Are you interested in possibly becoming a nurse practitioner? That’s great! Nurse practitioners (NPs) form an essential layer of care in any modern healthcare system, where they are directly responsible for saving the lives of patients and otherwise improving the care that patients receive. For their work, they are rewarded with a healthy salary: Approximately $116,000 per year on average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Below, we take a closer look at the role that nurse practitioners play in the healthcare industry and compare them against other common careers that you might also be considering.

What Does a Nurse Practitioner Do?

When it comes to understanding what a nurse practitioner does, the most important factor to remember is that a nurse practitioner acts as a primary care provider for their patients. This means that nurse practitioners can provide care to their patients without being directly overseen by a physician in many states. They can also write prescriptions and order diagnostic tests when necessary. The result is that NPs have vastly more freedom and flexibility in their role than many other types of nurses, including registered nurses.

Nurse practitioners work in a variety of settings, including emergency rooms, hospitals, managed care facilities, surgical clinics, and private practice. In these settings, NPs treat a wide range of patient populations depending on their unique area of focus. This can include pediatrics, women’s health, and adult gerontology, among many others (see below).

From day to day, NPs can perform any combination of the tasks and duties below, depending on the needs of their employer and patients:

  • Recording a patient’s medical history
  • Updating medical records
  • Documenting symptoms
  • Collecting samples (blood, urine, mucus, stool, etc.)
  • Ordering lab tests or diagnostic procedures as necessary
  • Performing detailed examinations of the patient
  • Creating and implementing treatment plans
  • Coordinating with other medical professionals and specialists as necessary
  • Prescribing medications
  • Performing small medical procedures
  • Managing other nurses, such as CNAs, LPNs, and RNs
  • Monitoring patients to determine if treatment is successful and, if not, to identify which adjustments might be made

Nurse Practitioner Specialties

As mentioned above, nurse practitioners will generally specialize in either performing a certain type of care or in working with a particular patient population. This is known as the nurse practitioner’s specialty. Some of the most common NP specialties include:

Nurse Practitioners vs Other Roles

While nurse practitioners play a critical role in many healthcare settings, you may or may not find that it is a suitable career for you. Below is a look at some other roles you may also want to consider:

Registered Nurse (RN)

The duties of registered nurses will often overlap with those performed by nurse practitioners. For example, RNs will conduct patient assessments and examinations, record medical histories, collect biological samples, administer medications or treatments, create and implement patient care plans, perform wound care, and more. The primary difference between RNs and NPs is that NPs can prescribe medications and order diagnostic tests, which RNs cannot do. RNs also work under the supervision of others, while NPs have more freedom.

Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL)

Clinical nurse leaders act as a point of contact for their patients, coordinating and collaborating with each of their patients’ caregivers. The role is primarily focused on improving communication between members of the medical team, ensuring that the organization’s policies and protocols are being followed, and acting as an additional layer of oversight. Whereas NPs are trained to act as a primary caregiver to their patients, CNLs are trained to coordinate care for their patients. This means that CNLs often do not perform patient care themselves, but oversee those that do and act as a resource when necessary.

Physician Assistant (PA)

The duties of physician assistants overlap significantly with the duties performed by nurse practitioners. One key point of difference, however, is the fact that PAs work under the supervision of a physician, while NPs do not in many states. Another difference is the fact that NPs will often specialize in serving a particular patient population. Physician assistants, on the other hand, will typically specialize in performing a certain type of medicine, such as internal, emergency, or surgical.

Taking the First Step in Your Career

If you are interested in becoming a nurse, you have many options when it comes to potential careers. Whether you want to become a nurse practitioner, a CNL, a registered nurse, or something else altogether. The right choice for you will depend on your own personal and professional goals. For many, becoming a nurse practitioner will be a rewarding choice.