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Becoming a nurse practitioner — What you need to know

March 24, 2020

Becoming a Nurse Practitioner - what you need to Know

Health care professionals, or those interested in pursuing a career in health care, may have questions about the career choice and how to take advantage of this need while simultaneously satisfying a professional desire to provide care for others.

What is a nurse practitioner? 

Nurse practitioners (NP) are advanced practice registered nurses who are licensed clinicians who serve as both primary and specialty care providers. With their ability to manage care of patients across a variety of lifespans, NPs assess patients, determine treatments to provide to improve or manage overall health, and use advanced assessment and diagnostic skills and tools to develop treatment plans and integrate health promotion strategies. Some nurse practitioners have expertise in psychiatric and mental health or specific populations such as pediatric or adult and gerontology.   

Difference between NP, DNP and APRN?

APRN stands for advanced practice registered nurse. Nurse Practitioner (NP) is a career or job title of a nurse that is an APRN.

The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is a graduate degree in nursing that NPs often complete. DNP programs are designed for those interested in working in direct patient care or leading teams in a clinical setting. Completing a Ph.D. program is more research-focused than clinical.



Nurse practitioner careers projected for major growth to meet demand

According to the United States Human Resources and Services Administration, the health care workforce included 57,330 primary care nurse practitioners in 2013. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported there were 189,100 nurse practitioners in 2018 and the career path is projected to grow to 242,400 by 2028 — a difference of 53,300 or a growth of 28 percent. For comparison, the average rate of growth for all occupations in the nation is 5 percent. On average, nearly 17,000 openings for NPs are projected to be available per year through the decade.

The BLS attributes the evolution and potential growth of the career to the increased importance of preventative care and the need for health care services from an aging population, particularly the baby boomer generation.

What does a nurse practitioner do?

A nurse practitioner can perform many of the same duties and services as physicians and are needed for employment in physicians’ offices, clinics, hospitals, and other health care settings. An NP’s responsibilities typically include taking patient’s medical histories; assessing their current health status; diagnosing any issues; developing a personalized care strategy; coordinating care with other health professionals; treating acute, chronic, or behavioral conditions through procedures or medication as necessary; and educating patients about preventative health or how to best manage ongoing issues. In some states, NPs even have full practice authority, meaning they are able to prescribe medicine and practice completely independent of a physician. 

Specialties include: 

  • Acute Care NP
  • Adult NP
  • Adult-gerontology acute care NP
  • Adult gerontology primary care NP
  • Adult Psychiatric-mental Health NP
  • Family NP
  • Gerontological NP
  • Pediatric Primary Care NP
  • Psychiatric-Mental Health NP
  • School NP

While registered nurses (RNs) primarily provide support services, monitoring patients’ health and administering medications under the supervision of a physician, NPs have the advanced training to:

  • develop patient care plans
  • supervise medical staff
  • treat certain illnesses and injuries on their own

*Important to note that an NP’s practice authority and their ability to practice independently of a physician, varies by state.

How do I become a nurse practitioner?

Nurse practitioner requirements include earning a master’s degree from an accredited program with classroom education and clinical experiences. Identifying and selecting accredited programs is important when considering advanced degrees in health care. Advanced health assessment, pathophysiology, and pharmacology expertise are learned during these nursing programs. Educational requirements for becoming a nurse practitioner include passing national certification programs like the American Association of Nurse Practitioners Certification Program (AANPCP) and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

Important skills for an NP include being able to communicate well with patients and other health care colleagues, critical thinking, attention to detail, leadership, and resourcefulness.

On-campus or online degree nurse practitioner program - what’s right for me?

Universities often offer bridge programs for registered nurses (RNs) to obtain a graduate degree. Examples of advanced nursing program offerings often look like this:

  • BSN to DNP.  This educational path is for RNs who have earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and want to pursue their advanced nursing degree (DNP) without first completing a master's nursing (MSN) program. A full-time BSN to DNP program typically takes three to four years to complete, while a part-time program may take anywhere from four to six years.
  • MSN to DNP.  This is the most common path to a complete DNP program. Those RNs who already hold a Master of Science in Nursing but would like to complete their doctorate. A post-master’s DNP program generally takes one to two years of full-time study to complete, or two to three years of part-time study.
  • RN to DNP. This degree path is for RNs with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) who want to pursue their DNP without first completing a separate BSN or MSN program. This RN to DNP programs are not common. Full-time students can expect to complete the program in four years of study, while part-time options may take as many as six years.

    Read more about the essentials of DNP education for advanced nursing practice.  

How much pay can a nurse practitioner earn?

The median annual wage for NPs has grown to $107,030, up from $95,070 in 2013.

New York, California, Texas, Florida, and Ohio had the highest employment levels for nurse practitioners in the country in 2018.

  • The hourly mean average wages in those states range from $48.61 to $64.32.
  • The annual mean average in wages in those states ranges from $101,100 to $133,780.

Location, location, location

NPs in various states of the country can have differing levels of authority that are dependent upon the laws in their areas.

There are currently three levels of authority, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners; however, it’s important to note that as the profession has become more widely recognized by the public as a primary health care source, many states have started changing laws to allow NPs to perform more services.

  • Full practice states — Allow NPs to evaluate patients, perform diagnoses, order and interpret diagnostic tests, prescribe treatment options, and prescribe medications and controlled substances. States will fully practice laws including:
    • Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington, Washington D.C., and Wyoming
  • Reduced practice states — Reduce the ability of NPs to practice at least one of the duties listed above. These states can require career-long agreements with another health provider in order for NPs to practice and/or impose limits on the practice. These states include:
    • Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah, Wisconsin, and West Virginia
  • Restricted practice states — Restrict the ability of NPs to practice in at least one element. The law in these states requires career-long supervision, delegation, or management by another health care provider to allow an NP to provide care. These states include:
    • California, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia

Explore the value of furthering your education in health care and nursing: 

Article: Going beyond an associate healthcare degree
Article: Career advancement through online RN to BSN
Article: Why get a bachelor's degree in healthcare? 
Article: Five jobs available now for allied health professionals