Nurse Practitioner

Discover the path to becoming a Nurse Practitioner (NP), an advanced healthcare professional delivering high-quality, patient-centered care. This guide outlines the essential steps from earning your nursing degree to achieving NP certification, opening doors to a rewarding career in healthcare.
Nurse Practitioner
Nurse practitioners are highly educated professionals who have been thoroughly trained in the treatment of illness and disease. They are quickly becoming the go-to health partner for millions of American patients, offering the same kind of personalized medical attention and complexity of care as a physician, but at a much lower cost.

What Is a Nurse Practitioner?

A nurse practitioner is an advanced practice registered nurse who has earned an additional degree in nursing, typically a Master of Science in Nursing or higher. The “advanced practice” part of the title means that the person has completed rigorous educational requirements to further specialize in a particular area of nursing. The nurse’s advanced training and education entitle them to exercise some of the clinical nursing functions that used to be the domain of doctors, such as prescribing medications and performing procedures such as surgery.

NPs are skilled independent professionals who have the autonomy to diagnose and treat acute and chronic illnesses, manage complex medical conditions, prescribe medications, perform surgeries including obstetrical/gynecological procedures such as delivering babies or performing cesarean sections, and provide health assessments and counseling. Nurse practitioners are also trained to serve as patient advocates in a medical setting and to educate clients about illness prevention strategies.

Facts About Nurse Practitioners

  • According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), Americans visit a nurse practitioner more than 916 million times per year.
  • 95 percent of NPs are licensed to dispense medication.
  • 96 percent of NPs have a graduate degree.
  • 83 percent have earned certification in at least one area of primary care, with family practice and pediatric nursing being the most common areas of focus.
  • 50 percent of the nation’s 222,000 nurse practitioners have hospital privileges.

What Does a Nurse Practitioner Do?

Nurse practitioners work in close collaboration with physicians, and other qualified health care providers as part of a multidisciplinary group. They help people prevent illness, stay healthy, manage acute or chronic conditions such as diabetes or heart failure, recover from injury or surgery, and deal with stress-related disorders like depression or anxiety.

NPs provide a full scope of primary care including wellness (diet, hygiene, exercise), disease prevention, diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic illness, as well as the management of individuals with complex or long-term conditions.

Nurse Practitioner Job Description

Some of the key responsibilities of a nurse practitioner include:

  • Collecting and analyzing patients’ medical history: Nurse practitioners take a detailed medical history of patients, including their current and past medical conditions, family history, and medication history. This information helps them to understand the patient’s health status and develop an appropriate treatment plan.
  • Performing physical exams and interpreting medical test results: Nurse practitioners conduct physical exams to assess the patient’s health status. They also order and interpret diagnostic tests, such as blood tests, X-rays, and MRIs, to diagnose medical conditions accurately.
  • Diagnosing and treating acute and chronic illnesses and injuries: Nurse practitioners are authorized to diagnose and treat a wide range of medical conditions, including acute and chronic illnesses and injuries.
  • Creating and managing treatment plans, including prescribing medications and therapeutics: Nurse practitioners develop treatment plans for patients, which may include prescribing medications and therapeutics. They monitor the patient’s response to treatment and adjust the treatment plan as necessary.
  • Providing preventive care and counseling on lifestyle changes: Nurse practitioners focus on preventative care and counseling on lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise, to help patients maintain good health and prevent medical conditions.

Where Do Nurse Practitioners Work?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurse practitioners are most commonly utilized in team-based models that provide preventative and primary care. They work in hospital outpatient and inpatient settings, private group practice, community health centers, long-term care facilities, emergency departments, and urgent care clinics. NPs also work in rural health clinics, corporate clinics, children’s hospitals, and schools. The most common work site settings for NPs are:

Primary Care Settings

Nurse practitioners are primarily found in primary care settings, making up approximately two-thirds of the adult clinical nurse specialists employed in this group. In addition to primary care, they may see patients who have chronic diseases and work with specialists as part of a team. Primary care NP roles focus on patient care and often include direct patient interactions as well as management of chronic diseases such as diabetes or asthma.

Private Practice

Nurse practitioners are allowed to practice independently. In many states, NPs can open their own practices. NPs in independent practices are able to make their own clinical decisions, create their own work schedule, set their own rates of pay, and choose the care setting (community setting or clinic) where they would like to work. Nearly half of all career opportunities are found in private practice, which generally offers a greater level of independence and freedom from supervision than those that are hospital-based.

Summary of Steps

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

Becoming a Nurse Practitioner is a journey of dedication, education, and clinical expertise. These advanced practice nurses play a pivotal role in healthcare, providing comprehensive care to patients across the lifespan. If you aspire to become a Nurse Practitioner, you’re embarking on a fulfilling and challenging path that starts with the fundamentals of nursing. This section outlines the essential steps to guide you through this rewarding career.


Earn a BSN Degree

Begin your journey by earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, the foundational step towards becoming a Nurse Practitioner.


Become a Registered Nurse (RN)

After completing your BSN, become a Registered Nurse (RN) by passing the NCLEX-RN exam, gaining essential clinical skills.


Gain Nursing Experience

Accumulate valuable nursing experience to build a strong foundation for advanced practice nursing roles.


Identify a Population Focus

Choose a patient population or specialty area that aligns with your interests and career goals.


Obtain a Graduate Nursing Degree

Pursue a graduate nursing degree, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).


Pass a National NP Certification Exam

Achieve certification by successfully passing a national Nurse Practitioner certification exam, solidifying your expertise in your chosen specialty.

Steps in Detail

1. Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing

Your journey begins with a solid academic foundation. Enroll in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program at an accredited institution. This comprehensive program typically takes four years to complete and covers subjects like anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and nursing theory. You’ll also gain hands-on clinical experience in various healthcare settings. The BSN equips you with a strong understanding of nursing fundamentals and critical thinking skills. It’s essential to excel in this phase as it lays the groundwork for your future advanced practice.

2. Become a Registered Nurse (RN)

With your BSN in hand, the next step is to become a Registered Nurse (RN). To do this, you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). This rigorous exam tests your nursing knowledge and skills, ensuring you meet the standards required to practice as an entry-level RN. After successfully passing the NCLEX-RN, you’ll earn your RN license, allowing you to begin your nursing career.

3. Gain Nursing Experience

As a newly minted RN, you’ll enter the workforce to gain valuable clinical experience. This phase is crucial in developing your skills, confidence, and understanding of patient care. Many aspiring Nurse Practitioners work in hospital settings, clinics, or community healthcare facilities, providing direct patient care, administering medications, and collaborating with healthcare teams. Building this experience strengthens your foundation and prepares you for the advanced responsibilities of a Nurse Practitioner.

4. Identify a Population Focus

Identifying a population focus is a pivotal step on your journey to becoming a Nurse Practitioner (NP). This decision shapes your future practice and allows your education to align precisely with the patients you’ll serve. NP students make this determination when entering their NP program, ensuring that their education caters to the unique needs of their chosen patient population.

This early commitment directs the trajectory of your academic and clinical studies, enabling you to delve deeply into the specific healthcare challenges and nuances of your selected patient group. For instance, if you opt for the role of a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), your education will revolve around offering a wide spectrum of healthcare services to patients of all ages, from infants to seniors.

While core courses in areas such as pathology, pharmacology, and physical assessment are integral to all NP programs, this population-focused approach ensures that your educational investment is entirely concentrated on the clinical area where you’ll ultimately practice. It’s a strategic decision that not only sharpens your expertise but also enhances your ability to provide specialized, patient-centered care.

Population foci in NP programs are diverse, catering to various patient needs:

5. Obtain a Graduate Nursing Degree (MSN or DNP)

To practice as a Nurse Practitioner, you’ll need to pursue an advanced nursing degree. Most NPs opt for either a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. MSN programs typically take two to three years to complete, while DNPs can take an additional year or more. These programs build on your nursing knowledge, enhancing your clinical and leadership skills. You’ll study advanced pathophysiology, pharmacology, and health assessment, among other subjects. Additionally, you’ll gain hands-on clinical experience in your chosen specialty.

6. Pass a National NP Certification Exam

After earning your graduate degree, you must become certified in your chosen Nurse Practitioner specialty. To achieve this, you’ll need to pass a national certification exam administered by organizations like the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB). This exam evaluates your clinical knowledge and competence in your specialty area. Successfully passing the certification exam solidifies your status as a Nurse Practitioner and demonstrates your expertise to employers and patients.

29 K+
Job Openings Per Year
38 %
Job Growth
$ 124680
Mean Annual Wage

Nurse Practitioner Salary

Nurse practitioners earn a competitive base salary with the potential to earn significantly more with increased education and experience. According to the 2019 AANP National Nurse Practitioner Sample Survey, the average hourly rate for all NPs, regardless of the number of hours worked, was $60.94. The median total annual income for a full-time NP, excluding benefit packages, was $115,000. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers employed in a profession earned more than the stated amount and half earned less.

In addition to base compensation, a significant number of NPs (33.7%) reported receiving a bonus or incentive payment based on factors such as quality outcomes, number of patient encounters, practice revenue, and patient satisfaction.

Nurse Practitioner Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall employment of nurse practitioners is projected to grow at an astounding rate of 38% through the year 2032, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. Strong demand for people in this profession is attributed to increased demand for healthcare services for an aging population and an increased focus on preventative care within the healthcare industry.

Other important factors contributing to the growth of this profession include:

A Shortage of Primary Care Doctors

Nationwide shortages, especially in rural areas, have led to increased demand for experienced, skilled, and highly educated nurses to assume the tasks typically delegated to a medical doctor. Nurse practitioners have the ability to assess the patient holistically, implement treatment plans and prescribe medications without the red tape and paperwork that comes with doctor visits. For some rural areas, NPs are essential to the health and well-being of the community. In places where doctors are scarce, they can serve as the only medical coverage for miles.

Nurse Practitioner Quality & Cost Effectiveness

Decades of research on the cost-effectiveness of nurse practitioner care demonstrates extensive and consistent evidence that NPs deliver healthcare services that are equal or better quality at a lower cost than services administered by comparable providers. This proven track record suggests that NPs should be utilized more frequently, across various population groups and settings.

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