How to Become a Nurse Practitioner (NP): Job Description and Salaries

Nurse takes vitals of patientA nurse practitioner (NP) provides primary care and some acute care. The nurse practitioner is qualified to meet the majority of health care needs for most patients. A nurse practitioner uses a comprehensive approach to providing healthcare, emphasizing the overall health and wellness of patients.

Nurse practitioners are registered nurses (RNs) who have received advanced education and clinical training. NPs provide preventative and acute healthcare services to patients of all ages. Nurse practitioners may work independently or as part of a healthcare team.

Most nurse practitioners complete graduate-level coursework and clinical rotations that lead to a master’s degree.

Table of Contents
How to Become a Nurse Practitioner
Education Requirements
Nurse Practitioner Job Description
Personality Traits
Career Options
Nurse Practitioner Certification
Professional Organizations

Nurse Salary and Employment Data

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Level of Education Required Master’s Degree in Nursing
Board Examinations needed NCLEX-RN, RN-BC
Average Salary (2013) $92,670
# of Jobs (2012) 110,000
Job Outlook (2012 to 2022) 22% or higher growth

Source: O*Net:

How to become a nurse practitioner

To become a nurse practitioner, an individual:

  • Must have a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN)
  • Must have passed the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN)
  • Must gain significant clinical experience as a nurse practitioner
  • May gain board certification in a specialty through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) to become a Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner (CRNP)

Education requirements

A nurse practitioner is a registered nurse who has a graduate education in nursing. Most nurse practitioners have a master’s degree in nursing, which requires at least two years of full-time study beyond a bachelor’s degree. Nursing students may take extra courses in pediatrics, adult and gerontology, family and women’s primary care, occupational health, mental health and acute care before taking jobs in these specialties after graduation.

There is a growing movement in the United States to require nurse practitioners earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree, otherwise known as a practice doctorate. This degree is similar to that earned by dentists, physicians, clinical psychologists, clinical pharmacists and other health care providers. A DNP program requires three to four years of study beyond a bachelor’s degree.

A nurse practitioner educational program includes graduate courses in health sciences along with coursework in diagnosis and clinical management. Additionally, students compete several semesters of supervised clinical practice. Graduates from a nurse practitioner educational program may take national board examinations to earn certification.

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Job description

A nurse practitioner performs physical examinations, diagnose and treat common illnesses and injuries, coordinate referrals, provide immunizations and manage chronic health problems. The NP may order and interpret laboratory work and diagnostic tests, perform procedures, educate patients and provide counseling to patients and families regarding healthy lifestyle and healthcare options.

Nurse practitioners may prescribe medications in all 50 states. Nurse practitioners have the authority to practice independently in 26 states.

Nurse Practitioner Personality Traits:

Personality traits of a nurse practitioner:

  • Communication skills
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Compassion
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Leadership skills
  • Resourcefulness
  • Attention to detail

Career options

A nurse practitioner may work in a variety of healthcare settings, including:

  • Clinics
  • Office practices
  • Managed care organizations
  • Urban community health centers
  • College campuses
  • Worksite employee health centers
  • Pharmaceutical manufacturers and other private institutions

Nurse practitioners may work in a variety of specialties, such as:

  • Cardiology
  • Emergency
  • Family practice
  • Geriatrics
  • Neonatology
  • Nephrology
  • Oncology
  • Pediatrics
  • Primary care
  • School health
  • Women’s health

Job outlook for nurse practitioners is very good. Job growth reflects the growing need for primary care providers as the population of the United States ages. Changes in healthcare legislation increased the number of newly insured patients and added more emphasis on preventative care, thereby raising the need for primary care providers including nurse practitioners.

In some states, a nurse practitioner may practice independently. Other states require the nurse practitioner work with an MD to prescribe medicine or to become licensed.

Certification information

The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners offers exams for several certifications. An applicant may seek certification for Adult Nurse Practitioner (ANP), Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) or Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (A-GNP). To be considered for certification, applicants must hold a current license as a registered nurse and meet educational requirements for at least one area of practice.

American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers the Family Nurse Practitioner certification (FNP-BC) exam to qualified applicants. To sit for this exam, applicants must hold an active license as a registered nurse (RN) and hold a master’s or doctoral degree from a family nurse practitioner program. The applicant must present engage in a minimum of 500 faculty-supervised clinical hours in a family nurse practitioner program. The candidate must also have taken graduate-level courses in physiology, pathology, health assessment and pharmacology.

Professional organizations

American Association of Nurse Practitioners:

National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners:

American College of Nurse Practitioners: