A nurse practitioner (NP) is a certified and licensed advanced practice nurse who provides primary and specialty care to patients and families. NPs expand on traditional nursing skills by providing many of the services that, in the past, have been the exclusive job of physicians. They examine and diagnose patients, prescribe medication, recommend treatment, make referrals and give independent individualized care while promoting good health and disease prevention. NPs also provide patients with treatment plans that include a range of nursing and medical interventions. Today's nurse practitioners can choose from among many work environments, from hospitals to clinics to community settings.
Day in the Life of a Nurse Practitioner
Most primary care nurse practitioners are certified in fields associated with specific patient populations, such as:
- Family Medicine
- Adult Medicine and Geriatrics
- Women's Health
- Neonatal Care
- Acute (ER) Care
- Occupational Health
- Certified Midwifery
- Certified RN Anesthetists
While nurse practitioners have typically been associated with primary care, more NPs are now working in acute care and rehabilitation in specialties such as dermatology or neurology, among others. With the exception of hospital-based acute and neonatal care, most NP positions are ambulatory, meaning they work in an outpatient setting. These outpatient settings can be quite varied, even including working in a jail or making house calls in rural areas.
Most nurse practitioners who care for the same patients regularly find these long-term relationships gratifying. When treating seriously ill or injured individuals, NPs find it rewarding to help their patients recover or at least feel comfortable. When a patient's health doesn't improve, or the patient dies, it is naturally difficult for the nurse practitioner treating them. In the process of treating long-term patients, an NP may come to know their families as well, which is especially helpful if ongoing care is required.
Important Characteristics for Nurse Practitioners
Like many health care professionals, a great nurse practitioner is able to combine in-depth knowledge and clinical skills with a genuine concern for the well-being of the patient and family being cared for. Successful NPs are also good team players. These licensed practitioners work collaboratively with other health professionals, often coordinating patient care. They typically perform well under pressure.
Typical Steps for Becoming a Nurse Practitioner
To pursue this career, you'll need to understand nurse practitioner education and certification requirements. Though the steps may depend on your area of specialization, this is the general path that most candidates follow.
- Take math and science classes in high school. This can prepare you for the challenging coursework in nursing school.
- Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). This is the standard requirement to become licensed to practice as a registered nurse. RNs with an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or diploma in nursing can complete an RN to BSN program, but graduates of four-year collegiate nursing schools are also eligible to apply to graduate schools of nursing.
- Gain experience working as a nurse. It is advisable to do this before pursuing graduate school. On-the-job experience isn't required for acceptance into a graduate program, but having worked in the field can help you prepare you for the coursework that follows.
- Earn your master's degree in nursing. If you're a registered nurse, earning your master's degree is typically the next step to moving into more advanced practice. You may choose to focus on a specialized area of health care, or do a general education program to become a general nurse practitioner.
- Pass the nurse practitioner certification exam. Once you graduate with a master's degree in nursing, you'll be eligible to take a nationally recognized examination in your specialty. If you pass this exam, you'll become certified. The two largest certifying boards are the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners and the American Nurses Credentialing Center.
- Get an NP license in your state. After passing the exam, nurse practitioners must apply for an NP license (in addition to their RN license) from the state in which they intend to practice. Nurse practitioner licensing requirements vary from state to state.
- Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm
- Summary Report for Nurse Practitioners, O*NET OnLine, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/29-1171.00