Nurse Practitioner Career Overview

| Genevieve Carlton

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Nurse practitioners work as primary and specialty care providers to diagnose patients, design treatment plans, and prescribe medications.

As advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), nurse practitioners (NPs) play an important role in the healthcare system. They also rank second among the fastest-growing occupations in the U.S.

This page covers nurse practitioner salary data, NP job responsibilities, and common practice areas, such as acute care nurse practitioner, family nurse practitioner, pediatric nurse practitioner, and psychiatric nurse practitioner.

Nurse Practitioner Salary Information

Nurse practitioners who specialize as family nurse practitioners, psychiatric nurse practitioners, and acute care nurse practitioners all benefit from above-average salaries and strong job growth projections. The median nurse practitioner salary exceeded $109,000 per year in 2019.

Salary and Job Growth for Nurse Practitioners

Median Annual Salary (2019)

Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)

What Do Nurse Practitioners Do?

NPs offer primary and specialty healthcare to patients of all ages. They conduct examinations and observe patients to understand their medical conditions, designing patient care plans based on their observations. NPs can also perform and order diagnostic tests and analyze test results.

After diagnosing a health problem and creating a treatment plan, NPs monitor a patient's condition and evaluate their response to medicines or treatments. NPs also counsel patients on how to manage an illness or injury.

Nurse practitioners offer primary and specialty healthcare to patients of all ages.

NPs can specialize in a variety of areas. A pediatric nurse practitioner treats children from birth through young adulthood. A family nurse practitioner, also known as a family health nurse practitioner or family practice nurse practitioner, offers primary care to patients of all ages.

A psychiatric nurse practitioner diagnoses and treats individuals with mental health challenges. NPs can pursue professional certification to demonstrate expertise in a specialty area.

Within each specialty, NPs offer primary and preventative care for patients, often having many of the same responsibilities as physicians, depending on state regulations. For example, NPs can sometimes order and evaluate test results, prescribe medication, and refer patients to specialists.

Physician Assistant vs. Nurse Practitioner

Like an NP, a physician assistant (PA) can examine, diagnose, and treat patients. The two professions even have comparable salaries. However, nurse practitioners and PAs receive different training. PAs attend specialized master's programs, which generally take two years to complete. After completing the coursework and clinical requirements, they must pursue state licensure.

While PAs and NPs perform similar roles in the medical system, their training follows two different models. PA training borrows from the physician training model of medical school, while nurse practitioners use the nursing model, which offers more patient-centered training.

Nurse Practitioner vs. RN

Nurse practitioners have more responsibilities than registered nurses (RNs) and earn higher salaries. While RNs earn a median salary of more than $73,000 a year, the median nurse practitioner salary exceeds $109,000. NPs also need additional training, which they often must earn through a master's program.

An RN can become a nurse practitioner through an RN-to-NP or RN-to-MSN program. These programs are designed for RNs who don't hold a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). RNs can also pursue RN-to-BSN programs to earn a bachelor's before applying to master's programs.

LPN vs. Nurse Practitioner

Unlike a nurse practitioner, who can work independently, a licensed practical nurse (LPN) must operate under the supervision of an RN. LPN programs train students to become licensed practical nurses and licensed vocational nurses. LPNs offer limited medical treatments, such as changing bandages, checking vital signs, and helping patients take medications. Graduates from these programs do not meet the qualifications for RN licensure.

LPNs can enroll in BSN programs to become RNs and prepare for a master of science in nursing (MSN) program.

Key Skills for Nurse Practitioners

NPs build on RN skills to offer primary and specialty care. Like other APRNs, nurse practitioners need strong critical-thinking and interpersonal skills to help them assess health and communicate with patients. A detail-oriented outlook helps NPs determine appropriate treatments and track changes to a patient's health. They also draw on leadership skills to manage nurses and other healthcare providers.

Nurse practitioners strengthen these abilities during MSN or doctoral programs. NP programs blend classroom and clinical training for graduates to prepare them to provide exceptional patient care.

Careers as a Nurse Practitioner

NPs work in many practice areas, including women's health, acute care, and pediatrics. During a nurse practitioner program, students specialize their classroom and clinical skills to prepare for a practice area. The next section explores some common practice areas.

NPs benefit from strong demand and projected job growth rates. Check out our guide to learn more about how to become a nurse practitioner.

Common Practice Areas

Nurse practitioners have several specialization options. Some specialties, such as pediatric care or gerontology, focus on a particular patient population. Others focus on the type of primary or specialty care the NP provides. For example, family nurse practitioners offer primary care to patients of all ages, while orthopedic nurse practitioners specialize in musculoskeletal disorders.

Acute Care Nurse Practitioner

Acute care nurse practitioners work in emergency care settings, diagnosing critical medical conditions. They can specialize in adult care or pediatrics.

Dermatology Nurse Practitioner

Like dermatologists, dermatology nurse practitioners specialize in diagnosing and managing skin-related conditions. They can conduct skin cancer screenings, treat topical issues, and diagnose conditions.

Emergency Medicine Nurse Practitioner

These NPs care for patients in urgent care and emergency settings. They assess patients who require immediate care and refer patients to healthcare providers who can provide specialty care.

Family Nurse Practitioner

Family nurse practitioners care for patients from birth through old age. They offer primary care — including conducting wellness exams, diagnosing problems, and treating medical conditions — and refer patients for specialty care.

Gerontological Nurse Practitioner

Gerontological nurse practitioners specialize in caring for older adults. They diagnose and treat common conditions for aging patients. Gerontological nurse practitioners may specialize in primary or acute care.

Internal Medicine Nurse Practitioner

Internal medicine nurse practitioners specialize in diagnosing, treating, and caring for adult patients. They conduct health assessments to diagnose medical conditions and create treatment plans.

Obstetrics-Gynecological Nurse Practitioner

OB/GYN nurse practitioners specialize in sexual and reproductive care for patients with uteruses. They provide primary care, including annual exams, prenatal care, family planning assistance, and STI treatment.

Orthopedic Nurse Practitioner

Orthopedic nurse practitioners care for patients with musculoskeletal injuries or conditions. They assist individuals in the rehabilitation process after an injury or during recovering from surgery. These NPs often work closely with orthopedic surgeons.

Palliative Care Nurse Practitioner

Palliative care nurse practitioners provide end-of-life care for patients. They treat patients with terminal conditions and offer emotional support for patients and their families.

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

Pediatric nurse practitioners provide primary care for children and adolescents. They conduct wellness exams, diagnose medical conditions, and prescribe treatments for health conditions. These NPs also communicate with parents about health and wellness for children.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Psychiatric nurse practitioners, also known as psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners, care for patients in psychiatric facilities and mental health centers. These professionals diagnose and treat patients with mental health challenges, helping them manage medications and offering emotional support.

Surgical Nurse Practitioner

Surgical nurse practitioners work with surgeons to care for patients undergoing surgical procedures. These NPs also provide preoperative and postoperative care.

Similar Careers

Nurse Anesthetists

Nurse anesthetists care for patients undergoing surgical procedures and other medical procedures that require anesthesia. They meet with patients to discuss their pain management needs, administer anesthesia during procedures, and monitor patients after receiving anesthesia. A nurse anesthetist needs a master's degree or doctorate to practice.

Nurse Midwives

Nurse midwives are primary maternity care providers. They offer gynecological, family planning, and prenatal care, including care during labor and delivery. These professionals also train to handle emergency situations, such as assisting with cesarean births. Like NPs, a nurse midwife must hold an MSN.

Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapists treat patients recovering from illnesses or injuries, and they also work with individuals with disabilities. Occupational therapists design treatment plans and exercises to help strengthen daily life skills. These professionals typically hold master's degrees in occupational therapy.

Nurse Practitioner Professional Organizations

American Association of Nurse Practitioners
With over 117,000 members, AANP works to advance NP practice and improve patient care. Members have access to educational resources, research in the field, and clinical practice resources. AANP also hosts conferences and events with networking opportunities.
Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Association
NAPNAP represents pediatric nurse practitioners and NP students pursuing pediatrics. The association hosts conferences and events, provides clinical practice resources, and offers resources for continuing education. Students can also access career resources.
Association of Family Practice PAs & NPs
AFPPANP supports advanced practice clinicians working in family practice, including family nurse practitioners. The association offers continuing education resources, mentorship opportunities for students, and employment information. Its career center offers career planning tools and job alerts.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a Nurse Practitioner As Good as a Doctor?

Like doctors, NPs can provide primary and specialty care. They can diagnose conditions and prescribe medication. However, nurse practitioners are not doctors. They attend graduate nursing programs rather than medical school and they have different licensure requirements.

What Do Nurse Practitioners Like To Be Called?

While nurse practitioners are not medical doctors, some do hold doctorates. However, calling an NP a doctor in a medical setting could be confusing. The best practice is to ask the nurse practitioner for their preferred title.

Do Nurse Practitioners Make More Than Nurses?

Yes. NPs earn more than RNs. The median salary for NPs exceeds $109,000 per year, while RNs earn a median salary of $73,000 per year.

What Does a Nurse Practitioner Make in a Year?

As APRNs, nurse practitioners earn among the highest salaries in nursing. According to BLS data, NPs and other APRNs earn a median pay of nearly $116,000 per year.

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