June 22, 2023

What Does a Nurse Practitioner Do?

A nurse practitioner (NP) is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) that has completed advanced schooling and works for either a primary or specialty care provider. NPs earn either a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. 

But what does a nurse practitioner do, and what are their responsibilities?  This guide will give you an inside look at nurse practitioner duties, NP scope of practice by state, where they can work, and the pros and cons of being an NP. Read on to learn all about this advanced nursing profession.

What Does a Nurse Practitioner Do? 

Since there are many nurse practitioner specialties, specific job responsibilities will vary. But the primary duties of all NPs include the following:

1. Diagnosing and Managing Acute, Chronic, and Complex Health Problems

NPs diagnose patients with different illnesses and diseases regardless of their work environment. After diagnosing a patient, NPs are responsible for treating them throughout their illness until either the treatment is complete or throughout the disease progression.

2. Counseling Individuals, Families, Groups, and Communities

Another major job responsibility of an NP is education. This will vary depending on the job, but most NPs will educate patients on medications, disease prevention, treatment options, and laboratory and diagnostic test results.

Education may also include entire communities, especially in the public health sector. This includes teaching about communicable diseases, disease prevention, and wellness strategies.

3. Prescribing Medication and Non-Pharmacologic Treatments

NPs are responsible for prescribing medications for patients to help treat or prevent illness or disease. NPs, especially primary care, may recommend non-pharmacological co-treatments to patients, including chiropractic care, acupuncture, and exercise.

4. Ordering and Interpreting Diagnostic Tests and Laboratory Tests

No matter where they work, NPs can expect to order blood work and other tests, which can differ from patient to patient. 

For example, one patient may require an NP to order full blood work, while another needs an annual mammogram. Nurse practitioners order both preventative tests and tests during times of illness.

Nurse Practitioner Scope of Practice

Unlike medical doctors, the scope of practice for NPs varies based on the state of employment. Additionally, specific skills and responsibilities differ from job to job, depending on the NP's specialty. 

According to the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), there are currently 30 states with nurse practitioner full practice authority.

>> Show Me Online Nurse Practitioner Programs

Image: AANP

  • Green - Full Practice Authority

    • State practice and licensure laws permit all NPs to evaluate patients, diagnose, order, and interpret diagnostic tests

    • Initiate and manage treatments, including prescribing medications and controlled substances, under the exclusive licensure authority of the state board of nursing. 

    • This is the model recommended by the National Academy of Medicine, formerly called the Institute of Medicine, and the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

  • Yellow - Reduced Practice

    • State practice and licensure laws reduce the ability of NPs to engage in at least one element of NP practice. 

    • State law requires a career-long regulated collaborative agreement with another health provider in order for the NP to provide patient care, or it limits the setting of one or more elements of NP practice.

  • Red - Restricted Practice

    • State practice and licensure laws restrict the ability of NPs to engage in at least one element of NP practice. 

    • State law requires career-long supervision, delegation or team management by another health provider in order for the NP to provide patient care.

Source: AANP

Where Do Nurse Practitioners Work?

NPs can work in various areas, and their specific job locations vary based on the NP's specialty.  They can work in a wide range of settings, including: 

  • Academia
  • Community clinics
  • Correctional facilities
  • Emergency rooms
  • Government agencies
  • Home Health
  • Homeless clinics
  • Hospice
  • Hospitals
  • Insurance companies
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Military
  • Nurse-managed clinics
  • Private Physicians
  • Private sector
  • Public Health Departments
  • Rehab
  • Substance abuse treatment centers
  • Retail clinics
  • Surgical clinics
  • Urgent care clinics
  • Weight loss centers

A Day in the Life of a Nurse Practitioner

A typical day in the life of a nurse practitioner can look very different depending on your role, specialty, and state of practice. Like most jobs in healthcare, nurse practitioners have exciting careers in which no two workdays are exactly the same.

A Day in the Life of a Nurse Practitioner at a Private Practice Clinic

Nurse practitioners are most commonly employed at clinics or private practice facilities. In these environments, NPs are assigned patients to see during each shift.

1. Meet With Patients

 After any morning meetings and reviewing the patients’ files for the day, they meet with their first patient. 

The NP is responsible for listening to their patient’s chief complaints, including why they’re visiting, and then determining the next steps. Based on the information they gather, the NP may choose to conduct a full or focused physical examination. 

2. Order Tests

Then, depending on the patient’s concerns, the NP may need to order diagnostic or laboratory tests and medications. 

3. Patient Education

Finally, they educate the patient (and family members, if present) about the visit, then discuss and schedule any necessary follow-ups.

4. Repeat!

The NP repeated this process for every patient throughout their shift until seeing the last patient of the day. After the patients have been seen, NPs may still have additional meetings or paperwork to complete before going home. 

>> Show Me Online Nurse Practitioner Programs

A Day in the Life of a Nurse Practitioner in a Hospital

Another standard work location for NPs is a hospital. Most hospital NPs work 10- or 12-hour shifts, which may change depending on the unit. 

1. Start the Shift

NPs working in the hospital start their shifts by receiving a signout from the outgoing NP or healthcare provider. Then, they review the patient’s charts to ensure the accuracy of information.

2. Rounding on Patients

NPs spend a large portion of their days rounding on their patients. Rounding is often done with other healthcare providers, including medical doctors, pharmacists, nursing staff, respiratory therapists, and dieticians.

3. Conduct Follow-Ups

After rounding on patients, hospital NPs spend the remainder of their shifts conducting follow-ups. This process includes reviewing lab work, speaking with the bedside nurse, and examining their patients.

Pros and Cons of Being a Nurse Practitioner

Being a nurse practitioner is a rewarding and fulfilling career choice. But, as with any career, you should understand the benefits and disadvantages before pursuing it:


  • Competitive salary
  • Flexible work hours
  • Excellent job outlook
  • Challenging career
  • Ability to travel
  • Compensation packages
  • Trusted profession
  • Highly in-demand
  • Variety of job locations
  • Job security
  • Job satisfaction
  • Autonomy
  • Opportunities for specialization
  • Patient advocate
  • Job advancement opportunities


  • Lengthy education
  • Stress (emotional and workplace)
  • Difficult certification exam
  • Long work hours
  • Physically demanding
  • Exposure to disease
  • Continuing education requirements
  • Burnout
  • Student loan debt
  • Legal responsibilities

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