Skip to main content

What does a Nurse Practitioner do?

Are you an empathetic person who loves helping others? Are you fascinated by both the clinical care of the sick and the health education that will help them improve their health in the future? Do you want to be a part of a system that offers patients high quality healthcare at a more reasonable price? Then you may want to be a nurse practitioner.

Job description: the basics

A nurse practitioner is a registered nurse with an advanced practice specialty. As such, he or she is able to perform all of the duties of a nurse and also take on a role more typical of a doctor, like prescribing medications and serving as a primary care provider.

nurse practitioner

As a nurse practitioner, you can expect to do things like treat and counsel both healthy and sick patients, conduct diagnostic and therapeutic tests, and monitor patients’ general health and well-being. You can specialize in many different areas, from sub-specialties like allergy and immunology or sports medicine to more general specialties like family health or mental health. You can tailor your practice to the aspects of health and clinical care that you feel most passionate about.

Most nurse practitioners work in places like an office practice, at a hospital, or at a public health clinic, but you could also find a job in education, or even in marketing at a pharmaceutical company if you decide not to practice one day. This means that you may work long shifts and odd hours, or you may end up with a regular 40-hour work week. The choice is yours!

Becoming a nurse practitioner: education and training

Nurse practitioners must have both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree at minimum, and many have doctorates.

You can find some programs that will allow you to get a bachelor’s and a master’s in nursing together, and these typically take about four years. Alternatively, you can go through school in a more typical progression, getting your bachelor’s first and then moving on to a two-year master’s program.

You have to take your board examination (the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-RN) regardless of your degrees, and many states ask that all nurses take continuing education classes throughout their careers in order to keep up with the latest medical news and technology.

Salary and career outlook

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, your job outlook as a nurse practitioner is excellent. Particularly if you are willing and able to relocate to the areas in the most need, such as the inner city or a rural community, you’ll be in high demand and can expect to have a good starting salary.

As a nurse practitioner, you have the satisfaction of knowing you’re delivering high-quality healthcare at a more affordable price to a wide range of patients.

What does a Registered Nurse do?

A registered nurse (“RN”) helps people deal with physical or mental illnesses. RNsĀ also help individuals and populations strive for health.

Registered nurses administer medications, dress wounds, assess and monitor body functions, teach patients, families and communities, provide emotional and spiritual support, and plan interventions to help people achieve health.

Registered nurses work closely with other healthcare providers, including physicians, physical therapists, dieticians, licensed practical nurses, nursing assistants, lab technicians, social workers and discharge planners.

registered nurse

Education and Training

Currently, there are three paths to becoming a Registered Nurse:

  • An Associate Degree program, typically offered at a community or technical college, is a two-year program that includes classroom instruction in basic and applied health sciences, as well nursing theory and practice. Clinical rotations give students an opportunity to practice their developing skills. Graduates receive an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and are eligible to take the NCLEX-RN, the national licensure test.
  • Diploma programs were more common prior to the 1970s. Three-year programs that emphasized clinical skill development, diploma programs were typically offered by hospitals. Presently, there are less than 100 diploma schools of nursing in existence. Diploma grads are also eligible to take the NCLEX-RN.
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs are four year programs offered by colleges and universities. Typically, the first two years are spent meeting the general ed requirements for graduation. The last two years are spent studying nursing theory and practice and in clinical rotations. BSN grads also sit for the NCLEX-RN.

In 2008, the American Nurses Association passed a resolution to support initiatives that will require all RNs to obtain a BSN within 10 years of licensure (excluding nurses who are already licensed).

All Registered Nurses must pass the NCLEX-RN and register with their state boards of nursing before becoming eligible for employment.

Where Nurses Work

Most RNs (approximately 60%) work in hospitals. Others work in long-term care facilities, schools, clinics, birth centers, home care agencies and private practice.

Registered nurses can choose from a wide variety of roles. Some RNs prefer hands-on nursing and care for ill and surgical patients in hospitals. Some RNs prefer the thrill of emergency medicine and work as flight nurses or ER nurses. Some enjoy patient teaching and work as diabetes educators, childbirth educators or in cardiac rehab. Others move into management or staff education positions.

RNs in Demand

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for RNs is predicted to increase by 22 percent. Most growth will be out of the hospital; future nurses will be more likely to work for clinics and home care agencies. Salaries vary.

What does a Surgical Nurse do?

A surgical nurse, also called a perioperative nurse, is a registered nurse (RN) who is trained to care for patients and assist the surgical team before, during, and after surgery. Pre-op care requires the nurse to prepare the patient both physically and emotionally for surgery.

During surgery, the “scrub” nurse monitors the patient’s vital signs, hands the instruments to the physician with precision and speed, and suctions blood and fluids. A circulating nurse manages the arena of the operating room, setting the “stage” by preparing the operating room for surgery and making sure conditions remain sterile during surgery. The recovery room nurse monitors the patient as the anesthesia wears off and attends to wound care.

surgical nurse

How to become a surgical nurse

Surgical nursing is an intense specialty due to the possibility of drama on the operating table. It is important that surgical nurses are highly skilled and levelheaded through long and complicated procedures and that they are able to reassure patients in stressful situations.

There are two undergraduate degrees that can lead to surgical nursing: Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN), a two-year program, and Bachelor of Nursing Science (BSN), a four-year program. Surgical nurses are also required to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). See the website of National Council of State Boards of Nursing for more information.

Although certification is not necessary, becoming a Certified Nurse in the Operating Room is a way to increase your competitive edge. See the Competency and Credentialing Institute website for specifics on the CNOR exam.

Job prospects for a surgical nurse

Surgical nurses work in a surgical unit in a hospital or in an outpatient or urgent care clinic that offers day surgery. Although there are no statistics for the job outlook for surgical nursing specifically, prospects for nursing in general are excellent according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS). Chances of being employed are excellent and hospitals often compete to offer more benefits and flexible hours to attract competent staff.

Salary varies by region and population density. Wages are lower in the South and East. A surgical nurse typically earns more than RNs doing general nursing work.

A surgical nurse with experience can move on to plastic surgery nursing, earning more money in private surgery centers. Further study and training can also lead to becoming a nurse anesthetist, where the median salary is far above other nursing specialties, according to Mayo Clinic School of Health Sciences career overview.