Nurse Practitioner Career Overview

by Genevieve Carlton
TheBestSchools.org

thebestschools.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Are you ready to discover your college program?

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

Nurse practitioners (NPs) provide care to specific populations of all ages. They need a unique blend of skills and a passion for helping people improve their quality of life. High nurse practitioner salaries reflect the field's growing demand nationwide. Qualified NPs administer treatment and make diagnoses in hospitals, doctors' offices, and clinics.

To become an NP, each candidate needs a bachelor's degree and a master's in nursing. This page looks at how prospective NPs can use these credentials to secure employment. Keep reading to learn more about the profession and find out why it topped a recent New York Times list of healthcare jobs on the rise.

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 diagnostic tests and analyze results.

After diagnosing a health problem and creating a treatment plan, an NP monitors the patient's condition and evaluates their response to medicines or treatments. NPs also counsel patients on how to manage illnesses and injuries.

NPs can specialize in many areas. A pediatric nurse practitioner treats children from birth through young adulthood. A family nurse practitioner (FNP), 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.

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

Common Questions on Nurse Titles

This section includes information about how working as an NP differs from other nursing roles. Explore what sets the profession apart, including expected responsibilities, required skill levels, and scope of practice.

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, NPs and PAs receive different training. PA training borrows from the generalized training of medical school, while NPs use the nursing model, which offers more patient-centered 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. Students do not need clinical experience in order to enroll in PA school. NPs, on the other hand, must work as RNs before earning master's degrees as nurse practitioners.

Nurse Practitioner vs. Registered Nurse

NPs have more responsibilities than registered nurses (RNs) and earn higher salaries. While RNs earn a median salary of more than $75,000 a year, the median nurse practitioner salary exceeds $111,000. NPs also need to attend master of science in nursing (MSN) programs.

An RN can become an NP 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 bachelor's degrees before applying to master's programs.

Licensed Practical Nurse/Licensed Vocational Nurse vs. Nurse Practitioner

Unlike an NP, who can work independently, a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or licensed vocational nurse (LVN) must operate under the supervision of an RN. LPNs and LVNs offer limited medical treatments, such as changing bandages, checking vital signs, and helping patients take medications.

Graduates from these programs cannot become licensed as RNs without further training. LPNs/LVNs can enroll in BSN programs to become RNs and prepare for a master of science in nursing (MSN) program.

Common Practice Areas of Nurse Practitioners

NPs can pursue several specialization options. Some nurse specialties, such as pediatric care or gerontology, focus on particular patient populations. Others relate to the type of primary or specialty care the NP provides. For example, FNPs offer primary care to patients of all ages, while orthopedic nurse practitioners specialize in musculoskeletal disorders.

Acute care nurse practitioners (ACNPs) work in emergency care settings, diagnosing critical medical conditions. They can specialize in adult care or pediatrics. ACNPs need two years of RN experience in an ICU in order to enroll in an ACNP program. 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. 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. FNPs care for patients from birth through old age. They offer primary care, including conducting wellness exams, diagnosing problems, and treating medical conditions. They also refer patients for specialty care. 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 practitioners diagnose, treat, and care for adult patients. They conduct health assessments to diagnose medical conditions and create treatment plans. Orthopedic nurse practitioners care for patients with musculoskeletal injuries or conditions. They assist individuals in the rehabilitation process after injuries or surgeries. These NPs often work closely with orthopedic surgeons. 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 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 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 practitioners work with surgeons to care for patients undergoing surgical procedures. These NPs also provide preoperative and postoperative care. Women's health 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.

Nurse Practitioner Skill Sets

NPs need a combination of the hard skills and human. Hard skills include technical or applied capabilities specific to providing healthcare. Human skills, by contrast, refer to the interpersonal skills NPs rely on when interacting with patients and staff.

Human Skills

  • Patience and empathy
  • Cultural competency
  • Active listening
  • Conflict management
  • Social perceptiveness

Hard Skills

  • Care coordination
  • Treatment planning
  • Clinical reasoning
  • Prescribing medications
  • Leadership and administration

Nurse Practitioner Salary Overview

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median nurse practitioner salary is greater than the median annual wage nationwide ($41,950) and exceeds that of related healthcare professions ($84,430). NPs earn a median salary of $111,680 as of May 2020, with top earners receiving $190,900. Consult this resource for a more detailed state-by-state breakdown.

Projected job growth rates for NPs are even more encouraging. Aging demographics, localized demand due to COVID-19, and other factors result in a projected growth rate more than four times that of other treatment practitioners.

Salary and Job Growth for Nurse Practitioners

$111,680
Median Salary

45%
Job Growth (2019-2029)

Top Five Highest-Paying States for Nurse Practitioners
State Mean Annual Salary (2020)
California

$145,970

New Jersey

$130,890

Washington

$126,480

New York

$126,440

Massachusetts

$126,050

Source: BLS

Similar Careers

The following careers require the same education level as nurse practitioners. If you plan to earn a master's degree in nursing or another healthcare-related field, you can also pursue these roles.

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. Prospective nurse anesthetists need two years of ICU experience to enroll in a program. They need a doctorate in nursing practice (DNP) in order 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. Nurse midwives can deliver babies independently or assist with cesarean births. Like NPs, a nurse midwife must hold an MSN.

Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapists treat patients recovering from illnesses or injuries and 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

With over 117,000 members, AANP works to advance NP practice and improve patient care. Members receive access to educational resources, research in the field, and clinical practice resources. AANP also hosts conferences and events with networking opportunities. 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 opportunities. Students can also access career resources. AFPPANP supports advanced practice clinicians working in family practice, including FNPs. The association provides continuing education resources, mentorship opportunities for students, and employment information. Its career center offers career planning tools and job alerts.

Common Questions About Nurse Practitioner Salary and Schooling

true Who Gets Paid More: RNs or NPs?

NPs earn more than RNs. According to BLS data, the median nurse practitioner salary exceeds $110,000, much higher than the median annual wage for RNs, which is currently just over $75,000.

true How Difficult Is Nurse Practitioner Schooling?

NP schooling is more difficult in comparison to other nursing roles. It requires nursing experience, includes more rigorous and extensive training, and typically develops specialized skills.

true How Many Years Does It Take to Become an NP?

NP schooling is more difficult in comparison to other nursing roles. It requires nursing experience, includes more rigorous and extensive training, and typically develops specialized skills.

true Is 25 Too Old for Nursing School?

No. Nursing schools do not specify an age requirement, and most programs extend multiple pathways to accommodate incoming students from all walks of life. Nursing is often a second career and programs encourage students from diverse backgrounds to apply.

Blake Huggins is a Boston-based writer and researcher with roots in north Texas and southern Oklahoma. He holds degrees in religion and philosophy and writes widely on higher education, healthcare, and the humanities broadly conceived. He earned a PhD from Boston University and has taught college courses in philosophy, writing, and composition.

Elizabeth Clarke (Poon) is a board-certified family nurse practitioner. A native of Boston, MA, Clarke tired of the cold and snowy winters and moved to Coral Gables, FL in order to complete her undergraduate degree in nursing at the University of Miami. After working for several years in the cardiac and ER units of UHealth and Jackson Memorial Medical Systems, Clarke returned to the University of Miami to complete her master of science in nursing. Since completing her MSN degree, Clarke has worked providing primary and urgent care to pediatric populations.

Learn more, do more.

More topic-relevant resources to expand your knowledge.

Popular with our students.

Highly informative resources to keep your education journey on track.

Take the next step toward your future with online learning.

Discover schools with the programs and courses you’re interested in, and start learning today.

woman in an office