A Day in the Life of a Nurse Practitioner

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A nurse practitioner uses a stethoscope to listen to a patient’s heart.

Nurse practitioners play a valuable role in helping health care facilities provide high-quality patient care. These professionals are projected to be in high demand for the next several years. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 45% increase in the employment of nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and nurse anesthetists between 2020 and 2030 — including a 52% increase for nurse practitioners alone — substantially greater than the 8% projected increase for all occupations. Additionally, the BLS reports the median annual salary for nurse practitioners was $120,680 in 2021, which makes it one of the higher-paying jobs in health care.

While these projections indicate a robust job market for nursing professionals with an advanced level of education, such as a Master of Science in Nursing or a post-master’s certificate, they don’t provide insight into what a day in the life of a nurse practitioner looks like.

The Fundamental Goals and Skills of a Nurse Practitioner

What is a nurse practitioner, and what do they do? Nurse practitioners (NPs) coordinate care with the potential to improve patient outcomes. There is no universal way to achieve this goal. For instance, NPs can work independently or in collaboration with physicians, depending on the state in which they practice. They can also pursue this goal through fostering nurse-patient relationships, conducting research, or teaching nursing staff about new care procedures or policies.

The variety of approaches to achieving high-quality patient care demands that NPs possess a specific skill set. Some of the skills relate to the position’s inherent practice of patient engagement, such as interpersonal communication and compassion. NPs must also have fundamental soft skills, such as critical thinking, resourcefulness, and the ability to pay attention to detail.

A Day in the Life of a Nurse Practitioner: What to Expect

No two days are alike for a nurse practitioner, but there are several basic duties that prospective NPs can anticipate recurring fairly regularly. For instance, nurse practitioners in most states commonly examine and observe patients, record patients’ medical histories, order and perform diagnostic tests, and create plans of care based on diagnostic analysis. They are also typically tasked with updating patient information with recent care data and writing reports based on assessments.

Nurse practitioners may educate patients on how to take care of themselves using healthy living strategies and illness management. Some may also conduct research on various care-related topics, sharing their findings with staff members.

Any day in the life of a nurse practitioner is never identical to the previous day. Part of what makes NPs so valuable is their ability to provide care for a wide variety of patients experiencing a broad and unpredictable range of health care challenges. They are trained to impart the wisdom of preventive care strategies and health-conscious decisions to patients of all ages. Additionally, they are resident role models for nurses who are still learning the job.

How the Work Environment Can Dictate One’s Duties

The scope of patient care a nurse practitioner can provide depends on their state of practice. NPs who work in states that allow them to work independently have the authority to prescribe medication, order tests, and provide patient diagnoses. Some states, such as Illinois and Wisconsin, require NPs to collaborate with other health care providers to administer patient care. Other states, such as Texas and California, require that NPs perform all their work under the supervision of another provider.

Areas of specialization also help determine what a day in the life of a nurse practitioner is like. For instance, an NP who has specialized training in anesthetics often works with surgical teams and patients to help minimize pain. An NP specializing in women’s health will spend a lot of time with female patients, helping them with issues related to pregnancy, childbirth, postnatal care, and other health concerns more commonly experienced by women.

The state of practice rules combined with the NP’s specialty area largely dictates the parameters of a nurse practitioner’s day. A family nurse practitioner in Kansas (a full-practice state), for example, will have a patient base, set of responsibilities, and practice authority that is completely different from that of an NP specializing in adult-gerontology in Florida (a restricted-practice state).

Preparing for the Unexpected

While many procedures are considered routine, it’s wise for NPs to be prepared for the unexpected. A new patient or a sudden emergency can cause disruption, and if the NP providing care is not ready to adapt to the situation, they are not likely to deliver optimal care. Nurse practitioners need interpersonal skills to effectively connect with a wide variety of patient personalities. They must also be able to use their critical thinking and decision-making skills to deliver effective patient care in urgent and potentially chaotic situations.

How an Advanced Degree Can Help

Earning an advanced degree, such as a Master of Science in Nursing with a post-master’s certificate, allows nurses to hone their skills not only to fulfill the general responsibilities of the position but also to manage the unexpected issues that may disrupt their daily routines. An advanced degree, coupled with certification, can also help strengthen competencies that are important for career advancement into primary care or nursing specialties.

Ultimately, the combination of an advanced degree and a certificate can equip nurses with the skills and knowledge needed to deliver high-quality care and succeed as nurse practitioners. Learn how Regis College’s online post-master’s certificate program can prepare you to make a difference in health care one day at a time.

Recommended Reading

5 Areas of Study for the Master of Science in Nursing Student

The Role Change from Expert Nurse to Novice Nurse Practitioner

Nurse Practitioner vs. Physician: What’s the Difference?


American Association of Nurse Practitioners, Standards of Practice for Nurse Practitioners

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, State Practice Environment

Indeed, “What Is a Day in the Life of a Nurse Practitioner Like?”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners