What Is a Nurse Practitioner?

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Nurse practitioner looking at notes while walking down a hallway

Nurses are the foundation of many health care institutions; their work provides interdisciplinary health care teams with the support they need to secure optimal outcomes for their patients. Through the completion of a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), registered nurses can heighten their ability to contribute to health care systems, as this degree is a major requirement for entering into advanced nursing practice. While advanced nursing practice offers several career trajectories, nurses who wish to specialize in clinical practice may be inclined to learn the answer to the question “what is a nurse practitioner?”

What Is a Nurse Practitioner’s Role in Health Care Environments?

While the nurse practitioner’s role often depends on his or her specific responsibilities, they typically have several standard duties. First, nurse practitioners often oversee or assist with diagnosing patients’ illnesses. While the input of a physician may be necessary when patients require complex diagnostic tests, nurse practitioners are frequently experts in evaluating the symptoms of their patients. Apart from teaching students how to lead diagnostic processes for patients, MSN programs also prepare prospective nurse practitioners with the expertise needed to coordinate health care interventions and safely prescribe medications.

Beyond these general health care services, nurse practitioners stand out from registered nurses in that they are allowed to practice in a specialized field of medicine, such as pediatric health care. Their responsibilities depend on their chosen specializations. Here are some examples:

  • Family Nurse Practitioner. Family nurse practitioners are trained to administer acute and primary care to individuals of all genders and ages. They are also taught how to provide counseling to children and adults to ensure that patients adhere to prescribed treatments and medical advice. One of the unique aspects of family nurse practitioners is that, in many states, they are allowed to practice independently as primary care providers. While some states still require them to have supervision from a physician, independence stands out as a valuable benefit of becoming a family nurse practitioner.
  • Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner. Women’s health nurse practitioners specialize in providing health care services to women, particularly those who are facing reproductive health issues. They also help pregnant women safely navigate pregnancy, deliver babies, and promote optimal prenatal and postnatal health.
  • Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner. When afflicted with mental health disorders, people look to mental health clinics and other mental health facilities for help. While psychologists and psychiatrists are the face of this field, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners play a highly important role as well. They are qualified to diagnose patients and provide some counseling to help them cope with any present mental health problems. If necessary, these nurses can also prescribe medications and clinical interventions.
  • Adult-Geriatric Nurse Practitioner. Adults face a large number of health difficulties that younger populations are unlikely to encounter. Furthermore, senior citizens are significantly more likely to be beset with chronic health conditions that require regular management. Adult-geriatric nurse practitioners specialize in these older populations and use their knowledge of acute and chronic care to ensure that their patients have all the tools and information they need to maintain a decent quality of life. This includes end-of-life and palliative nursing, which involves minimizing the pain and suffering of patients who are in their final stages of life.
  • Pediatric Nurse Practitioner. Similar to geriatric patients, children also face unique health circumstances that must be managed by specialists. In pediatric health care environments, the patients may not be fully aware of their conditions. Therefore, pediatric nurses must have the temperament necessary to patiently counsel the children and their families. They must also hold a well-developed understanding of child biology, because children’s bodies are different from those of older individuals.

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

The first step toward becoming a nurse practitioner is getting licensed as a registered nurse, which begins with earning an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing or, in some instances, a nursing diploma. After graduating from an undergraduate program, the next step is gaining some professional experience. Acquiring hands-on experience in the nursing field will help nurses get accepted into their preferred postgraduate nursing programs while also allowing them to gain a new perspective on the field and determine which nursing disciplines they want to specialize in. By choosing an online MSN program, nurses can continue working while completing their required coursework from home.

Upon graduating from an MSN program, nurses can break into advanced nursing practice by completing the nurse practitioner certification process, which involves passing an exam and completing a number of supervised clinical work hours. While the path to becoming a nurse practitioner may take some time, upon reaching their goal, nursing professionals can heighten the level of control they have over their career trajectory and significantly enhance their earning ability in the process. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected a 31 percent growth in nurse practitioner jobs between 2016 and 2026. The BLS also found that nurse practitioners earned a median salary of $103,880 in 2016, which is well-deserved because of the the immense demand for experienced nursing talent.

The growing patient population is placing an increasing amount of strain on health care resources, but what is a nurse practitioner’s role in developing a solution to this problem? As more registered nurses advance into nurse practitioner roles, the nursing field gains valuable leaders who can find new ways to maximize the efficiency of health care processes without sacrificing quality of care. After earning a Master of Science in Nursing, ambitious nurses should have the competency to restore the health of their patients while helping their employers contend with other challenges that emerge in their chosen nursing disciplines.

Learn More:

Learn how completing the online Master of Science in Nursing Learn how completing the Master of Science in Nursing program at Regis College can prepare you for advanced practice in specialized nursing departments, such as those found in family practices, pediatric units, adult-geriatric facilities, women’s health centers, and mental health institutions.

Recommended Reading:

4 Perspectives on Life as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioners

How Nurse Practitioners Can Close the Gap in Healthcare

What Is a Family Nurse Practitioner?



American Association of Nurse Practitioners

Bureau of Labor Statistics