A Guide to the Nurse Practitioner Career Path

A Guide to the Nurse Practitioner Career Path

Nurse practitioners are advanced-level nurses that have more responsibilities compared to a registered nurse. The demand for nurse practitioners is currently increasing rapidly across the country. One of the biggest reasons why healthcare employers are looking to hire more nurse practitioners is that there is a shortage of students choosing primary care at medical school, leading to dangerously low numbers of primary care physicians available to provide this kind of general care to patients.

Nurse practitioners have full practice authority in over twenty states across the US, allowing them to step in and take over from primary care physicians offering high standards of care with the ability to diagnose, treat, and prescribe medications to their patients free from the need for supervision.

There are many reasons why registered nurses might want to train to work as a nurse practitioner including more sociable working hours in some roles, higher salaries, and more autonomy in the role.

What Does a Nurse Practitioner Do?

To work in this role, nurses will need to become an advanced practice registered nurse, which they can do by earning an advanced degree such as a master’s degree in nursing, followed by a postgraduate certification program to prepare them to work in a nurse practitioner role in their chosen specialty area. Since there is much more responsibility on the shoulders of nurse practitioners compared to registered nurses, these professionals need to undergo a lot of advanced training to prepare them for a role where they are faced with many of the same tasks and decisions of a primary care physician.

Nurse practitioners generally work in either primary or specialty care. Family nurse practitioners tend to work in primary care roles and tend to be the type of nurse practitioner to be hired to take the place of primary care physicians. Other types of nurse practitioners work in a range of specialty areas including neonatal care, pediatric care, adult-gerontology care, mental health care, and more.

Roles and Responsibilities of a Nurse Practitioner

Typically, nurse practitioners tend to have more responsibilities in their role than a registered nurse. For nurse practitioners who are licensed in states where there is full practice authority, they are permitted to run their own practice or clinic without the need to have a primary care physician on site for supervision. Ultimately, unlike registered nurses, this means that nurse practitioners also have the option to start their own business offering healthcare, whether that be a primary care service or specialist care in their chosen area.

Nurse practitioners are also hired to work in a wide range of further healthcare settings including doctors’ offices, hospitals, urgent care centers, outpatient clinics, retail clinics, and more.

Different Nurse Practitioner Roles

Nurses who decide to train as a nurse practitioner can get into a range of different roles. These include:

  • Family nurse practitioner: These nurse practitioners tend to offer primary care and will usually treat patients of all ages. Typically, they will work in a primary care role, either running their own clinic or practice or working alongside a physician in a doctor’s office.
  • Pediatric nurse practitioner: These are nurse practitioners that exclusively work with children. They tend to specialize in diseases that are more likely to affect children than adults. Most of the time, they are hired to work in pediatric clinics, hospitals, and departments.
  • Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner: These nurse practitioners are specially trained to work with psychiatric patients. They may help with the treatment of patients who have psychosis, depression, anxiety disorders, panic disorders, personality disorders, and more. Generally, they will work in psychiatric hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and outpatient clinics. Specialist mental health nursing training is required to work in this role, which you can obtain with a PMHNP program.
  • Retail health nurse practitioner: Retail health is a new, emerging type of healthcare that is becoming more and more popular. Retail health nurse practitioners can usually be found working in smaller clinics that are available to the public in retail settings such as superstores, pharmacies, and drugstores where patients can go for healthcare advice and treatment for minor complaints.
  • Adult-gerontology nurse practitioner: These are nurse practitioners who work exclusively with adult patients. They may specialize in older adults and diseases that tend to affect the elderly such as dementia.
  • Neonatal nurse practitioner: These are some of the most highly skilled nurse practitioners, working with newborn babies who are required to have a stay in the hospital after birth due to premature birth, birth defects, or illnesses. It is also one of the most highly paid nurse practitioner roles available.

Nurse Practitioner Average Salary

Compared to registered nurses, nurse practitioners can earn significantly more. These professionals earn around $30k more than registered nurses each year, with an annual average salary of $115k, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nurse practitioner earnings can vary a lot depending on the area of specialty, location, and level of expertise and experience. Some states pay nurse practitioners significantly more than others, while some specialties such as neonatal command higher salaries compared to family nurse practitioners, for example.

Skills Nurse Practitioners Need to Succeed

While you need advanced nursing education to become a nurse practitioner, and this will help you develop a wide range of job-specific skills, nurse practitioners are also required to have a range of soft skills to help them succeed in this role. If you are interested in working as a nurse practitioner in the future, focus on developing the following skills:


Many registered nurses who decide to work towards becoming a nurse practitioner do so because they like the idea of climbing the career ladder while still being in a role where they can provide direct care to their patients. In this role, you’ll be speaking to patients on a daily basis to listen to their concerns, and you’ll need to have a high level of empathy and compassion to do this effectively.


If you’re already working as a registered nurse, then you will probably already be improving your communication skills every day. In the role of a nurse practitioner, active listening skills are some of the most important communication skills to develop since you will be spending a significant amount of time in this role listening to your patients’ concerns and taking in the information that they provide so that you can make an informed decision on the best course of action to take in terms of diagnosis, medication, and treatment.


The role of a nurse practitioner can be very similar to working as a registered nurse in that you’ll have a lot of changes to deal with on a regular basis. Nurse practitioners might have to deal with sudden changes to the condition of patients that they will need to quickly adapt to in order to make the best decisions regarding their care. Along with this, like nurses, nurse practitioners need to regularly adapt to new practices, new diseases, new tools and equipment, and new medical information that might impact the work that they do.

Attention to Detail

Due to the autonomous nature of the work that they do, it’s extremely important for nurse practitioners to be highly skilled in terms of attention to detail. In full practice authority states, nurse practitioners are trusted and relied on to make the best decisions based on the information that they have about their patients, which can often mean taking the finer details into account. To be successful in this role, nurse practitioners need to be observant and notice details that others might easily overlook.

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

With nurse practitioners in higher demand than ever before, there has never been a better time to think about getting into this role if you want to work in a career that allows you to care for others and make a difference in the world with every day that you work. If you are interested in a career as a nurse practitioner, then you will need to take the following steps:

1.      Become a Registered Nurse

The first step you’ll need to take on your journey to becoming a nurse practitioner is to qualify as a registered nurse, if you are not already qualified. There are several options to consider when it comes to becoming a registered nurse including apprenticeships in nursing and an associate’s degree. However, it may be worth bearing in mind that you will need to get an advanced degree in nursing in order to become a nurse practitioner in the future, and some qualifications that you can use to get into a career as a registered nurse may not be eligible for progression.

Weigh up your options and consider whether you would prefer to get into a career as a registered nurse sooner and return to education in the future, or whether you’d rather get a qualification such as a BSN from the start to ensure you’re eligible for further study.

2.      Get a BSN

When it comes to preparing to work as a nurse practitioner in the future, a BSN or bachelor of science in nursing degree is the best option to consider. BSN-educated nurses are in higher demand after studies have found that when the workforce has more nurses with this qualification, there is a lower rate of patient readmissions, hospital infections, and fatalities. Along with this, you’ll need to get an advanced degree such as a master of science in nursing to work as a nurse practitioner, and candidates are generally required to have a BSN.

If you are currently working in a different career and have a bachelor’s degree in a different subject, then there is also the option of getting an accelerated BSN degree to consider. These degrees are designed to build on the knowledge and education you already have in another subject to allow you to get your BSN and qualify as a nurse in half the amount of time that it would usually take.

3.      Get Nursing Experience

Although you will need a BSN to get into MSN programs and other advanced degree programs that are designed to get you into a role as a nurse practitioner, you’ll usually also be required to have built up some nursing experience before you are going to be able to get started with advanced training. Due to the advanced nature of the nurse practitioner role, many degree programs that are designed to prepare you for it, along with employers who hire nurse practitioners, often take past experience more seriously than your education.

Once you have qualified as a registered nurse and have a license to practice in your state, it’s worth spending at least a few years gaining as much experience in different areas of nursing as you can to put yourself in with a better chance of getting hired for an advanced position. A varied amount of experience in different healthcare departments and specialty areas will help you decide what nurse practitioner specialty might be the best fit for you in the future.

4.      Get An Advanced Degree

You will need to get an advanced degree such as a master of science in nursing in order to work as a nurse practitioner. There are various degree programs available that are tailored to nurses who want to work in a nurse practitioner role in the future. If you want to save time and have a BSN, you can find bridge programs that are designed to build on what you already know and enable you to get your advanced degree sooner. You can qualify to work as a nurse practitioner with a master of science in nursing, but you will usually also be required to get a postgraduate certificate afterward, which is designed to provide you with the role-specific training you’ll need for your chosen nurse practitioner role.

Whether you are already started in your nursing career or are considering becoming a nurse in the future, there are lots of great reasons to aim high for a career as a nurse practitioner.



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