A Day in the Life of a Nurse Practitioner (NP)

A Day in the Life of a Nurse Practitioner (NP)

Nurse practitioners (NPs) play a significant role in modern healthcare. They diagnose and treat patients, perform research, and serve in subspecialty positions. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment in this field to grow by 52% from 2019-2029. For comparison, the BLS projects all professions to grow by an average rate of 4% in that same time period. NPs earned a median annual wage of $111,680 as of May 2020.

A day in the life of a nurse practitioner depends on several factors, including the NP’s specialty, work setting, location, and personal interests. This page provides an in-depth look into the day-to-day working lives of NPs.

What Is a Nurse Practitioner?

As licensed clinicians, NPs provide direct patient care, including disease prevention and management. While NPs receive training in the nursing model of care, they provide more extensive, autonomous, patient-focused service.

Created in 1965 at the University of Colorado, the NP profession expanded and professionalized in the 1980s with the establishment of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. As of 2019, more than 263,000 NPs worked in the U.S. Nearly all of these professionals hold graduate education, state licensure, and professional certification.

Find out more about being a nurse practitioner at the link below.

Read More About Nurse Practitioners

What a Nurse Practitioner Does

NPs help prevent diseases and manage patient conditions. These professionals provide independent care across the wellness-illness continuum. NPs can specialize in fields such as pediatrics, adult gerontology, or women’s health, and they may subspecialize in areas like cardiology, oncology, or psychiatry.

Nurse practitioners can often perform many of the clinical duties once strictly associated with physicians, depending on the state. NPs diagnose and treat patients, order tests, refer patients to specialists, write prescriptions, and educate patients and families. In addition, NPs may conduct research, teach nursing classes, mentor nurses, work in administration, or write and publish scholarly articles.

An NP’s subspecialty, experience, and work setting all help to determine their duties and schedules. Specialty areas focus on specific conditions, environments, or sub-populations. Experience can lead to roles in healthcare management as a director of nursing or chief nursing officer. A subpopulation can determine the scope of an NP’s role in a single patient’s healthcare plan.

Compassionate leaders with a capacity for emotional wellbeing and a strong aptitude for math and science can flourish in this field. Find out more about what a nurse practitioner does below:

Main Duties of NPs

  • Assess Patients’ Health Statuses: With any patient, an NP’s primary responsibilities begin with a health status assessment. This practice includes reviewing medical history, performing physical exams, ordering or performing preventative or diagnostic procedures, and identifying any risk factors. An accurate assessment of the patient’s health status precedes a formal diagnosis of any health condition.
  • Make Diagnoses: Much like physicians, NPs can diagnose patient illnesses. To make diagnoses, NPs synthesize and analyze the relevant data. They consider the patient’s history, physical exams, and the results of any diagnostic tests. Finally, they assess the individual’s priorities. Sound scientific knowledge and critical thinking skills bolster the diagnostic process.
  • Maintain Medical Charts: NPs record medical history and key clinical data in their patients’ records. Medical charts contain a patient’s family, social, and surgical history; demographics; and history of the current complaint.
  • Develop Treatment Plans: NPs use evidence-based practices to develop care plans. These plans include ordering diagnostic tests, prescribing drugs or non-pharmacological interventions, developing an education plan for the patient, and recommending any appropriate referrals or consultations. When implementing plans, NPs rely on scientific principles, along with their clinical expertise and experience.
  • Write Prescriptions: Medication errors cost healthcare organizations time and money, and they can cost patients their health or even their lives. NPs need to write prescriptions that identify the patient, the drug, the dosage, the route of dosage, and the frequency of intake.

Non-Standard Duties for NPs

  • Legal Consulting: An NP can qualify as an expert legal witness by providing their objective and unbiased legal opinion in court. As witnesses, NPs may evaluate medical records, witness testimony, and material facts relevant to medical cases. Professionals interested in this career can access resources and certification materials through the American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants.
  • Writing and Editing: NPs can write, edit, or review clinical content for print and online sources. Scholarly journals, textbook publishers, healthcare websites, and nursing career pages all need medical reviewers. NPs can also write test questions or review test preparation materials. Most writing roles offer remote, part-time work.
  • Teaching Online: As demand for nurses intensifies, nursing schools struggle to maintain their capacity to defeat the nursing shortage. NPs can teach online courses from home or the office. Some NPs may pursue nurse education as a full-time career, while others serve as adjuncts.
  • Delivering International Healthcare: NPs with an international perspective may enjoy working for the U.S. government or nonprofit organizations dedicated to improving global health. These professionals can develop transnational academic partnerships, research emerging trends in global health, and provide direct care to American diplomats working in embassies around the world.
  • Aiding as Flight Nurses: Flight nurses assist paramedics and physicians who care for advanced critical care patients during transport. Often, these patients experience trauma and require life-sustaining care in a high-pressure environment. NPs who work on air ambulances must complete specialized training from the Department of Transportation Air Medical.

The Anatomy of a Nurse Practitioner’s Day

A day in the life of a nurse practitioner depends on that professional’s specialty, work setting, and responsibilities. In general, however, a typical nurse practitioner schedule might look like this:

  1. Take care of administrative duties and prepare for the day.
  2. Check equipment and review patient charts.
  3. See patients. (In the emergency room, an NP might see 18 patients; in non-emergency settings, NPs can handle 20-25 patients.)
  4. Educate patients about managing their health conditions.
  5. Review labs and other test results.
  6. Prepare for the following day.

Patient care takes up most of a nurse practitioner’s work schedule. Addressing patient needs may include consulting with physicians or specialists, prescribing medication, and requesting diagnostic tests.

An NP’s specialty determines many of the day’s activities. For example, an individual who specializes in cardiology may help a patient learn to manage their sodium intake, while an emergency room nurse practitioner might intubate a patient following an overdose.

In an office setting, NPs usually work five eight-hour shifts or four 10-hour shifts a week during regular business hours. Professionals who work in hospitals or emergency settings, however, often work nights and weekends and may have more fluid schedules.

Professional Spotlight

Portrait of Deborah Cobb, FNP

Deborah Cobb, FNP

Deborah Cobb has 15 years of experience as a primary care provider and an ICU nurse. She received her bachelor of science in nursing from Simmons College and earned a master of science in nursing as a family nurse practitioner from Georgetown University.

Prior to joining Liv, Deborah provided primary care at Advantage Care Physicians for three years, serving New York City patients from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds with compassion and expertise. Deborah was also a family nurse practitioner at Premise Health and Wake Forest Baptist Health Community Physicians and an ICU nurse at New York Presbyterian Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

What previous healthcare experience did you have, and what prompted your journey to become a nurse practitioner?

My decision to go into nursing and healthcare was personal. After having a not-so-great experience as a caregiver for my parents, I was really called to help people have better healthcare experiences, and for me, that starts with preventative care.

Before becoming a nurse practitioner and focusing on primary and preventative care, I was an ICU nurse. I saw that a lot of patients were in acute care because of health problems that could have been prevented or addressed earlier. I became a nurse practitioner because I wanted to spend my career helping people prevent these conditions and symptoms from happening in the first place.

In my role now as the lead primary care provider at Liv by Advantia Health, a coordinated care clinic in Washington, D.C., I work alongside my colleagues, an Ob-Gyn and a mental wellness professional, to care for our patients’ entire wellness. It’s a really unique, incredible opportunity.

For whom do you think this career is a good fit? Why?

Having a strong drive to help others is really critical for this career. Additionally, in order to enjoy being a nurse practitioner, you really need to enjoy continued learning and adapting to changing environments and guidelines. As a family nurse practitioner, I work with both adult and pediatric patients.

I’m a generalist, not a specialist, so I’m constantly adapting to new guidelines for all the different specialties, not just one. I find it helps to have an optimistic outlook and a curious disposition, as well.

What additional education did you get to become a nurse practitioner? What was it like?

I started my nursing career as a registered nurse. I worked in a hospital and did bedside nursing for a few years, and then went on to pursue my master of science as a family nurse practitioner. However, there are different paths that nurses can take.

What certification and licensure tests did you need to pass?

You have to become a registered nurse first, and in order to do that, you must pass the NCLEX. You used to have to practice nursing for a few years, but because of the current nurse practitioner shortage, many programs will now allow you to go straight to pursuing a nurse practitioner degree. From there, you sit for an exam for whatever board specialty you would like to practice in.

How did you prepare for them?

I spent the majority of my time studying. I didn’t have a ton of free time while I was studying, but it was worth it.

What were they like?

For the NCLEX, the test is composed of a number of questions, usually between 75 to over 200, and you have to get a certain percentage of those questions correct in order to pass. The number of questions you get depends on your performance in real time. What’s great about everything being electronic now is that you find out your scores almost immediately instead of having everything mailed to you.

What’s a typical day like for you?

I have a unique role right now, even for a family nurse practitioner. As the lead primary care practitioner at Liv by Advantia Health, I am part of a team providing comprehensive, coordinated care to women in Washington, D.C. Every day, I see patients for both acute and chronic conditions.

We discuss preventive care, and oftentimes mental health. No two days are alike. In a coordinated care setting, I can refer my patients to my incredible colleagues that work under the same roof, whether it be for an Ob-Gyn-related issue or for mental health.

What’s your favorite part of being a nurse practitioner?

For me, it’s really fulfilling and meaningful to see my patients start to feel better. I got into preventative medicine and primary care because I wanted to see fewer patients in the ICU, and I knew many of those problems were preventable.

As a nurse practitioner working with patients over time, I find it incredibly fulfilling to be able to work with a patient to identify an emerging issue and provide treatment, recommendations, and medications that I can, over time, see are working to manage a condition or treat an underlying issue. It’s a wonderful feeling to know I am helping people directly improve their health and their lives.

The most challenging part?

When you’re driven to help people, you always want to do more, to do better. I always want to make sure I am spending enough time with patients to really understand their needs and their conditions, provide comprehensive checks, accurately diagnose symptoms or conditions, and provide the best treatment options.

At the same time, I want to make sure I’m helping and seeing as many people as possible and respecting my patients’ time by not making them wait for me. Despite being on a tight schedule, I do my best to make sure that I’m spending enough time with patients and, most of all, making sure that patients feel heard.

What advice do you have for individuals considering becoming nurse practitioners?

I would strongly encourage anyone who is interested in becoming a nurse practitioner to shadow a nurse practitioner or a provider to really get a feel for what this job is like. Shadowing can help you to see the work up close and confirm that the daily demands are in line with what you want to do.

What do you wish you’d known before becoming a nurse practitioner?

I am learning more and more every day about mental health. As a primary care provider, mental health is front and center in my work in ways I hadn’t envisioned early on. Mental health plays a huge role in physical health, and primary care providers are often the first stop for mental health in addition to physical ailments.

The COVID-19 pandemic has really impacted mental health for everyone, but especially for women. At Liv by Advantia Health, we’re committed to ensuring patients’ overall wellness. I am so glad to be at a practice where I can refer patients to an on-site colleague for treatment. If I had known what I know now about the links between mental and physical health, I would have considered also becoming certified in mental health during my school training.



Where Nurse Practitioners Work

Hospitals, offices, and clinics face a severe shortage of patient care professionals. According to the BLS, that shortage is particularly acute in rural and underserved communities. NPs can help bridge much of the gap.

Job opportunities in this profession are flourishing in states with large rural areas, such as Kentucky, Alaska, and Mississippi. States with large populations of older adults, such as Arizona and Florida, also need many new NPs.

While rural communities offer more jobs, urban settings provide higher salaries. NPs earn the highest salaries in California, New Jersey, and New York.

Although NPs enjoy a wide scope of practice, not all work settings or specialties pay the same. In general, hospitals and outpatient clinics offer higher wages than physicians’ offices. While academia needs nurse educators, this industry provides some of the lowest salaries in the field.

Currently, pediatric nurse practitioners and emergency nurse practitioners out-earn many other specialties, while psychiatric nurse practitioners receive some of the lowest wages in the field. However, nurses who work in high-pay settings like emergency rooms often undergo significant stress and must make quick judgments.

See How Location Affects Salary for Nurse Practitioners

Should You Become a Nurse Practitioner?

NPs serve in a high-demand field, with jobs projected to grow by 52% from 2019-2029. These healthcare professionals continue to help solve the critical U.S. nursing shortage.

Registered nurses (RNs) who want to advance in the field can become NPs. This career pays more than nursing, and life as a nurse practitioner includes advanced administrative and patient care responsibilities. That said, a nurse practitioner’s day is not for everyone. For some nurses, the costs of becoming an NP may outweigh the benefits. Consider the following pros and cons:

Pros

  • Advanced educational opportunities
  • Higher pay than an RN
  • More variety of professional opportunities than nurses
  • Employer tuition assistance to help pay for graduate school

Cons

  • 2-3 additional years of school
  • Increased legal responsibilities
  • Increased environmental exposure to toxins, blood pathogens, and contagious diseases
  • Must pass a certification exam after earning a graduate degree

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

How to Prepare for a Career as a Nurse Practitioner

The road to becoming a nurse practitioner begins with earning a BSN, taking the NCLEX-RN, and securing licensure as an RN. New professionals generally need to accrue real-world experience as practicing nurses before applying to an NP program.

Professional experience helps nurses to navigate the mental, physical, and emotional challenges inherent in this career. RNs looking to pursue master’s-level programs or doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degrees can pursue RN-to-MSN or RN-to-DNP bridge programs online and maintain employment while pursuing higher education.

After earning an MSN or DNP at an accredited institution, new graduates need to become licensed and certified. States issue NP licenses, but private organizations provide NP certifications. Studying for NP boards usually takes about six months. Several companies issue study guides and other learning tools to help nurses pass their exams.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is a typical day for a nurse practitioner?

    Duties and responsibilities vary according to specialty, scope of practice, and setting. NPs who work in hospitals may have very different daily routines from those who serve in offices or clinics.

  • What is the lifestyle of a nurse practitioner?

    NPs solve difficult problems, face challenges in patient care, and help patients achieve better health outcomes. These professionals receive an excellent salary along with the rewards of a respected career helping others.

  • Do nurse practitioners have a good work-life balance?

    U.S. News & World Report ranks this occupation among the top five in the U.S. for its excellent work-life balance. While achieving day-to-day balance can be challenging, NPs can enjoy a lifestyle that harmonizes work with relationships and leisure.

  • What is a nurse practitioner's work schedule like?

    NPs in private practice often enjoy standard work hours. Working in a hospital or urgent care clinic, however, may require frequent evening or weekend duty, and some healthcare professionals regularly work non-standard hours.


Featured Image: SDI Productions / iStock / Getty Images Plus

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