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Primary Care Nursing

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

Becoming a nurse is in many ways like being a middle-man, a liaison between the hard science that is the essence of the doctor’s profession and the human element inherent in dealing with patients. A nurse practitioner, who is becoming an increasingly prominent site in many primary physicians’ offices, is often the first person to come in contact with a patient when he enters the doctor’s office, and sometimes is also the last face. Good nurses are aware that every patient they meet on a given day is there for something abnormal, something which may be painful or worrisome, and can manage to put a patient’s heart at ease, even if only by the smallest of margins. They can do this by having both a good bedside manner and by possessing a professional competency which is unsurpassed in the medical profession. But what does it take to be a nurse practitioner, and what can someone expect once he or she becomes one?

What A Nurse Practitioner Is

A nurse practitioner (NP) is a registered nurse who has continued his or her education through at least the Master’s level, learning within the overall medical philosophy of individualized care, which is a major reason they are found so often (though not exclusively) in primary care practices. A nurse practitioner is trained to place high priority on preventative medicine and the education of patients, so that they may take better care of themselves on a daily basis. These nurses also perform research and are often advocates on the patient’s behalf. NPs can also be a family’s primary health care provider as well; taking a leadership role in a patient’s continued or renewed health.


A nurse practitioner must first complete, through the completion of a nursing program, the education it takes to become a registered nurse. This means all the classes and all the hours in hospitals learning how to best help patients and doctors. There are typically three paths of nursing education to becoming an RN: a Bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN), an Associate’s degree in nursing (ADN), and a diploma (administered by hospitals). Each of these three have their unique pros and cons, but all ultimately lead to the same place, being a registered nurse. There are also online LPN programs as well as online RN programs for the future nurse who may, for various reasons, not be able to attend traditional nursing schools. Online nursing programs are often perfect for the working professional looking to change careers, nonworking parents looking to start one, and recent high school graduates who must work to support families. After achieving at least an Associate’s degree, the future nurse can receive a nursing license by passing a nursing exam called the NCLEX-RN.

Once a person finishes an RN program, however, they are not done if they want to become a nurse practitioner. The prospective nurse practitioner must continue in education, achieving a Master’s degree from an accredited university. Once a person earns a Master of Science with Nurse Practitioner Concentration, the next step is gaining certification. This certification is earned by completing the above requirements and then proceeding to take and pass the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners exam (AANP), or the American Nurses Credentialing Center exam (ANCC). The ANCC is a test given to those who would like to specialize in a certain field within the “nurse practitioner” moniker. These possible specialties are advanced diabetes management, acute care, school nursing, mental health family care, and pediatrics.


Nurse practitioners have vastly different responsibilities than other people in the nursing profession. There are two main differences, though, one leading to the other. As opposed to RNs or LPNs, NPs can work individually in his or her own practice, a fact which leads to the other main difference between the responsibilities of an RN and NP. An NP can prescribe medications to patients and therefore must keep abreast of the latest medical information and innovation so as to best serve the patient.

Daily duties are difficult to generalize, as there are many specializations within the nurse practitioner field, and then each hospital, primary care practice, HMO, etc., finds its own unique way of applying the skills of an NP to the needs of the hospital. However, there are some responsibilities which are fairly common to the field. An NP can expect to diagnose ailments, and subsequently treat that illness or injury. They have also earned, through virtue of their nursing education, the ability to perform physicals and immunizations. As a result of their education in individualized health care, they will also often counsel their patients on how to take better care of themselves.


A nurse practitioner specializes in one of many different fields of medicine, and this specialization usually determines the kinds of hours the professional can expect to work. For example, a family care nurse practitioner may work only the hours during which the family practice is open. However, if the family care practice is part of a larger hospital, additional hours may be required. If, on the other hand, the nurse practitioner chooses to specialize in emergency care, hours may include holidays, weekends, nights, overnights, and on-call days. The amount and type of hours one wishes to spend working should be considered, as they can be quite demanding, often for higher pay.


Because there are so many specializations within the nurse practitioner field, it is difficult to determine the salary of someone who may work as one. When all the statistics are compiled, with some of the NPs in high paying specializations (Acute Care, Primary Care, Correctional Institution) making well over 100,000 dollars and the low end of the spectrum (Family Practice, Psychiatry) barely clearing 60,000 dollars, the median works out to be approximately a 90,000 dollar salary for a nurse practitioner. This is among the highest paid nursing professions.


With the economy in turmoil, one of the first questions a person must ask before delving into a profession is “What is the future for this profession?” While the answer to that question is invariably “I don’t know,” meaning there is always risk involved when a person invests money into an education under the assumption that the profession will make them more than they paid, there are some factors which can be considered when attempting an educated guess. Questioning the future of a profession is a perfectly logical thing to do for the future nurse practitioner, and, if CNN Money/’s analysis is correct, the field of nurse practitioner has the fourth best future of any profession in the world. Basically, what the report is saying is that, should you put in the work it takes to become a nurse, jobs will be available. There is even some talk of nurse practitioners increasingly taking on the responsibilities of primary care doctors in the near future, as there is currently a shortage of this variety of MD. Between being well paid and an industry expected to see growth in coming years, becoming a nurse practitioner is one of the best decisions many people will ever make, and the numbers back up that statement.