April 20, 2024

What is the role of a nurse practitioner? – 2023

There are around 20 million nurses worldwide, making up more than half of all healthcare workers. Yet more are needed to support different countries, with the World Health Organization predicting the need for an additional nine million nurses by 2030. This statistic emphasizes the need for nurses in every society.

However, it takes an understanding of what being a nurse actually means to appreciate the profession and fully acknowledge its impact. Today, the nursing profession has expanded dramatically, incorporating researchers, policy advocates, educators and practitioners who consistently influence nursing concepts in the healthcare industry. Nurse practitioners, in particular, form a vital layer of care in any modern healthcare setting. Here is a closer look at this branch of nursing and the roles required of nursing practitioners in both clinical and non-clinical settings.

Who are nurse practitioners?

Nurse practitioners are advanced practice professionals who are directly responsible for saving patients’ lives and enhancing the quality of healthcare that patients receive. These responsibilities include accessing, diagnosing and treating acute and chronic medical conditions. Nurse practitioners can also engage in various forms of healthcare, including deciphering tests, prescribing medications, counseling patients and conducting physicals.

The role of a nursing practitioner

Nurse practitioners are prevalent in the healthcare industry, delivering care to millions of people across different age groups each year. The demand for nurse practitioners in the United States is high, especially in rural areas. The unique responsibilities and characteristics of NPs in delivering healthcare and fostering patients’ general well-being are vital factors behind the rise in demand.

The role of a nurse practitioner ranges from clinical responsibilities such as conducting physicals, diagnosing and nursing patients, to non-clinical duties, which include educating and counseling patients to live healthier lives. The clinical responsibilities of NPs are typically carried out through a comprehensive assessment that involves carrying out tests, interpreting tests and recognizing underlying medical issues. Following a patient’s diagnosis, a nurse professional can initiate treatments or consult other specialized professionals to ensure the patient gets the best quality care.

In the medical field, very few professionals support interpersonal care as much as nurse practitioners. As a result, patients are exposed to very flexible and effective healthcare, including physical therapy, pharmacological treatments, palliative care, occupational therapy and other measures that help a patient improve.

Advanced practice registered nurses (APRN) provide primary and acute care to patients of all ages by:

  • Paying attention to patients, their families and communities to understand specific health needs and offer healthcare and emotional support.
  • Diagnosing health conditions and addressing them.
  • Developing specialized patient healthcare plans.
  • Prescribing medications.
  • Counseling and educating patients on disease prevention and a healthier lifestyle.
  • Requesting, deciphering and examining the results of tests with patients and their families.

While they advocate for interpersonal care, nurse practitioners can work independently in several different settings, including hospitals, private practices, emergency clinics and long-term care facilities. Regardless of the environment, nurse practitioners play a crucial role as the forerunners of patient care. They spend an extended period of time with patients and their families, so they are the first to notice any change in a patient’s condition and take necessary actions.

These responsibilities also apply to non-clinical settings and non-urgent care situations, naturally making NPs healthcare advocates. Every thriving nurse practitioner relishes the opportunity to get to know patients and their families on a personal level. They engage individuals, understand their health needs and include them in a strategy to maintain their health. While nurse practitioners have underlying responsibilities, the intricate scope of these professionals may differ based on location and healthcare institution.

Scope of practice

The scope of practice in any industry illustrates the “who,” ”what,” ”when,” ”where,” and ”how” of a particular profession. When it comes to nurse practitioners, the scope of practice describes the extent of their responsibilities working with their license and their location’s laws and guidelines.

The scope of practice for nurse practitioners is pretty straightforward. It gives them the freedom to practice independently in delivering primary and acute healthcare to patients. They are licensed to address critical, chronic and complex health conditions while also focusing on promoting a healthy lifestyle and preventing diseases through counseling and health education. However, specific responsibilities vary depending on the NP’s specialization. There is a wide variety of career path options within the NP field. Here is a look at some popular career paths for NPs.

Family nurse practitioner 

The family nurse practitioner is one of the most popular types of NP. They offer primary care to patients of all ages, typically within a primary care setting.

Adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner

These acute care nurse practitioners deliver healthcare to patients who need immediate treatment due to injuries or medical conditions in clinical and non-clinical settings.

Adult-gerontology primary care practitioner

Similar to acute care NPs, these practitioners treat patients from older teenagers and upward in age. They can also engage specific individuals such as students, military personnel and inmates.

Neonatal nurse practitioner

Professionals in this specialization are responsible for caring for vulnerable patients at a very young age. This includes infants who are sick, injured or premature at birth.

Pediatric nurse practitioner

Pediatric nurses provide acute and primary treatment to patients under 22 years of age. The responsibilities of these practitioners are similar to FNPs, with the only difference being the population they work with.

Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner

As the name implies, this specialty focuses on providing healthcare to patients who have a mental illness. Professionals under this specialization assess patients and provide treatment and counseling.

Women’s health nurse practitioner

A women’s health nurse practitioner provides comprehensive healthcare to females of all ages, including OB/GYN care, tests, counseling and education.

Aesthetic nurse practitioner

These are APRNs who work with patients with cosmetic issues. This specialty covers many options, including improving a patient’s appearance and offering counseling and treatment.

Emergency nurse practitioner

Emergency nurse practitioners (ENPs) are specialty care providers and licensed practitioners who provide care to patients in ambulatory, urgent and emergency care settings. They help to evaluate and address the episodic effects of chronic illnesses.

Cardiology nurse practitioner

These specialized nurse practitioners provide healthcare to patients who have been diagnosed with heart conditions. They care for patients who suffer from different forms of cardiac diseases.

Oncology nurse practitioner

Oncology nurse practitioners are highly specialized in providing comprehensive care to patients who have been diagnosed with cancer. Their responsibilities also include counseling and educating the patient’s family.

The roles and scope of nurse practitioners coincide with the APRN consensus model, which provides conformity in the roles, licensure, education, certification and accreditation of different nurse practitioners. There is an abundance of different types of nurse practitioners that cover every possible aspect of healthcare. Practicing in any of these fields requires a specialization certification or work experience in the area.

Becoming a nurse practitioner

The APRN consensus model makes for a similar education and training path for all nurse practitioners. The predominant educational track features an individual obtaining a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in nursing. Some professionals looking to explore better opportunities opt for higher degrees in the form of a doctorate.

The essence of this path is to help individuals recognize their specialty and develop the relevant competency required to fulfill their responsibilities. There are various forms of education available for this training path; a common one, especially for bachelor’s programs, is traditional tertiary institutions. However, when it comes to advanced degrees, individuals can benefit from different online programs that offer specialization options.

For example, family nurse practitioners are the most common NPs. However, an online FNP program provides a unique opportunity for professionals to improve critical nursing capabilities for delivering primary and specialty healthcare to patients of all ages. Having completed basic and advanced tertiary education, each practitioner must also take a certification examination before receiving a practice license.

Alternatively, regular nurses can become nurse practitioners by either taking NP classes or garnering extensive experience working for many years as a nurse. However, even with extensive experience, professionals need to take classes on how to advance their practice. Each prospective nurse practitioner must complete a supervised minimum of 500 clinical hours in various clinical settings.

There are various certification boards from which nurse practitioners must receive and renew their certification every five years. The two most common boards in the United States are the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Program (AANPCP) and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). The certification process includes completing around 50 hours of further education and 1000 hours of clinical duties.


The nurse practitioner field is vast, and while all NPs have similar generic responsibilities, their specific roles depend on their specialization. They are trained and tend to drift toward the specialty they feel most passionate about, whether it’s primary care, mental health, orthopedics, pain management, women’s health, education and even administration. However, regardless of the specialty, the underlying role of a nurse practitioner is to provide quality healthcare focused on the patient.


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