What is a Nurse Practitioner?

What is a Nurse Practitioner? When looking at careers in nursing, a potential nurse may wonder what exactly a nurse practitioner does. Practitioner certification provides an opportunity for experienced nurses to have a greater impact on their patient’s lives, while providing expanded freedom and benefits in their own career path.


When looking at the definition of a nurse practitioner, it is important to first lay out the differences between nurse practitioners (NPs) and traditional registered nurses (RNs). An NP can perform all the same duties as an RN and is considered an advance registered practice nurse. Unlike an RN, though, an NP is able to do many of the same tasks as a doctor. In most states nurse practitioners can order, perform and interpret medical tests; provide education and counseling on health issues; diagnose medical disorders and diseases; and in some states they may even prescribe medications to patients. Depending on the specialty, NPs may also get to perform simple surgical procedures in their practices. With these extended abilities, nurse practitioners have the option to specialize in specific areas of medicine, such as psychiatry, wound care, midwifery, dermatology or pediatrics.

Insurance Benefits

An additional benefit of becoming a nurse practitioner is the ability to accept insurance and Medicare reimbursements for services offered. Generally, nurse practitioners are legally viewed as having the same rights as a doctor for reimbursements. However, in certain states a nurse practitioner may have to remain under a medical doctor’s jurisdiction.

Work Environment

Like physicians, nurse practitioners are found throughout various healthcare environments. Some may choose to start their own practices in their specialty. Other nurse practitioners work in hospitals, health care agencies, long- term care facilities, physician offices, group practices, community health centers and government health agencies.

Education and Certification

Nurse practitioners start on the same educational path as traditional registered nurses. All nurse practitioners hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing through an accredited nursing program. If making a switch from another career, several programs offer accelerated nursing degrees for those that already have a degree in a different field. After completing a nursing program and the necessary state tests for board certification, some choose to either spend a few years working as an RN, or continue on to graduate studies. To qualify as a nurse practitioner, candidates must complete either a Master’s Degree in Nursing or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (see: What is a Doctor of Nursing Practice). They must then pass additional exams for certification or licensing in the state in which they will practice. Depending on the specialty, some nurse practitioners may need to complete additional supervised clinical experience hours.


The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the median salary for nurse practitioners is $92,670 a year, with the top 10 percent making an average of $126,250, and the bottom 10 percent averaging $66,960. In comparison, the median salary for traditional registered nurses is $65,470 per year. Salary ranges vary depending on what city a nurse practices in, educational background, chosen specialty and years of experience.

Beyond a great salary and more freedom in a medical practice, nurse practitioners enjoy job security. The need for nurse practitioners continues to grow with healthcare changes and the aging population growth. So whether you are asking yourself about the field as a potential career change, or to take your nursing career to the next step, nurse practitioners are sure to have a bright future for years to come.