A nurse practitioner (NP) is a healthcare professional who has surpassed the designation of a registered nurse (RN) through education—usually in the form of a master’s degree. An RN can return to school and, through additional education, become a NP. These credentials allow them to perform additional duties and take more responsibility in a hospital or clinic. In fact, they can perform many of the same duties as a physician, but aren’t held to the same professional standards of a medical doctor.
NPs can also specialize and practice in an area that they find most appealing, or for which they show special aptitude. Just as they are performing many of the same duties as a medical doctor, they are also in many of the same specialty areas.
Nurse practitioners are found in the following specialty areas:
- Mental health
- Acute care
- Maternity and neonatal health
- Women’s health
Nurse practitioners also work in sub-specialty areas that further break down their primary specialty.
The sub-specialties include, but are not limited to areas such as these:
- Occupational health
- Sports medicine
The specifics of a nurse practitioner’s responsibilities can vary from state to state. Some states might allow a nurse practitioner to actually run an office while their supervising physician is away or on call at a hospital. On the other hand, some states might require that nurse practitioners work in closer quarters with a physician at all times.
In general, NPs perform many of the same duties as a medical doctor in a clinic setting. In fact, patients might never see a doctor while going for a physical check-up or for visits regarding particular ailments. The responsibilities of a nurse practitioner include, but are not limited to the following:
- Prescribing medications
- Analyzing lab results
- Performing full physical examinations
- Authorizing treatments
- Consulting with patients and their families
- Diagnosing illnesses
So, while NPs may work under the authority of a supervising physician, they are also given a lot of autonomy in their work. NPs are responsible for the health and well-being of their patients, including their medications and overall treatment plan.
The ideal candidates for a NP position are nurses who currently work as registered nurses. Very often, RNs will work in a hospital or clinic for several years and then return to school. Besides having a strong desire to help patients, the best NPs also are very scientific minded, have excellent communication skills, and are very hard workers.
Other desirable traits include the following:
- Be compassionate and supportive
- Good decision-making skills
- Good ethical standards and boundaries
- Be a good listener
- Have a good nature
- Problem-solving ability
Because so many patient chart and referral services are now computerized, having a sense of how medical record software programs work may be very helpful as well.
To land a position as a nurse practitioner, registered nurses must at least hold a master’s degree, though many hiring physicians prefer candidates with a PhD. Candidates for the NP credential should check the hiring trends in their local area, as well as competition in the field and requirements within their specialty, to determine whether or not to complete a doctoral program.
The demand for NPs is on the rise, as they ease the demand for patients who usually seek a medical doctor’s services—and they are much more cost efficient for patients as well. Too, an aging population, a trend towards preventative care and healthcare legislation has created a boom in demand for healthcare services.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the field will grow by 36 percent through 2026. When you consider the national average growth for all occupations combined is seven percent, you’ll find the field is anticipated to grow much faster than average for all careers.
For their hard work, NPs earned a median annual income of $100,910, according to the current BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook. However, NPs can see their salary vary depending on where they practice.
Lowest 10 percentile
Highest 10 percentile
States with the Highest Wages for Nurse Practitioners
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Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ current Occupational Outlook Handbook
To become a nurse practitioner, you must first be a licensed registered nurse. Those RNs who hold an associate’s degree or a nursing diploma will need to first earn their bachelor of science in nursing, either through a BSN program, or an RN-to-BSN degree program.
During this time, RNs can explore the specialty areas and work environments that best suit them. They might even work under a NP and get to see first-hand what the profession is like and whether they really would like to pursue it.
After a satisfactory tenure working as an RN, they can move on to graduate school where they can earn their MSN and choose an area of specialization. During this period of advanced education, budding NPs should become expert in nine core competency areas.
Here is a brief run-down of these competencies, as reported by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners.
Scientific Foundation Competencies
- Analyze data and evidence
- Integrate knowledge from other fields, including the humanities
- Apply research to the practice outcomes
- Assess practice and discover novel approaches and solutions
- Take on complex leadership roles
- Foster collaboration among multiple parties to improve overall care
- Apply critical thinking to leadership role
- Advocate for improvements in care access, cost and quality
- Take on innovations and apply them towards advancing the practice
- Have effective written and oral communication
- Be active in professional organizations
- Use best evidence in improving clinical care
- Assess cost, quality and safety and how they impact care
- Evaluate how administrative aspects of healthcare impact patient outcomes
- Apply expertise in peer reviews to cultivate a culture of excellence
- Be proactive in intervening when care varies to ensure consistent, quality outcomes
Practice Inquiry Competencies
- Provide leadership in translating knowledge into practice
- Generate knowledge to improve patient outcomes
- Apply clinical investigative skills to improve outcomes
- Lead inquiries into the practice, either alone or in partnership with other professionals
- Communicate evidence in different modalities for diverse audiences
- Analyze clinical guidelines for individualized application
Technology and Information Literacy Competencies
- Competent with integrating technologies with the goal of improved healthcare
- Can translate technical information that is appropriate for the user’s need
- Apply information literacy in decision making
- Assist in designing information systems to promote safe and cost effective care
- Apply systems to capture data
- Understand the interdependence of policy and practice
- Advocate for ethical policies
- Integrate ethical, legal and social factors in policy development
- Make a contribution towards developing health policy
- Evaluate globalization’s impact on health policy development
Health Delivery System Competencies
- Minimize risk for providers and patients at both the individual and system level
- Help develop systems that seek to meet the needs of a diverse population
- Assess the impact of healthcare delivery on factors including the environment
- Analyze organizational structures to improve care delivery
- Apply ethical principles in decision making
- Evaluate ethical implications of decisions
- Apply ethically sound solutions to complex issues
Independent Practice Competencies
- Be a licensed, independent practitioner
- Demonstrate high accountability
- Independently manage both diagnosed and undiagnosed patients
- Provide patient-centered care, recognizing the patient as a partner in decision-making
Licensing and Certification
Once you’ve earned your master’s degree you’ll want to get certified. The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Program (AANPCP) and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) both offer nationally recognized professional certification credentials.
In most cases you’ll be required to already have:
Current RN license
At least 500 clinical hours
You’ll also need to have completed coursework in physiology, pathophysiology, advanced health assessment and pharmacology and keep current on disease management and health promotion and maintenance updates in the industry.
Both associations administer a rigorous exam, which you must pass in order to become certified. You’ll also need to continue your education throughout your nurse practitioner work life, and take a required number of continuing education units during a set time period (usually two years) to keep your certification current. While certification is national—meaning you can practice in any state— you should still check with your state to see if there is any other criteria you’ll need to meet to practice.
Get Ready for a Nurse Practitioner Career
No matter what level you’re at in your nursing career, we can help you find the right accredited school to either take the first steps toward your BSN, or put you on the path to a master’s in nursing program so you can reach your goal of becoming a nurse practitioner. Why not enter an advanced practice nursing field that’s in-demand and fast growing? Tell us a little about yourself and we’ll connect you with schools that offer nurse practitioner programs.