Field Study: What Nurse Practitioners Do

What is a nurse practitioner? Nurse practitioners (NPs) are registered nurses (RNs) who have additional training and education within a specialty area. These nurses can also be referred to as Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) because they have earned one of two graduate-level degrees: Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

The advanced specialty training that NPs can choose can include a variety of areas such as (but not limited to): 

  • Pediatric
  • Adult-gerontological
  • Women’s health
  • Dermatology
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Oncology

What Nurse Practitioners Do

Nurse Practitioners have a greater number of responsibilities than registered nurses as they provide comprehensive care to patients. This bigger picture level of care includes performing diagnostic care and treatment, preventive care check-ups, and ordering prescriptions. 

Their duties can overlap with the duties you will see physician assistants or even doctors doing given that they can diagnose, order tests, treat, and perform procedures. However, first and foremost, nurse practitioners are nurses. 

That means that a large part of their work involves educating patients about health issues, treatments, and healthcare prevention. And they take a holistic approach because the information they gather about their patients includes physical symptoms as well as environmental and psychosocial information.

Related Post: Physician Assistant Vs Nurse Practitioner – What’s the difference?

An Essential and Growing Field

The profession of nurse practitioner was created in 1965 and has seen a large expansion in the last few years. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted that the number of positions for NPs was expected to climb at the rate of 5 times that of most other professions through 2024. 

There are several reasons for this because NPs:

  • Help lower the cost of healthcare
  • Fill the gap that the primary care physician shortage causes
  • Education costs are roughly 25% of what people pay to become a physician
  • Receive a good salary

Why Nurse Practitioner vs Doctor

There are several reasons why someone might choose a nurse practitioner over a doctor both as a patient and as a career.

As a Patient

Time and time again, evidence has demonstrated that the high-quality care provided by NPs is equal to that of PAs and physicians.

As a Career

From a career standpoint, the field is expected to grow around 35% compared to 13% for doctors during the same period of time. While physician’s salaries are higher than those for NPs, their cost for education (and number of years in school) are higher than that for NPs.

In addition, NPs generally express a high level of job satisfaction.

Why See a NP as Your Primary Care Provider?

More and more patients prefer to see a nurse practitioner instead of a physician for a few reasons. Compared to patients under the care of a physician, patients under NPs have:

  • higher satisfaction
  • a reduced number of preventable hospitalizations
  • fewer unnecessary ER visits
  • fewer hospital readmissions

Nurse Practitioners vs Doctors: a Side by Side of These Fields

Are nurse practitioners doctors? Not at all. However, since both of these fields involve patient care, it can quickly become confusing how they differ. Here’s a quick rundown of the similarities and the differences.


Both NPs and physicians:

  • have advanced education and training
  • pass exams and certifications (vary based on the state requirements) 
  • Must participate in continuing education
  • provide quality health care to improve patient outcomes
  • can be a PCP (primary care provider)
  • record patients’ medical histories and symptoms
  • diagnose health issues
  • deliver preventative patient care


Unlike physicians, NPs:

  • Only need about ½ the number of years of education
  • Have duties that center around providing patient primary care which often involves educating patients about wellness issues
  • Can take on administrative and educational roles
  • Might teach staff about changing regulatory policies or new patient care procedures

Will Nurse Practitioners Replace Doctors?

At this point you may be wondering if NPs are able to do many things that physicians can do, will nurse practitioners replace family doctors?

Simply put: no. While there is overlap between the two fields, they complement each other and need each other in order to provide the best care for their patients. 

Since NPs are able to perform many of the routine services physicians typically provide, physicians can delegate some of their responsibilities to NPs which allows them to treat more complex cases.

By the same token, nurse practitioners won’t replace hospitalists either since they can act as both administrator and nurse.

Nurse Practitioner FAQs

I often hear lots of questions regarding nurse practitioners, so here’s a short question and answer session to help you find the answers to your questions quickly.

Can Nurse Practitioners Prescribe Medicine?

Yes, nurse practitioners can write prescriptions for medication (that includes controlled substances) according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). 

Can Nurse Practitioners Prescribe Narcotics? Yes, they can prescribe many narcotics such as codeine, morphine, fentanyl, and oxycodone.

Can Nurse Practitioners Do Surgery?

A surgical nurse practitioner is an NP that has specialized in the field of surgery. While they aren’t able to do surgery independently, they may assist on different procedures by: 

  • suturing wounds
  • opening locations for surgery
  • providing suction
  • operating laparoscopic cameras
  • anything else a surgeon may need

Can Nurse Practitioners Work Independently?

The duties and responsibilities of nurse practitioners may vary by state, although some states allow nurse practitioners to practice independently. Other states may require them to work under varying levels of a physician’s supervision.

Can a Nurse Practitioner Open a Clinic?

The short answer is yes. 

The longer answer is that the exact operating rules vary state by state. Some states will allow NPs to operate a clinic independently without a physician while others will require a collaborating physician for the clinic.

The AANP distinguishes between three designations (labeled as NP full practice states, reduced practiced states, and restricted practice states). Check the site to see the most up to date list and which designation your state falls under.

Where do Nurse Practitioners Work?

This field offers a huge opportunity for variety, as NPs can work in hospitals, doctor’s offices, clinics, in-home healthcare companies, and even in rural areas.

Want to work from home? Thanks to the growing demand for telehealth services, what nurse practitioners do fits this demand well, thus allowing NP work from home jobs to become more and more common.

If you’re considering becoming an NP, there are many upsides to choosing this career path over that of a physician. Job growth opportunities, workplace variety, rewarding career, good salary, and more make the field of nurse practitioner very appealing. 

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