A nurse practitioner (NP) is an advanced practice registered nurse who uses his or her graduate-level education to serve as primary and acute healthcare providers. NPs are highly trained clinicians that blend medical expertise in diagnosing and treating health conditions with a focus on health promotion for public health. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) reports that citizens in the United States make more than 916 million visits to NPs annually, which is essential with our nation’s critical physician shortage. Many NPs work under a physician, but they may also be sole healthcare providers in their own private practices or underserved and rural centers. Nurse practitioners tend to specialize in a certain area, such as family care, pediatrics, women’s health, geriatrics, neonatal, or acute care.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 122,050 nurse practitioners providing care across the United States make an average annual salary of $97,990, or a mean hourly wage of $47.11. Nurse practitioners who work in physician offices earn around average at $96,570, but the highest paid NPs work in specialty hospitals with an average of $114,410 annually.

Beginning Salary

When just advancing from RN into the role of nurse practitioner, individuals can expect to land in the bottom tenth percentile of earnings with a yearly salary around $68,830. However, it’s important to note that certified NPs with years of experience in their specialty can eventually bring home upwards of $131,050 every year.

Key Responsibilities

Nurse practitioners have the responsibility of providing preventive and acute medical services to individuals across the lifespan to promote well-being. NPs will take patients’ health histories, perform physical examinations, interpret laboratory test results, diagnose the medical condition, implement a treatment plan, prescribe medication or therapy, and refer patients to other needed healthcare. NPs also play an important role in educating and counseling patients on the right lifestyle choices for preventing further medical problems. Nurse practitioners may consult with doctors if needed, but 26 states allow NPs to work independently in managing patient health.

Necessary Skills

In order to be successful, nurse practitioners must be skilled communicators with interpersonal skills to provide care to patients and educate their families. NPs have seniority in many practice settings, so leadership skills are essential to effectively manage other nursing staff. NPs should be detail-oriented with good organization skills to maintain meticulous patient records and quickly notice any changes in a patient’s condition. Critical thinking abilities are important for NPs to determine an appropriate treatment course that will resolve a patient’s discomfort. Last but certainly not least, nurse practitioners must be caring and compassionate in treating patients who are experiencing pain and/or emotional distress from their illness.

Degree and Education Requirements

Before you can jump into being an NP, you’ll first need to become licensed as a registered nurse by completing your undergraduate education. While it’s still acceptable to become an RN with an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN), it’s best to go right for the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree at a four-year university. From there, you’ll need to attend graduate school to obtain the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. Make certain that the nurse practitioner program is accredited by the CCNE or ACEN for excellence. If you’re already registered, consider an RN-to-MSN program either online or on-campus. Earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is smart for nurse practitioners to obtain the most advanced preparation in nursing and more independence.

Pros and Cons of the Position

Many nurses dream of practicing as an NP, but the profession comes with some notable rewards and challenges. On the positive side, NPs have the freedom to choose from many healthcare settings and specialize their skills in treating certain patients. Nurse practitioners earn a significantly higher salary than registered nurses and are in more demand. NPs have the privilege of both making a difference in the lives of patients and mentoring other beginning nurses. NPs also have more scheduling flexibility and are more likely to work a traditional 40-hour week. On the negative side, NPs can face bias in the healthcare field because some people question their medical training. Due to the profession’s popularity, NPs can have difficulty gaining grad school admissions and landing their first job. Some nurse practitioners also must remain on-call to address any unforeseen emergencies at any time.

Getting Started

After obtaining an undergraduate degree, nurses must become licensed to practice in their state by passing the NCLEX-RN examination with flying colors. RNs can then start building their resume with healthcare experience. It’s advised that you experiment in various nursing specialties to find your true calling before attending graduate school. You’ll then be able to choose an MSN program that suits your NP specialization perfectly. Take any opportunity while earning your degree to build more clinical practicum experience and receive mentoring from certified NPs. Most professional organizations recommend that NPs obtain additional credentials with their licensure for their specific specialty area. Through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), nurse practitioners can become certified in virtually anything from adult/gerontology acute care to psychiatric mental health or school nursing. Certification will require passing a 200-question test, paying a testing fee, and renewing every five years.

Future Outlook

As the shortage of physicians grows more dire, it’s expected that the demand for nurse practitioners will grow quickly to pick up the slack. Add in a large baby boomer population, increased access to health insurance coverage, and our nation’s increased focus on preventive care to create a thriving job outlook. According to the BLS, the employment of NPs is expected to skyrocket rapidly by 31 percent, thus creating around 37,100 new jobs before 2022. Nurse practitioners will be especially in need in inner cities and rural areas. NPs can find favorable job prospects in various settings, including physician offices, hospitals, outpatient care centers, private practices, universities, schools, clinics, rehabilitation facilities, home health services, and diagnostic laboratories.

Overall, nurse practitioners work in advanced practice nursing to coordinate patient care for overcoming acute and chronic health conditions. Although the stress level can be high, NPs have been recognized by the U.S. News and World Report for having the #2 best job in America for 2015 with rapid job growth and a high salary. If you choose to become a nurse practitioner, you’ll have the rewarding opportunity to gain independence in providing holistic care to patients in need.

Another great resource:

FAQ About Nursing Degrees and Careers