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Licensed Nurse Practitioner: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a licensed nurse practitioner. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about education, job duties and licensing to find out if this is the career for you.

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Essential Information

Licensed nurse practitioners (NPs) are advanced practice nurses who provide primary and specialty care services to patients. Although the services that NPs provide are similar to that of physicians, their approach and philosophy are somewhat different. Physicians focus mainly on curing conditions, but licensed nurse practitioners also place a lot of emphasis on disease prevention, health education and promotion, patient counseling and wellness.

Required Education Undergraduate degree in nursing; Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or post-master's certificate as a nurse practitioner
Other Requirements Licensure as a registered nurse and a nurse practitioner; board certification is not mandatory but recommended
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022) 34%*
Median Annual Salary (2013) $92,670*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description

Nurse practitioners (NPs) start off as registered nurses (RNs), but then go on to complete additional training. A licensed nurse practitioner can diagnose and treat a variety of health conditions, as well as prescribe certain medications. Most NPs work in primary care areas like adult practice, family practice, pediatrics, geriatrics, women's health or acute care. Opportunities are also available to specialize in areas like cardiology, oncology, mental health, dermatology, emergency medicine, orthopedics, neurology and sports medicine.

Job Duties

A licensed nurse practitioner's job duties can vary depending on the state in which they work, as well as their specialty. Some of the duties that a NP is typically responsible for include counseling patients in health and wellness, diagnosing medical conditions, prescribing medication, managing chronic illness, performing diagnostic tests, conducting physical exams, taking patient histories and providing family planning services.


Those who would like to become licensed nurse practitioners should first complete the requirements necessary to become an RN. They must earn either an associate's degree in nursing (ADN), a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or a diploma. They must then take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to become a licensed RN and gain experience working as a nurse.

Because an advanced degree is needed to become an NP, a bachelor's degree is necessary. RNs who have an associate's degree or a diploma must complete a Bachelor of Science to enroll in a master's degree program. Those who have a BSN can immediately enroll in a master's degree program.

Nurses who have a master's degree and clinical experience can pursue further education by enrolling in a post-master's certificate or doctoral degree program. Post-master's certificate programs can be helpful in preparing for certification exams, while doctoral programs can prepare NPs to take on higher leadership positions and influence health care policy.

After earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or a post-master's certificate, the NP must pass a licensure examination in his or her state before being eligible to practice. Though each state has its own licensing criteria, the general requirements are completion of an approved program and clinical nursing experience. Some states also require certification from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or another specialty nursing organization. Licensed nurse practitioners must renew their licenses every two or three years depending on their state's requirements.

After receiving their license, NPs might opt to test for board certification. Two organizations that offer certification include the American Nurses Association (ANA) and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). Several nursing specialty organizations offer certification as well for those who would like to earn certification in a specialty area. Board certification can help NPs receive recognition for their professional competency and can help them acquire higher paying positions.

Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported a median annual salary of $92,670 for nurse practitioners in 2013. Hospitals, physicians' offices and outpatient services were the most common employers of NPs at that time, though their highest-paying industries included personal care services, specialty hospitals, and grantmaking and giving services. Location-wise, nurses in California, Alaska and Oregon earned the highest salaries in 2013, according to the BLS, with average wages ranging from $107,560 to $111,800 per year.

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Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics