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Licensed Nurse Practitioner: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Licensed nurse practitioners 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.

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Licensed Nurse Practitioner 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.

Licensed Nurse Practitioner 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.

Licensed Nurse Practitioner Requirements

Those who would like to become licensed nurse practitioners should first complete the requirements necessary to become a 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 a 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 may 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 may 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 may 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.

Licensed Nurse Practitioner Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported a median annual salary of $65,470 for registered nurses (a category that includes nurse practitioners) in 2012. Hospitals, physicians' offices, and home health care services were the most common employers of RNs at that time, though their highest-paying industries included wholesale electronic markets, ground passenger transportation and the executive branch of the federal government. Location-wise, nurses in California, Hawaii and Massachusetts earned the highest salaries in 2012, according to the BLS, with average wages ranging from around $83,000-$94,000 per year.

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Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics