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What is a Nurse Practitioner?

Nicole Madison
Updated: Feb 18, 2024

A nurse practitioner is a registered nurse who has achieved an advanced level of education and training. Generally, he or she must have at least a master's degree, as well as a higher level of training in the diagnoses and treatment of a range of common medical conditions and illnesses. Some nurse practitioners seek training in highly specialized areas of medicine as well.

The job of a nurse practitioner is very similar to that of physician. In fact, these professionals often have working relationships with physicians. Like a physician, he or she can perform the duties of a primary health care provider and can offer medical care to patients of all ages. In most states, these nurses are legally allowed to prescribe medications.

A nurse practitioner is able to operate an independent medical practice. However, some choose to work in medical groups consisting of other nurses, physicians, or other medical personnel. Many work in hospitals and other types of medical facilities.

In addition to handling patient medical needs, nurse practitioners also pay close attention to the effects of illness on their patients' families, as well as on their home and work lives. They typically place a good deal of emphasis on the prevention of illnesses, patient education, and wellness. Since they prioritize prevention and wellness, they generally prescribe medications less often than medical doctors. Furthermore, they are less likely to recommend expensive medical treatments.

In the United States, the level of care that may be provided by a nurse practitioner is regulated by each individual state. Therefore, the duties of someone in this position may vary based upon where his or her practice is located. Typically, however, these professionals diagnose and treat a full range of illnesses, chronic diseases, infections, and medical conditions. Individuals in this field also obtain patient medical histories and perform physical examinations. They may also perform minor in-office surgical procedures.

Often, nurse practitioners work collaboratively with physicians and other medical professionals. They commonly provide counsel to patients, informing them of treatment options and guiding them in the development of self-care skills and healthy behaviors. When required, they refer patients to specialists.

To become a nurse practitioner, an individual must first complete the education and training required for a career as a registered nurse. Though an individual can become a registered nurse with an associate's degree, many employers in this field recommend achieving a bachelor's degree in nursing. Once an individual is a registered nurse, he or she may enter a state-approved training program to become a practitioner.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a WiseGeek writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.
Discussion Comments
By anon246774 — On Feb 10, 2012

Does a nurse practitioner have to clean wounds?

By Mykol — On Jul 06, 2011

My cousin has worked for years as a nurse, and now that she has an empty nest, she is looking to go from being an RN to a nurse practitioner. It was a little overwhelming for her at first. Even before she started they told her the number of hours per week that she would be expected to put in. Between the hours in school and study that is needed, there is not much time for anything else.

She is halfway through the program and is looking forward to being done. I know that she is glad she did not try to do this while her kids were still at home because it is very time consuming, but will be worth it when she is done.

By myharley — On Jul 05, 2011

I know that nurse practitioners are very well trained and have the ability to diagnose and treat many medical conditions. One of my best friends worked as a clinical nurse practitioner before going on to get her DO degree. The training she received as a nurse practitioner was a real asset to her as she was going through medical school.

Before enrolling in medical school she worked in a very rural part of the country and was able to do more than what a nurse practitioner may be able to do in certain clinical settings. She was even able to prescribe certain medications when needed.

By anon123432 — On Nov 01, 2010

I don't know about biopsies, but an NP most definitely performs breast exams and pap smears. If you go to a health department for free or reduced priced services, an NP is probably the one checking your breasts and pap smears.

By mcwig — On Feb 24, 2009

My question is, can a Nurse Practitioner perform biopsy's? Also can an NP do a complete examination, i.e., breast exam, pap smears, etc.?

By anon5431 — On Nov 25, 2007

If I have a follow up visit for kidney stones, what will the nurse practitioner be doing to me? Check urine, check for hernia or prostate problems or what???

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a WiseGeek writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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