Nurse Practitioner Career Overview

nurse practitioner listening to heart of young patient with stethoscope

Learn what you’ll do as a nurse practitioner and see if you have the right personality for the job.

What Is a Nurse Practitioner?

A Nurse Practitioner (NP) is an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse who has earned at least a Master’s degree and completed additional training in a specialty area of medicine. Because of their advanced skills, NPs have more authority for administering patient care compared to Registered Nurses. For example, NPs can prescribe medication, administer physical exams, diagnose illnesses and provide advanced medical treatment similar to a doctor. While NPs have more authority than RNs and practice physician-level type care, some states require doctors to supervise their patient care decisions.

What Traits Make a Good Nurse Practitioner?

You are…You should have…
AnalyticalProblem-solving skills
CompassionateComputer-savvy
SupportiveGood decision-making skills
DependableGood ethical standards
A clear communicatorCritical thinking skills
Good-naturedGood interpersonal relationship skills
An excellent listener

Nurse Practitioner Job Description

NPs are trained registered nurses who choose to continuously practice while they complete an advanced education.  NPs typically choose a core area of expertise and tend to take a more holistic and wellness-oriented approach to treatment through education and preventive care that lasts the entire life cycle. This makes them ideal choices as primary care providers for people of all ages and in all settings.

Typical Responsibilities of a Nurse Practitioner Include:

  • Diagnosing and treating acute illnesses, injuries and infections
  • Writing prescriptions for medications, including their dosage and frequency
  • Ordering and conducting diagnostic tests, like electrocardiograms (EKGs) and x-rays
  • Teaching patients about managing their health, make recommendations and design treatment plans
  • Examining and recording patient medical histories, symptoms and diagnoses
  • Providing guidance to patients about medications, side effects and interactions

The nurse practitioner profession can be a highly rewarding career with plenty of opportunities to help others and take on a much-needed role in the health care industry. Nurse practitioners have a lot of options these days from where they work to what they focus on. By helping to prevent disease and promote healthy living, nurse practitioners are referred to as true “Partners in Health” by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP).

In fact, nurse practitioners continue to move outside of the commonly considered work places and besides doctor’s offices and hospitals may be found in schools and clinics, birthing centers and even provide in-home health care services.

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Nurse Practitioners Enjoy Career Flexibility

One great benefit of a nurse practitioner career is the ability to specialize within the field and work just about anywhere. Just as doctors and surgeons may have a specialty, an NP may also choose a focused group or practice area based upon their interest. There are some generally recognized, certified specialty areas to choose from—all of which require a Master’s of Nursing (MSN) to become an advanced practice nurse. Take a look at your focus options:

  • Family NP—As a family NP, you’ll offer education and counseling to family members, and provide a wide range of health care to all ages of patients throughout the family life cycle.
  • Pediatric Nurse–If you like working with children, you’ll work with patients from infancy to early adulthood and diagnose illnesses, conduct medical exams and help keep your young patients healthy through education and wellness practices.
  • Adult Nurse Practitioner–Starting with an individual’s early adulthood, you’ll provide and promote positive health practices and disease prevention all the way through their aging years.
  • Geriatric NP–As a geriatric NP you’ll focus your attention on the elderly and their needs and illnesses, which may include diabetes and respiratory ailments among others. You’ll also be instrumental in working with their families to counsel them in patient special needs, such as diet, medicines and exercise.
  • Women’s Health Nurse–You’ll provide comprehensive care with an emphasis on women’s reproductive and gynecological health.
  • Neonatal NP–You’ll care for newborn infants as a neonatal NP. No matter whether the baby is healthy, premature or seriously ill, you’ll be part of the team tending to infant well-being, whether in standard care or ICU.
  • Acute Care Nurse–This fast-paced practice offers plenty of collaborative effort with doctors and other team members. You’ll administer advanced care to patients suffering severe illnesses of all types, and generally work in an emergency area, an ambulatory care clinic or a short term stay wing such as telemetry.
  • Occupational Health NP–As an OHNP you’ll bring your expertise to the job front and deliver health and safety programs to prevent illness, educate against injury and administer services to workers in any number of different workplaces.
  • Certified Nurse Midwife–You’ll not only be present for the birth of an infant but help manage all stages of a patient’s pregnancy. You’ll act as educator in the planning stages and offer support post-delivery for the myriad of issues new mothers and babies face.
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist–You’ll need to earn your MSN and pass a rigorous exam to become a CRNA, and you’ll also be able to work in a wide range of healthcare facilities. Your basic task, however, will be to administer the right amount of anesthesia to patients about to undertake a medical or surgical procedure, whether it be heart surgery or dental extraction.
  • Rural Nurse–Your duties are expansive as a rural NP as you will provide healthcare services to adults and children who have limited access to education and prevention of illness. You’ll treat chronic conditions as well, and you’ll be instrumental to serving as a teacher and mentor to rural nurses and their at-risk communities.

Nurse Practitioner Education

What degree paths are there?

As a nurse practitioner, you’ll need a master’s degree to enter the field. If you’re just starting out, consider an RN-to-BSN program, which makes you eligible to apply for a Master’s in Nursing (MSN). Or, you can enroll in an RN-to-MSN program which allows registered nurses to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees simultaneously.

How do I choose a specialization?

During your graduate level coursework, you’ll have the opportunity to choose a specialization. A few examples are acute care NP, school NP and gerontological NP. Once you earn your MSN, you’ll be eligible to take an exam offered by either the American Association of Nurse Practitioners Certification Program or the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Upon passing, you’ll be certified in your chosen specialization.

How do I apply for financial aid?

You’ll need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in order to be considered for government financial aid. In addition to this, the school you attend must be accredited by a recognized organization. Scholarships, grants, private loans and PLUS loans are other types of financial aid you can consider. Read our Nursing Financial Aid article to understand ways to finance your nursing education.

What type of accreditation should a nursing school have?

NP schools should be accredited by either the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).

How do I become licensed to work as an NP?

NPs must hold a master’s degree and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). Holding certification from the American Association of Nurse Practitioners Certification Program or the American Nurses Credentialing Center may also be required by your state.

What continuing education requirements should I expect throughout my career?

Certified NPs are required to renew their certification every five years by taking continuing education courses (or re-taking the exam). State nursing boards also have requirements regarding contact hours.

Become Part of an In-Demand Field

Because of their popularity with patients and healthcare staff, NPs are much in demand not only to help the patient population, but to ease the burden on overtaxed physician time and expense.

A recent article in Medscape reported that nurse practitioners received higher marks from patients than primary care physicians when it comes to screenings, assessments and follow-up exams. The most pertinent plus was the amount of time patients reported their NP spent with them as opposed to that of a medical doctor. Most said they “didn’t feel their nurse practitioner was rushing through their appointment or exam to get to the next one—and answered their questions,” helping to teach them holistically about the prevention of illness and the importance of healthcare maintenance.

A Forbes magazine article titled, “Nurse Practitioners More in Demand than Most Physicians,” says that when hospitals or facilities in the healthcare system look to fill a vacancy in their medical staff, where at one time physicians were the hiring focus, the recruitment “gaze” has now landed upon nurse practitioners and physician assistants. In fact, while primary care physicians are recruiting target number one, nurse practitioners and physician assistants are target 1A, says AMN Healthcare subsidiary Merritt Hawkins, adding “you can’t really build patient access or patient satisfaction without them.”

Impressive Job Growth for Nurse Practitioners

As states change laws regarding advanced practice registered nurses, NPs are becoming more and more widely utilized as a source for primary healthcare, says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In fact the BLS reports a whopping 26 percent job growth rate through 2028 for nurse practitioners, and estimates some 44,000 job openings in the field will occur. Considering that the average job growth rate for all other occupations combined is 7 percent for the same time period, the prospects for NPs is forecast to be excellent, especially for those choosing to practice in large inner cities or in remote rural areas, where medical doctors and healthcare treatment are at a premium.

Use our guide to nurse practitioner education and careers to answer your questions and get started on the path toward a fulfilling career helping patients and maximizing your success, by finding the right education program for you.

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