schedule for a pulmonary nurse practitioner may vary depending on the setting they work. A pulmonary NP who works in an outpatient setting typically works Monday through Friday during the day. They typically have weekends off and may take on-call depending on the practice.

Pulmonary NP working in the acute care setting have scheduled hours as well. They typically work 5 days a week and work daytime hours as well. In the acute care setting, their day may start earlier, due to patient rounding, new admissions, etc. The acute care pulmonary NP may also take on-call, depending on the organization they are employed by.

What Is The Difference Between Pulmonary Nurse Practitioner And Pulmonary Nurse?

A pulmonary nurse provides care to patients who are experiencing a respiratory illness and may treat both adults and pediatrics. They typically work in an inpatient setting in a critical care unit such as the emergency department or intensive care unit (ICU) or may work on the medical-surgical (med surg) floor. There are opportunities for pulmonary nurses to work in a pulmonary specialty clinic. The pulmonary nurse will assess the patient and deliver treatment as prescribed. There is also a focus on the education of patients regarding their respiratory illness as well as general information about smoking cessation or other respiratory concerns.

The duty of the pulmonary nurse practitioner is to assess, diagnoses, treat and evaluate a patient experiencing a respiratory illness or disorder. They may collaborate with other NPs or physicians to improve the health of their patients. The pulmonary NP prescribes the treatment and communicates with the staff to ensure appropriate care is being delivered to the patient.

Why Become A Pulmonary Nurse Practitioner?

It is very rewarding to be a pulmonary nurse practitioner. The pulmonary nurse practitioner's duties are centered on the goal of improving the respiratory status of the patient and improve their breathing. There are a variety of settings to practice in and can care for patient’s across their lifespan in either the acute care/hospital setting or outpatient/clinic setting. While the benefit of improving a patient’s breathing is incredibly rewarding, there are other benefits of becoming a pulmonary nurse practitioner as well including increased pay, flexibility with work schedule, and better work-life balance.

How Long Does It Take To Become A Pulmonary Nurse Practitioner?

To become a pulmonary nurse practitioner typically takes 6-8 years which includes obtaining your BSN. A BSN program takes 4 years to complete and most NP programs take between 2-4 years, depending on if you attend part-time or full-time. The length of time will increase if you decide to complete your DNP.

How Much Does It Cost To Become A Pulmonary Nurse Practitioner?

The cost of becoming a pulmonary NP varies greatly depending on the state, school, and program selected. The average cost of a traditional 4-year BSN program can cost $40,000 to $200,000. There are other paths to consider such as obtaining an ADN degree first and then completing an RN-BSN program.

Graduate school will also vary on state, school, and program. Choosing an in-state public program will be cheaper than paying out-of-state tuition for a public university or attending a private institution. Another factor that impacts cost is the program selected—MSN vs. DNP and part-time vs. full-time.

Step-By-Step Process Of Becoming A Pulmonary Nurse Practitioner

Becoming a pulmonary nurse practitioner may seem intimidating at first as there is no defined path on becoming a pulmonary nurse practitioner. Below is a step-by-step process to become a pulmonary nurse practitioner.

1. Graduate from an accredited nursing program:

This can be either an associate’s degree (ADN) program (2-year program) or a bachelor of since in nursing (BSN) program (4-year program). If you start with an ADN program, in order to apply to NP school, you will have to obtain your BSN.

2. Pass NCLEX and apply for licensure:

After graduating from an accredited nursing school, you must pass the NCLEX exam before being able to apply for licensure through your state board of nursing.

3. Gain nursing experience:

This is not required but will benefit you as you pursue a career as a pulmonary nurse practitioner. A minimum of 2 years is ideal and will allow you to gain a variety of skills, experiences, and confidence that will help make the transition to a pulmonary NP easier and less overwhelming.

4. Complete pre-requisites for NP school including required certifications:

Most, if not all NP schools, will require the applicant to complete various pre-requisites including certifications. I have provided 3 certifications that are often required. FYI, you may not need both ACLS and PALS, depending on the program you are applying for. For more specifics, be sure to check with the school before submitting the application.

Basic Life Support Certification (BLS):

Required for all applicants

Advanced Life Support Certification (ACLS):

Primarily only required for those applying for a program delivering care to adults

Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS):

Primarily only required for those applying for a program delivering care to pediatrics

5. Apply to NP School:

Once you have completed the pre-requisites, apply to NP school. As stated above, pre-requisites and eligibility criteria will vary from school to school.

6. Graduate from an accredited Nurse Practitioner Program:

For the role of a pulmonary nurse practitioner, multiple MSN program tracks can be pursued. These specializations include Family Practice, Acute Care, Pediatrics, or Adult-Gerontology. Due to the variety of programs, it is best to determine the setting and population you want to work with. There is the option to duel certify if you want even greater flexibility with your career options.

7. Pass the national certification exam and obtain state licensure:

Upon completing your graduate studies, you must take the appropriate certification exam based on the program you completed. To qualify for state licensure as NP, you must follow the requirements determined by your state board of nursing. This includes having an MSN or DNP degree, passing the national certification exam, and upholding an active RN license (maintaining an NP license is always dependent on upholding an active RN license). For more information, visit your state board of nursing website.

8. Apply for a pulmonary nurse practitioner position:

Determine where you would like to practice, confirm you have the necessary licenses, and finalize your resume. Apply for the pulmonary NP position(s) that interest you. Practice your interviewing skills and write down a couple of questions you can ask during the interview. One question to consider is if it is necessary for you to apply for a DEA license prior to starting your new job or if your new place of employment will pay for the license or reimburse you. After you complete the interview, follow up with a thank you to those involved in the interview process.

9. Bonus Step:

Earn Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) if desired: A Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree focuses highly on leadership, quality improvement, and application of evidence-based medicine into practice to make changes within the health system. The requirements for a DNP varies upon the school selected and program track enrolled. Nurses who possess a DNP may choose to provide direct patient care, teach for a University, or transition into a leadership or administration role.

Certifications You Can Earn To Enhance Your Job Role As A Pulmonary Nurse Practitioner

Critical Care Registered Nurse Certification:

The CCRN is a certification for pulmonary NPs who work in critical care environments such as the emergency department or intensive care unit (ICU). There are requirements that must be met before sitting for this exam and there is an exam specific for nurses who care for pediatrics or adults.

List Of Fellowships & Residency Programs For Pulmonary Nurse Practitioners

Fellowships or residency programs are not required to become a pulmonary nurse practitioner. There are no specific fellowships or residency programs dedicated to pulmonary nurse practitioners. There are, however, a few critical care/acute care fellowships and residency programs that would benefit the pulmonary nurse practitioner working in the acute care setting. Below I have listed 2 of these programs.

University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus:

This program is a post-graduate fellowship and is offered to both acute care NPs and physician assistants (PA). The purpose of the program is to further develop the skills necessary to deliver care in the acute care/hospital setting. This program is for people who desire to work in hospital medicine and specialty groups.

Columbia Nurse Practitioner Fellowship Program:

This program is directed more towards acute care nurse practitioners who are looking to build on their knowledge. The program will provide a variety of experiences, allowing the NP to gain experience and confidence in delivering care to patients in the critical care and hospital setting.

Starting Salary Of A Pulmonary Nurse Practitioner

The starting salary of a pulmonary nurse practitioner varies greatly depending on the city, state, and environment you practice. The average starting salary of a pulmonary nurse practitioner is $37.87 per hour or $78,760 a year. This number may change depending on the environment you work (acute care vs. outpatient), years of experience as a nurse, and job responsibility. Below is a table with more information about the starting salary of a pulmonary NP.

Per Hour $37.87
Per Month $6,560
Per Year $78,760

Average Salary Of A Pulmonary Nurse Practitioner

In most organizations or places of employment, the longer a pulmonary nurse practitioner works in the specialty, the more money they will make. The average pulmonary nurse practitioner salary is $52.02 per hour or $108,199 per year. As I stated above, multiple factors determine the average salary of a pulmonary NP. The salary is completely dependent on years of experience, both as an NP and RN, city and state-employed, and the setting employed. Below you will find a table that clearly depicts the average salary of a pulmonary NP.

Per Hour $52.02
Per Month $9,020
Per Year $108,199
(Source: Ziprecruiter.Com)

Job Outlook For Pulmonary Nurse Practitioners

The job outlook for a pulmonary nurse practitioner is promising. As the population continues to live longer, the number of people seeking healthcare will increase. This will lead to a need for more pulmonary NPs to help manage their respiratory illnesses in both the inpatient and outpatient setting. A pulmonary nurse practitioner is usually board-certified in acute care, family practice, or adult-gerontology. Therefore, throughout a nurse practitioner's career, they may change jobs and specialties periodically leading to a high demand for new pulmonary NPs to replace those who have retired or chose to practice in other specialties.

Useful Organizations & Associations

Association of Pulmonary Advanced Practice Providers (APAPP):

APAPP is an organization for NPs and PAs working in pulmonary medicine. The purpose of the organization is to provide support and resources for the NP and PA through education, fellowship, and certification opportunities.

American Thoracic Society:

The American Thoracic Society’s goal is to improve the pulmonary health of people across the world. They work towards this goal through advancing research, specifically in pulmonary medicine. The organization focuses on a wide array of illnesses including asthma, COPD, lung cancer, acute respiratory distress, tuberculosis, and sleep apnea.

My Final Thoughts

Becoming a pulmonary nurse practitioner is very rewarding and is a critical role in the delivery of care to those experiencing a respiratory illness or disease. They may deliver care in an acute care setting where they treat and stabilize the patient during an acute illness or in an outpatient setting and manage the patient’s chronic respiratory illnesses, including COPD and lung cancer, and may help in smoking cessation. There are multiple tracks an RN may take in becoming a pulmonary NP, allowing flexibility and options to ensure the RN chooses a career track they are passionate about. I hope the information above has provided you the answer to what is a pulmonary nurse practitioner, what is the average salary of a pulmonary nurse practitioner, and how to pursue a career in the specialty.

Kasee Wiesen DNP, APRN, FNP-C
Kasee Wiesen is a practicing family nurse practitioner. Her nursing background includes emergency medicine, pediatrics and peri-op. Education is a passion of Kasee’s, and she has taught BSN, RN-BSN and DNP students, and has enjoyed every moment of it!