Nurse Practitioners (NP)

I. What They Do

The term ‘nurse practitioner (NP)’ refers to an advanced practice registered nurse who has completed specialized graduate clinical and diagnostic training. Nurse practitioners have many of the same responsibilities and qualifications of traditional family doctors. In fact, in many states, nurse practitioners can run medical practices without the supervision of a physician.

Daily Responsibilities

  • Manage care of patients with acute and chronic medical conditions
  • Maintain and consult comprehensive patient histories
  • Perform physical exams
  • Order and interpret the results of diagnostic tests like x-rays, EKGs and CAT scans
  • Diagnose medical conditions
  • Prescribe medications and recommend treatment courses
  • Make referrals to specialized medical care providers

Ideal Candidates

  • Critically analyze medical data and evidence
  • Apply clinical investigative skills to improve health outcomes
  • Incorporate new research and knowledge to daily practice
  • Assume complex and advanced leadership roles
  • Communicate practice knowledge both orally and in writing
  • Follow patient-centered care practices
  • Foster empathetic and collaborative patient-provider relationships

Specialization Areas

  • Pediatrics
  • Family practice
  • Oncology
  • Pediatrics
  • Adult-gerontology
  • Women’s health
  • Neo-natal
  • Psychiatric-mental health

Work Environment

  • Public or private hospital
  • Nursing home/long-term care
  • Independent nurse practitioner practice
  • Private physician clinic
  • School of nursing or health
  • VA/Armed forces

II. Career Outlook

There is a substantial need for advanced nursing professionals throughout the healthcare industry; employment rates and salaries of NPs are rising quickly. According to the BLS, there are two major reason for this: the growing medical needs of aging baby boomers and a nationwide increase in the number of individuals receiving health insurance (due to passage of the Affordable Care Act).

Job Growth

Projected job growth between 2012-22: 34% (much faster than the 19% growth projected for RNs and the 11% average for all positions)

Projected Job Growth of NPs, 2012-2022


Job Growth Percent Change for Nurse Practitioners vs Other U.S. Occupations

Metro Areas with Highest Number of NPs Employed
Metro Area Number of NPs Employed
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics. Accessed May 2014.
New York-White Plains, NY 4,160
Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA 2,850
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, CA 2,070
Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, IL 1,890
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA 1,670

NP Salary

According to 2013 data the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary for NPs is nearly $30,000 higher than the yearly earnings for a registered nurse.

2013 Average Salaries for NPs and RNs

Industries Paying the Highest Average NP Salary in 2013
Industry Average NP Salary
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics. Accessed May 2014.
Personal Care Services $117,300
Specialty Hospitals (except Psychiatric and Substance Abuse) $109,850
Grantmaking and Giving Services $107,350
Accounting, Tax Preparation, Bookkeeping, and Payroll Services $104,360
Employment Services $104,010

States with the Highest Average Salaries for NPs in 2013

States with the Highest Average Salaries for NPs

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics. Accessed May 2014.

III. How to Become One

You have two options to becoming a nurse practitioner: earning an MSN or forgoing that route in lieu of a alternate programs and certification. The American Academy of Family Physicians notes that 77% of NPs working today have earned a Master of Science in Nursing; these programs typically require a commitment of one and a half to three years, and are open to any individual who has passed the NCLEX-RN exam to become a registered nurse and received a sufficient GRE score.

Although the remaining 23% of NPs receive the necessary education and skills training through alternate programs, those who opt to earn an MSN will be better equipped to compete for high-paying jobs and launch a successful, long-term career.

Education Requirements

All nurse practitioners must receive an advanced nursing education, either through an accredited Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program or an alternative training program offered in conjunction with state licensure agencies. These programs take 1.5-3 years to complete.

NP program entrance requirements:

  • Standard 4-year BA or BS (ideally in nursing or science-related field)
  • A current license as a registered nurse
  • National Council Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses (NCLEX)
  • Graduate Record Examination (GRE)

NP candidates must choose a specialty. Concentration areas will determine the courses and hands-on experience required by each program.

Depending on the practice goals of the NP, a Doctor of Nursing Practice may also be pursued. An MSN or equivalent degree will be required for admission to a DNP program, which will require an additional 2-3 years of study.

Certification Requirements

After completing their education, all nurse practitioners must pass a national board certifying exam in their specialty. NPs can apply to take their certification exam for the first time or to maintain or renew their credentials on the ANCC site.

Requirements of Exam Application:

  1. Copies of final transcripts from the conferred degree program
  2. Validation of Education Form signed by faculty
  3. A registration fee (ranges from $290-$395 depending on the graduate’s ANCC membership status)

Overview of NP Certification Options

Since specific requirements will vary by specialty, prospective NPs should visit the American Nurses Credentialing Center for more information about obtaining the necessary licenses and certifications. Additionally, NPs can learn more about certification exams through the following professional organizations:

Nurse practitioners must obtain a license to practice in every U.S. state and territory (including the District of Columbia), but additional requirements for NPs will vary by geographic location.

For more information about specific RN requirements, please visit the nursing state pages on this site.