What Is a Certified Nurse Practitioner?

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A baby in hospital

Nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses who have been authorized to deliver specialized care to a specific patient demographic. In 2017, Forbes stated that nurse practitioners were more in demand than most physicians, exceeded only by family physicians, psychiatrists, and internists. But what is a certified nurse practitioner capable of contributing that makes the role so valuable to the health care industry?

The Nursing Shortage

In 2017, Cindy Cook, the president of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, stated, “The demand for nurse practitioners has never been higher.” A number of interrelated factors have contributed to this demand, primarily the rising number of patients entering the health care system and the number of veteran nurses retiring. This shortage impacts nursing professionals at all levels, including registered nurses, advanced practice registered nurses, and nurse leaders.

What Is a Certified Nurse Practitioner’s Primary Role?

Nurse practitioners ease the strain on other medical professionals, such as physicians and psychiatrists, by caring for patients who need specialized care. Although less-qualified nurses can handle basic tasks such as health assessments and sometimes diagnostics, without enough nurse practitioners on staff, medical institutions lack the resources to perform more complex tasks, such as developing and implementing treatment plans. Nurse practitioners have specialized education that allows them to provide advanced care to a particular patient population, but regardless of their specializations, they all should be capable of performing the following tasks:

  • Assessing patient health
  • Providing counseling and education to patients
  • Writing prescriptions
  • Delivering primary, general, and preventive care

5 Specializations for Certified Nurse Practitioners

A master’s degree can prepare nurses for nurse leadership positions, such as nurse manager or educator, but a post-master’s certificate will allow them to focus their career growth on a specialized area of clinical nursing practice. Through the coursework in these post-master’s nursing certification programs, students can gain the skills and credentials they need to practice as certified nurse practitioners. Each program may offer different concentrations, but following are five of the more common options:


A pediatric nurse practitioner is trained to manage treatment for children and adolescents. These nurses often work alongside pediatricians, providing basic care and counseling to their young patients. Understanding how to communicate with younger patients is important in this role, because these patients typically cannot fully articulate the causes of their pain or disabilities and therefore rely on attentive nurse practitioners to evaluate their needs and help them cope. As their young patients grow, pediatric nurse practitioners also assess their growth patterns and evaluate developmental milestones to ensure they are growing at a healthy rate.


Family nurse practitioners direct care for entire families. A large portion of their work involves the delivery of primary care, which is general medical care that does not require a specialist or advanced medical interventions. They are autonomous health care providers who either practice independently or in collaboration with licensed physicians, depending on the scope of practice allowed by the states in which they work. Depending on their professional background, some family nurse practitioners may also participate in childbearing processes, tending to the mother before, during, and after she gives birth.


This field of specialization focuses on patients 13 years of age and older. As patients age, adult-geriatric nurse practitioners must use a wider range of skills and expertise to manage the chronic diseases common in older adults. This requires an extensive knowledge of palliative treatment strategies and healthy lifestyle planning. By developing and implementing full-scale healthy lifestyle and disease prevention plans that include diet, exercise, physical therapy, and medication, they can keep their patients healthy. Certified nurse practitioners in this specialization can expect to work in health care clinics, nursing homes, hospitals, or long-term care facilities.

Psychiatric-Mental Health

A certified psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner is trained to provide mental health support to patients across the entire lifespan. Becoming certified requires the basic clinical skills of a nurse practitioner but also requires graduate-level knowledge of advanced pharmacology and physiology. These skills are necessary because mental health nurse practitioners will often diagnose patient conditions and treat them using a prescribed medication if necessary. When medication is not required, they must also be capable of facilitating individual, group, or family counseling sessions to treat mental health issues. Apart from their clinical responsibilities, nurse practitioners also collaborate with their patients and their families to ensure that they are completely aware of any mental health risks patients are facing and how to prevent or treat them.

Women’s Health

Women face a variety of unique health conditions, many of which relate to fertility, childbearing, and menopause. The women’s health practitioner is trained to help women prevent pregnancy by assigning them the appropriate contraceptive care. Similarly, they are also equipped to guide women through the birthing process, screening them for complications throughout pregnancy and advising women on how to ensure the likelihood of a manageable birth. Apart from pregnancy-related illnesses, women are also susceptible to several cancers and infections, such as breast cancer and sexually transmitted diseases. Women’s health practitioners must be able to identify these issues early through scheduled wellness counseling, allowing them to administer treatment quickly.

Get Certified — Become a Nurse Practitioner

What is a certified nurse practitioner able to contribute to his or her community? One of nurse practitioners’ most important assets is their ability to heal people and teach them how to maintain their health in the future. By earning a post-master’s nursing certificate, it is possible to move toward advanced practice nursing and away from the basic level of clinical nursing practice. With the post-master’s certificate program offered by Regis College, nurse practitioners can qualify to take the appropriate certification exams for their states. After fulfilling all of the specialization certificate requirements, these nurse practitioners might be eligible to earn a median salary of $103,880, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Learn More

Nursing professionals can expand their clinical expertise accelerate their career progression by earning postgraduate certifications. With the right credentials, you can become a nurse practitioner; equipped with the competencies needed to improve population health by administering essential health care services to the patient demographic of your choice. If you wish to take another next step forward in the field of advanced nursing practice, you should read more about the online post-masters nursing certificate programs at Regis College.

Recommended Reading

Nurse Practitioners and the Primary Care Shortage

4 Perspectives on Life as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioners

The Role of the Nurse Practitioner in Womens Health


US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners

American Association of Nurse Practitioners

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

The Journal for Nurse Practitioners