Nurse Practitioner: What Is an NP and How to Become One

Nurse Practitioners (NPs) have advanced-level training that gives them the authority to work within an expanded scope compared to registered nurses (RNs). Careers

Updated   Published

Becoming a nurse practitioner (NP) will expand nurses' range of clinical skills and offer an increased salary and career outlook.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 100,000 NPs are needed between 2021 and 2031, far exceeding the expected growth for most jobs. 

While an excellent salary and career outlook are essential, it's important to understand the details of this advanced nursing role before determining if it's right for you.

What Is a Nurse Practitioner?

NPs are advanced practice nurses with either a master's or doctoral degree, with the additional requirement of passing a national certification exam. Through their education, they receive advanced-level training that gives them the authority to work within an expanded scope compared to registered nurses (RNs).

This includes primary and specialized care for patients in which they demonstrate the following skills and responsibilities:

  • Performing assessments and health histories
  • Coordinating care to assist with the admission and discharge of patients
  • Ordering laboratory assessments, diagnostic testing, and other treatments
  • Providing holistic primary and secondary care to treat acute and chronic conditions
  • Utilizing patient care and healthcare technologies 
  • Staying current with emerging technologies and treatments

Nurse Practitioner Specialties

NPs can specialize in various care settings, though they may require additional training or certifications in addition to NP school. Some schools focus on a specialty, providing students with the education needed to work in a specific medical niche.  

Some of the most common NP specialties you can choose are below. 

Family Nurse Practitioners (FNP)

FNPs provide primary care to patients. They assess, diagnose, and treat acute and chronic illnesses with medications, procedures, and other specialized treatments. They also offer preventative care and educate and counsel patients to live healthy lifestyles. 

Becoming an FNP requires attendance in an FNP program, requiring rigorous training in family medical care and an advanced nursing curriculum. After graduation and passing the state exam, FNPs can work in medical offices, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities. 

Neonatal Nurse Practitioners

These specialized NPs care for neonates or infants between birth and four weeks. They often work in neonatal intensive care units or other specialty nurseries. In addition, Neonatal NPs provide skilled care to moderately and critically ill infants. These patients may be born prematurely, at high risk, or with an underlying condition. 

Pediatric Nurse Practitioners

NPs in this specialty provide care to patients under the age of 18. They work in emergency departments, hospitals, and primary care offices. They see patients with acute and chronic illnesses and provide preventative care like assessments and immunizations. 

Pediatric NPs also educate and support their patient's parents and guardians and teach about normal human growth and development and how to assess milestone achievement. Finally, they must be aware of various conditions that commonly occur throughout childhood and how to manage each independently or by collaborating with other specialty care providers.

Related: 10 Best Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Programs in 2023

Geriatric Nurse Practitioners

Geriatrics is the care of older adults. These NPs provide primary care to seniors in primary care practices, home care agencies, and senior care facilities like long-term care and assisted living. 

They diagnose acute and chronic illnesses, educate on self-care strategies, and provide holistic treatment plans. In addition, geriatric NPs help older adults make decisions about their aged years and end-of-life care as needed. They must be able to support aging patients to maintain dignity and independence while also advocating for needed care in various care settings.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners

Advanced practice nurses treating patients with mental illnesses are known as psychiatric NPs. Some states allow these providers to diagnose and prescribe medications for mental conditions and substance abuse problems. Other states may limit the scope of practice. Psychiatric NPs work in community health settings, hospitals, and private practices. 

Emergency Nurse Practitioners

The primary setting of emergency NPs is the emergency department or urgent care centers. These clinicians treat patients of all ages for acute and emergent care needs. They diagnose, prescribe, and administer treatments of various kinds.

They may work in both rural and metropolitan healthcare systems. These professionals must remain current on the most recent medical and technological advancements to provide holistic care to patients. 

Women's Health Nurse Practitioners

Some NPs specialize in women's health. These NPs provide gynecologic, reproductive, and sexual health care. In addition, they diagnose and treat disorders of the female reproductive system and may work in private practice, community health centers, or hospitals. 

Women's health NPs can work with patients in different stages of life. For example, they may care for women during and after pregnancy or those experiencing perimenopause and after menopause. 

Related: 10 Best DNP Programs in 2023

Cardiology Nurse Practitioner

Cardiology NPs specialize in cardiac care and treat patients with various heart conditions. They provide ongoing care to those with heart disease and for patients before and after simple and extensive cardiac surgeries. They work in private care settings and hospitals. 

Oncology Nurse Practitioners

Oncology NPs specialize in the care of patients living with cancer. They assess, diagnose, and treat various types of cancer and must stay current on cutting-edge technologies and treatment modalities. These advanced practice nurses may work in hospitals, oncology centers, and private practices. 

Occupational Nurse Practitioners

Occupational health is the care of patients in or around employment locations. NPs specializing in occupational health help employers identify and resolve workplace hazards and provide standard care to employees. 

They may work with injured workers or provide education on preventative measures to remain safe and healthy at work. In addition, they may work in onsite health clinics, community-based clinics, or hospitals and must stay current on occupational health strategies. 

Orthopedic Nurse Practitioners

Orthopedic NPs specialize in treating disorders and injuries of the musculoskeletal system. They treat conditions of the bones, joints, muscles, and other structures. 

They often see patients with injuries and attempt to rehabilitate their joint or muscle injuries before prescribing surgery. However, if the condition requires surgical intervention, they work with the patient before and after the procedure to minimize deterioration and then rehabilitate the joint after surgery. 

Benefits of Being a Nurse Practitioner

There are many benefits to pursuing a career as an NP. A few of the most significant benefits include: 

  • Autonomy: NPs are provided a more significant level of independence compared to standard nurses. They practice independently or with the oversight of a medical physician while providing acute and chronic medical care. 
  • Flexibility: NPs are needed in many care settings, so you can find a schedule that fits your life. They can work eight, 10, or 12-hour shifts. They work in offices, hospitals, community health settings, or remotely, providing much flexibility.
  • Pay: The average NP in the U.S. makes almost $124,000 yearly or just under $60 per hour.
  • Meaningful work: NPs care for patients in a new way compared to nurses. They work to connect with their patients to provide holistic and compassionate care. Many NPs find the job fulfilling and exciting.

Becoming a Nurse Practitioner

Becoming an NP first requires students to earn a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree and to pass the NCLEX-RN state exam. Most graduate nursing programs require applicants to show proof of one to two years of experience working as an RN to qualify for admittance. 

Once the above qualifications are met, future NPs can apply to a master's or doctoral school to obtain their training. Many programs offer hybrid learning environments, which means much of the program can be completed online. However, a specific number of hours in a healthcare facility providing patient care is required, working under the guidance of an NP or physician to gain clinical experience and knowledge.

After graduation, students must pass the national board certification examination in their specialty. This test is specific to states and assesses knowledge of the expanded scope of practice and clinical competencies of NPs. Once fully licensed, a role in an NP specialty can be obtained.

This article was fact-checked and reviewed by Melissa Mills, BSN.


Praveen has 4 years experience as a MSN, RN and specializes in Public Health.

7 Articles   16 Posts