Are you looking for a career with a better-than-average job outlook, the flexibility to work where you want, the opportunity to specialize, and the satisfaction that you're helping people every day? If so, you should be asking: What is a nurse practitioner?

A nurse practitioner is one of the fastest growing careers in the medical field — and with good reason. According to a national doctor recruiting firm, primary doctors are the number one priority for medical facilities, but nurse practitioners come in a close second.

With all that focus, it seems every medical student ought to ask: What is a nurse practitioner?

What Is a Nurse Practitioner?

The role of nurse practitioner originated in 1965, and it has grown steadily since then. Nurse practitioners are a hybrid between nurses and doctors and focus on preventing and treating illnesses in patients.

These specialized nurses are autonomous clinicians that can specialize in things like women’s health, pediatric, and adult-gerontological care. Some nurse practitioners choose to sub-specialize in areas such as oncology, cardiovascular health, and dermatology.

Nurse practitioners fall under the Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) consensus model, which dictates a student’s preparation, education, licensure, and certifications required to become a nurse practitioner.

Nurse Practitioner Quality Of Care

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When wondering what is a nurse practitioner, you may want to know whether patients can get as good of care from them as a doctor. And the answer is a resounding yes.

In the 50 years since nurse practitioners came into being, researchers have looked at the quality of care provided by nurse practitioners in contrast to the care provided by doctors.

They found that patients treated by nurse practitioners feel a great sense of satisfaction, have fewer readmissions to the hospital for unnecessary things, and have fewer unnecessary hospitalizations.

Let’s move on and learn about this exciting role.

What Does A Nurse Practitioner Do?

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Initially, nurse practitioners acted as an extension of a doctor, but over the years, their roles changed.

So, what is a nurse practitioner?

Here are a few of the tasks you will do on the job when acting as a nurse practitioner:

  • Interview patients and collect their medical history, symptoms, and diagnoses from other medical professionals
  • Order and conduct diagnostic tests such as electrocardiograms (EKGs) and x-rays
  • Diagnose patients with injuries, illnesses, and infections and then treat them
  • Write prescriptions for medications and instruct the patient how to take it
  • Inform patients of potential side effects of medications and interactions with other drugs
  • Help patients implement treatment plans and lifestyle changes to achieve better health

A large part of a nurse practitioner's role is to focus on preventative care and holistic treatments.

One of the reasons for the high rate of satisfaction patients have when dealing with nurse practitioners is that they offer personalized treatment and typically spend more time with patients to get at the root cause of symptoms.

Nurse Practitioners Vs. Doctors

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When asking, "What is a nurse practitioner?" it’s easy to become confused because nurse practitioners can perform so many of the same tasks that doctors do.

That’s why we want to break down the difference between doctors and nurse practitioners.

A doctor gets their license from the Medical Doctor’s Board, and they can not only diagnose and treat patients for any condition but can also prescribe medication for any of those ailments.

They go to school for many years, and even though they refer some patients to a specialist, have at least some knowledge of most specialties.

A nurse practitioner, on the other hand, is licensed as an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse by the Nursing Board.

They can work as a generalist or more often, a specialist in their chosen field. They don’t go to school for as many years as doctors, but they attend two years more than Registered Nurses (RNs)

States treat nurse practitioners differently.

For example, 16 states allow them to work alone, without the supervision of a doctor. But nurse practitioners are actively lobbying 34 states to lift the requirement that they have to work under a doctor’s supervision.

And because our nation is currently experiencing a shortage of doctors, many states are loosening the requirements.

Character Traits Of A Good Nurse Practitioner

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When asking, "What is a nurse practitioner?" it’s important to think beyond the job description.

To become a great nurse practitioner, you should have the proper education, along with the following traits:

  • Compassion to deal with sick and frustrated patients
  • Leadership skills to direct nurses and other staff
  • Analytical skills to get to the bottom of patient complaints and give a diagnosis
  • Self-confidence in your abilities
  • Communication skills to communicate your findings and recommendations to patients
  • Problem-solving skills for those difficult-to-diagnose illnesses
  • Decision-making skills to decide on a course of treatment
  • Some knowledge of math and science

Are you ready to move on and learn more?

Let’s get into the specifics.

How To Become A Nurse Practitioner


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Depending on where you start, becoming a nurse practitioner typically takes from three to seven years. Here is a breakdown of the steps you need to reach to become one.

Graduate from high school

You need a high school diploma before you can take the next step in the process. If you’re still in school, take as many math and science classes as you can to prepare yourself for the next steps.

Get your BSN

Your next step in the process is to earn a Bachelor of Science (BSN) in nursing degree.

This degree will take four years to complete, and you will learn about patient assessment, anatomy and physiology, the basics of pharmacology and pathophysiology, and how nurses attend to patients through all the life stages.

You will also get to participate in supervised clinical rotations in some medical specialties.

Become an RN

Next, you must pass a state license test before you officially become a Registered Nurse (RN).

The test is called the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN), which is administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. The process of taking this test lasts a couple of months.

Keep in mind that depending on which state you live in, you may have to adhere to other licensing requirements

Decide on your specialty

Before taking the next step, you should choose your specialty.

Here’s why:

Many graduate programs require that you have a year or two of clinical experience as an RN, and if you choose your specialty before stating, you can arrange to get that experience beforehand.

Get a master’s degree in nursing

Now it’s time to get your master’s degree, which will give you the training you need to work in your chosen specialty. You have a few options for this next step.

If you already have a master’s degree in a different nursing background, you can choose to do a post-master’s graduate certificate program to become a nurse practitioner. Depending on which specialty you choose, this will take five months to one year to complete.

If you’re going from an RN to a master’s degree, it will take one to three years to complete, depending on which school you go to and which specialty you choose.

If you don’t have a BSN in nursing, you can enroll in a BSN to master’s degree fast-track program. These specialized programs build upon our existing education. When taking it, you will undergo one year of intensive coursework and clinical experience in nursing. At the end of the year, you will have a BSN.

Next, you will transfer to the master’s degree nurse practitioner specialty program, and that will take one to three years to complete.

Get your certification

Once you have a practitioner’s master degree, you can take the practitioner exam for your specialty.

Before you sit for the exam, you will need a certain number of practicing hours in your specialty. How many hours you need varies depending on which specialty you chose, but it’s typically between 750 and 1,400 hours.

Depending on what kind of shifts you work, that could take you anywhere from six months to a year to accomplish.

Advance your career

People who are asking, what is a nurse practitioner, don’t realize that once a nurse reaches this level, they have even more career advancement opportunities.

For example, they can move into an administrative role, a teaching position, a management position, or nurses who have a doctoral degree can move into a research role.

What Is The Salary And Job Outlook For Nurse Practitioners?


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When learning what is a nurse practitioner, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover that it is one of the fastest growing healthcare professions.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the demand for nurse practitioners will rise 31 percent by 2026. That means 64,200 more nurse practitioners will work in the industry in just a few short years. That’s faster than the average growth rate for a profession.

The median pay for 2017 was $110,930 a year, or $53.33 an hour.

What Is A Nurse Practitioner: Are You Ready To Start Your New Career?

When seeking out a new career, most people look at the rate of pay, job satisfaction, an ability to do what they love, and an opportunity to advance. Nurse practitioners have all of these benefits and more.

If you’re already an RN, you could advance your career with just one more level of training, and if you haven’t started yet, you’re only a few years away from becoming a nurse practitioner. So what are you waiting for?

Have you already started the journey of becoming a nurse practitioner? Or maybe you already work in the field and want to chime in. Either way, we’d love to hear your comments in below!