What Is A Nurse Practitioner?

By Victoria Simpson on April 30 2020 in Science

Nurse practitioners can have areas of expertise, just like doctors. Photo by CDC on Unsplash
Nurse practitioners can have areas of expertise, just like doctors. Photo by CDC on Unsplash
  • Nurse practitioners are trained to do many of the things doctors do.
  • Nurse practitioners are growing in demand in the US with an aging population.
  • You need a higher level of education to be a nurse practitioner than to be a registered nurse.

Nursing can seem like an alluring career. If you enjoy helping people, as well as taking care of their physical and mental health, it may be something you are drawn to. 

Essentially, a nurse practitioner is a medical worker who is trained and able to do some of the work a doctor normally does. According to Merriam-Webster.com, a nurse practitioner is: 

“a registered nurse who is qualified through advanced training to assume some of the duties and responsibilities formerly assumed only by a physician.”

What is the difference between a registered nurse and a nurse practitioner? Both jobs often require you to care for patients in either a hospital or a clinic setting, but each role requires a different level of training and entails fulfilling different jobs and responsibilities. 


In order to be a nurse practitioner in the US, you need to obtain, at a minimum, a master’s of science in nursing (MSN) degree. Becoming a registered nurse also requires that you study at a post-secondary level, but not as much. You need an associate’s or bachelor’s degree for this career.  

In the US, nurse practitioners need to pass a certification exam and they need to re-certify themselves every five years, something that is not required for registered nurses. (To become a registered nurse, you must pass a licensing exam, but this happens just once, and re-licensing is not needed). 

According to Jacksonville University's website, if you are a nurse practitioner in the US, you must also take continuing education courses in order to re-certify yourself. You must also complete a certain number of hours of clinical practice every five years. The requirements you must meet can be different depending on which state you are working in. 


Nurse practitioners can perform physical examinations, diagnose health problems, and order medical tests to be done. Photo by Luke Jones on Unsplash 

As stated above, nurse practitioners perform some of the same duties as doctors do, and in this way, their responsibilities can be different from those of registered nurses. Nurse practitioners often work in health clinics and private practices. As a nurse practitioner, you may have a certain specialty, such as being a pediatric nurse, a neonatal nurse, or a psychiatric nurse practitioner. 

Nurse practitioners can perform physical examinations, diagnose health problems, order medical tests to be done, create health plans for patients to follow, record a patient’s medical history and honor many other responsibilities under their job title. 

Benefits and Drawbacks

One of the benefits of being a nurse practitioner is that you may hold more responsibility for patient health outcomes than other types of nursing. You can be very involved with patient care and in making decisions that affect people’s health through their daily, as well as longterm, lives. 

Some of the drawbacks to this career can include long working hours, and the potential for becoming emotionally and mentally drained because of them. For the right person, however, being a nurse practitioner can be a very rewarding path to take. 


Nurse practitioners can earn an average annual salary of about $110,030 in the US. This is according to information listed in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Handbook.

An aging population in the US is driving the need for nurse practitioners higher, along with a decreasing number of primary care physicians in the country. If you enjoy working with the public face-to-face and are interested in science, the human body, and medical matters, being a nurse practitioner could be for you. It can be a highly demanding job, and good communication skills, as well as organizational skills, are a must. 

Talk with a nurse practitioner and seek out volunteer time in a medical setting to see if the role is a good fit for your skills and personality.

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