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What Is a Nurse Practitioner?

All nurses play an increasingly vital role in healthcare within many specialties. However, a nurse practitioner (NP) has a unique set of qualifications. As one of the top 10 fastest growing occupations in the US, NPs are drawing more attention in the industry. So, what is a nurse practitioner and what do nurse practitioners do? 

Nurse Practitioner Meaning 

Nurse practitioners are healthcare providers who offer a holistic and accessible healthcare approach to patients. They diagnose and treat health conditions and diseases with a focus on disease prevention and health management. Nurse practitioners have become increasingly important in healthcare with their specialized knowledge and skills. 

Role in Healthcare 

Nurse practitioners play a crucial role in healthcare as they provide medical treatment and preventative care in various care settings. They are often the first point of contact for patients seeking medical attention, performing physical exams, taking medical histories, ordering diagnostic tests, and developing treatment plans. They work collaboratively with physicians, pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals to provide comprehensive care to patients. 

With the increasing number of nurse practitioners joining the healthcare workforce, more patients will gain access to essential healthcare services. In certain regions, patients may face obstacles such as being turned away due to physician capacity limitations, being subject to waitlists, or having to travel for care. Nevertheless, the addition of nurse practitioners helps bridge these gaps and ensures that patients receive the healthcare they need. 


Nurse practitioners can specialize in various areas of healthcare based on their interests and training. They can specialize in family practice, women’s health, pediatric care, acute care, become a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, and more. Their specialized knowledge enables them to provide focused and comprehensive care to patients with their unique health needs. 

However, only 73% of patients understood the difference between an NP and registered nurses. Clearly, education concerning “What is a nurse practitioner?” is necessary to ensure that patients have a solid understanding – and appreciation – of the quality care that NPs provide. This would also alleviate any apprehensions patients may have about turning to NPs for their healthcare needs.  

Education and Training 

To obtain licensure, nurse practitioners must first undergo rigorous educational and clinical training requirements. First, NPs must complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) – typically from a four-year program. Next, they must obtain a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), which usually takes two to four years. NPs also can further their education to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). 

Licensing and Certification for Nurse Practitioners 

After graduation, NPs must then pass a board exam to be certified in their specialty practice area. Finally, NPs must obtain a license from each state they wish to practice in, and complete mandatory continuing education hours every year. 

Nurse Practitioner Scope of Practice 

The typical nurse practitioner scope of practice depends upon their state’s regulations regarding full practice authority, but typically includes (but is not limited to): 

  • Performing regular check-ups 
  • Ordering and interpreting diagnostic and laboratory tests 
  • Diagnosing diseases 
  • Creating treatment plans 

You will find nurse practitioners in a variety of medical environments – including hospitals, primary practice, family care settings, urgent care and more – although more than 75% of NPs work as primary care nurse practitioners. Some NPs take advantage of flexible part-time schedules to achieve work-life balance. However, nurse practitioner private practices have become more common in recent years.  

Career Outlook and Industry Change 

The healthcare industry has been experiencing an upward trend in jobs created for nurse practitioners (NPs) in recent years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a 45% increase has been projected in employment opportunities for NPs between 2019 and 2029.  

Family Nurse Practitioner Definition 

Family nurse practitioners (FNP) are one of the most popular specializations in the nurse practitioner field. They provide primary care services to individuals of all ages and demographics. The FNP specialization is in line with the shift towards primary care services in the healthcare industry.  

FNPs are also instrumental in preventative care. In situations where physicians may not be available for routine follow-ups, FNPs can step in to treat and manage many common chronic conditions, including hypertension, diabetes, and asthma. Because this continuity in care is instrumental in meeting the imperatives of preventative maintenance in healthcare, FNPs will continue to be in high demand. 

Women’s Health Nurse Practitioners 

Women’s health nurse practitioners (WHNPs) focus on improving the health of women throughout their lifespan. They specialize in pregnancy management, family planning, women’s health, and obstetric care. As more women become proactive about their healthcare, the demand for women’s health nurse practitioners will continue to rise. WHNPs are responsible for conducting annual wellness exams, performing gynecologic procedures, and treating gynecologic problems. 

Closing Gaps and Cutting Costs in Healthcare 

With an ongoing shortage of primary care and rural physicians, nurse practitioners are needed as they help to fill gaps in healthcare. By establishing a private practice in areas with limited access to quality care, the nurse practitioner entrepreneur is having a positive impact on the healthcare landscape by expanding healthcare access to the population. 

NPs also deliver significant cost savings for patients. It is no secret that healthcare costs have been soaring for decades. Studies have shown that NPs provide the same services as doctors, but at a fraction of the cost. In fact, the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) cites multiple studies showing that NPs can provide better patient outcomes at lower costs, including the following: 

  • A study by the Perryman Group analyzed the potential economic impact of recruiting more nurse practitioners and found an estimated $16.1 billion in immediate savings, which would continue to increase over time 
  • A review of NPs in one managed care organization found that they provided care at 23% lower costs than physicians, resulting in a 21% reduction in hospitalization costs 
  • A study published in Nursing Economics found that care provided by a nurse practitioner provided was associated with lower overall drug costs for patients in acute care settings 

Summary: What Is a Nurse Practitioner? 

By taking a patient-centric, holistic approach, nurse practitioners play a valuable role in patient care. They also make a significant contribution to our healthcare system by providing high-quality care that is both affordable and accessible for patient populations. 

NPs also have impressive educational credentials and expertise in a wide variety of specialties and healthcare settings. With many years of nursing experience, NPs bring a valuable perspective to healthcare practice. Increasingly, we see the nurse practitioner private practice becoming more common. In the future, expect to see NPs continue to have a positive impact on healthcare and patient satisfaction. 

NP Advantage Can Help 

With 25 years of experience helping providers build and market practices, we are uniquely equipped to help jumpstart, grow, and support your NP private practice. We bring the same level of care to your practice that you bring to your patients. Take advantage of our consultants’ expertise to help launch and grow your private NP practice. Contact one of our experienced consultants today. 

Let’s Improve Patient Care Together