Nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses who provide care to patients throughout the lifespan, from premature newborns to the elderly.
They perform comprehensive and focused physical examinations; diagnose and treat common acute illnesses and injuries; provide immunizations; manage high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and other chronic health problems; order and interpret diagnostic tests such as X-rays and EKGs, as well as laboratory tests; prescribe medications and therapies; perform procedures; and educate and counsel patients and their families regarding healthy lifestyles and health care options.
Nurse practitioners can prescribe medications, including controlled substances, in all 50 states. In 26 states, nurse practitioners have authority to practice independently.
In addition to working in clinics, office practices, managed care organizations and hospitals, nurse practitioners deliver care in rural areas, urban community health centers, college campuses, worksite employee health centers and other locations. Nurse practitioners also work for healthcare technology companies (e.g., pharmaceutical manufacturers), perform health care research, teach in schools and universities and serve in governmental agencies (e.g., health departments, the military, etc.).
Approximately 15% of all nurse practitioners have their own private practices. There are also a number of nurse-managed health centers across the United States, in which all of the health care is directed and provided by nurse practitioners, along with other health care professionals.
A recent national survey details what nurse practitioners can expect to earn; however, the salaries, required duties and working conditions vary among the many different practice sites and patient populations.
Depending upon the type of practice, working schedules may be a conventional work week or may include weekends and holidays and/or being available on call after hours.
As the numbers of primary care physicians decrease and the demand for health care services increases, nurse practitioners are highly recruited.
About a Career as a Nurse Practitioner
About Health Care Careers
Note: The American Association of Colleges of Nursing has reviewed this profile.
Twenty Years Later: What I Know Now That I Wish I Had Known Then
Part 2: How to Attend College Without Going into Too Much Debt
Part 1: How to Attend College Without Going into Too Much Debt
Criminal Background Check? But, I’m Not A Criminal!
Part 1: Do’s and Don’ts When Applying to College
Part 1: Accreditation Matters
Interprofessional Health Care Education Means Better Patient Care
Applying for Financial Aid (Part II)
Are You Credit Ready and Credit Worthy?
Why Diversity Matters in the Health Professions
Start Preparing for Your Health Care Career in High School
Reconciliation Act of 2010 Includes Significant Student Aid Provisions
Healthcare Reform 101
Keep Past Mistakes from Limiting Your Future Health Care Career
Making a Major Decision
Three Things to Look for in a Pre-health Enrichment Program
Top 10 Reasons to Pursue a Health Career Now
Start Your Health Career While You’re Still in School
Nurse practitioners are registered nurses with graduate education in nursing. Most nurse practitioners have a master’s degree, which requires at least two years of full-time study beyond the bachelor’s degree in nursing. They specialize in pediatrics, adult and gerontology, family and women’s primary care, occupational health, psychiatric/mental health and acute care. Sub-specialty preparation, such as oncology, is also available.
Nurse practitioners need to be critical thinkers: they must obtain relevant information about a person’s health status from a wide variety of sources (the patient’s verbal communication, clinical examination and diagnostic tests) and use that data to independently make evidence-based decisions about when, why and how to address health care needs. They also need to be able to cope well with stress, since their work includes direct involvement with human suffering, emergencies and other pressures.
If you are considering going into this field, you should know that there is a growing national movement to require all nurse practitioners to earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice (D.N.P.) degree. This degree is called a practice doctorate and is similar to the academic credentials earned by dentists (D.D.S.), physicians (M.D./D.O.), clinical psychologists (Psy.D. or Ph.D.), clinical pharmacists (Pharm.D.) and other health care providers. D.N.P. programs require three to four years of study beyond a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
Nurse practitioner educational programs include graduate courses in health sciences (e.g., pathophysiology, pharmacology, epidemiology) and courses in the diagnosis and clinical management of health and illness. Students also complete several semesters of supervised clinical practice to demonstrate competency in providing health care. Graduates from these programs are eligible to sit for national board examinations to become certified.
The cost of earning a graduate degree can be high, but funding resources are available. In addition to grants for graduate nursing education, there are federal government education loan repayment programs for NPs who practice following graduation or become faculty members in an accredited nursing program. Also, as a benefit, many hospitals offer their nurse employees tuition reimbursement for pursuing advanced nursing degrees. Additional information about possible sources of educational funding may be found on this website, as well as at the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.
Search for funding opportunities related to this career
Search for enrichment programs related to this career
Search for academic degree and certificate programs related to this career
Last updated: October 17, 2016
©2012 American Dental Education Association