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A cute seven year old girl is at a check-up appointment with her healthcare provider. She is sitting on the examination table with her mother. She is looking at her male nurse practitioner and smiling while her mother is seated next to her.

What is a Nurse Practitioner?

4 min readFebruary, 09 2024

A nurse practitioner (NP) is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) with advanced clinical training who provides direct patient care. NPs work closely with physicians and other health providers in primary care and specialty settings. They offer a range of services, such as ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests, treating acute and chronic conditions, and prescribing medication.

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

The steps to becoming a nurse practitioner include graduate-level education and advanced clinical training. NPs begin their careers as registered nurses (RNs) before completing the additional nurse practitioner requirements.

As an NP, you can expand your clinical practice to include responsibilities such as diagnosing patients and creating treatment plans. In many states, you’ll also have prescriptive authority without requiring physician oversight.

Nurse Practitioner Education Requirements

Becoming a nurse practitioner takes six to eight years, including undergraduate and graduate-level training. Graduate programs typically take two to four years to complete, depending on the type of degree. In comparison, medical doctors (MDs) generally complete 10-14 years of education and advanced clinical training.

Prerequisites to Becoming an NP

The first step in the nurse practitioner path is to complete the education and training required to become a registered nurse (RN). While an associate degree can satisfy RN-level educational requirements, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is necessary for graduate school admission. Many colleges and universities offer programs specifically designed for RNs who need their BSNs to apply to become nurse practitioners.

Nurse Practitioner Degree Requirements

You can choose from two options when considering nurse practitioner schooling — a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). An MSN program usually takes two years to complete, and a DNP program is typically four years.

An MSN or DNP degree will qualify you to become a nurse practitioner, but NPs who have earned their doctorate tend to have better career opportunities. Many employers and state licensing boards now require a DNP degree.

Accreditation Requirements

After completing their MSN or DNP, nurse practitioners must secure national accreditation from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or another specialty certification board. This accreditation confirms that the NP has completed all necessary coursework and clinical training and they’re eligible for an APRN license to practice. Since each state issues licenses independently, aspiring NPs should consider where they intend to practice and ensure their training meets the licensure board’s requirements.

A female African American Adult-Geriatric Nurse Practitioner is seated with an elderly African American woman and going over a treatment plan, while a family member looks on.

What Are a Nurse Practitioner’s Responsibilities?

Nurse practitioners play a critical role in delivering health care services, particularly as the number of primary care doctors in the United States continues to decline. Nurse practitioners provide many of the same services as physicians, including diagnosis, treatment, and ongoing care. They can also prescribe medication, order tests, and perform medical procedures. An NP’s main focus is primary care, compared to an RN, who generally provides direct care for patients with immediate needs.

Do Nurse Practitioners Work Under a Doctor’s Supervision?

Nurse practitioners work closely with other health care team members to provide patient-focused care. Certain states require NPs to work directly with a licensed physician, but many states allow full practice authority.

Where Do Nurse Practitioners Work?

NPs practice in all U.S. states and various health care settings, including major teaching hospitals, independent facilities, clinics, physicians’ offices, acute care centers, and urgent care or walk-in clinics.

What Specialties Do Nurse Practitioners Cover?

Nurse practitioners specialize in various facets of health care. Typical NP specialties include:

Becoming a nurse practitioner offers a range of benefits. NPs typically have more responsibility and autonomy than RNs. The specialty also provides tremendous growth opportunities and job security. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for nurse practitioners continues to increase. For nurses looking to positively impact patients’ lives, a career as a nurse practitioner is a reliable and fulfilling choice.


Images sourced from Getty Images

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