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What Does a Nurse Practitioner Do?

Jul 29, 2020
Mary Beth Willis, NP, IBCLC

Nurse Practitioners (NPs) are considered what’s called Advanced Practice Registered Nurses, or APRNs. They hold many of the same responsibilities that Registered Nurses do, but they also specialize in a particular area of care and, in many states, are able to write prescriptions, diagnose and treat, and operate autonomously from the direct oversight of a physician.

While Nurse Practitioners come in a variety of specialties…

  • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner
  • Cardiac Nurse Practitioner
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Neonatal Nurse Practitioner
  • Oncology Nurse Practitioner
  • Orthopaedic Nurse Practitioner
  • Pediatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
  • Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
  • Psychiatric and Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
  • Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner

I’m going to focus on my experience as a Family Nurse Practitioner, or FNP, to give an in-depth look at the Nurse Practitioner role.

nurse practitioner gives shot to woman FNP


What are the typical responsibilities of a Family Nurse Practitioner?

Typical responsibilities of a family nurse practitioner include:

  • Hands-on Care - Providing holistic, evidence-based care tailored to each individual, and educating patients, families, staff, students, colleagues and the community on healthcare topics, including wellness, health promotion, and disease states. 
  • Assessments- History-taking, physical examination, diagnostic testing, diagnosing, and treating all conditions that fall under practice and state guidelines. Documentation is conducted based on the facility’s guidelines and may include charting across various medical record software programs in the same day. 
  • Referrals - Consults with specialists and/or supervising physicians as warranted per patient status, practice agreements, and regulations. Nurse practitioners are integral advocates for patients and families as needed when navigating the healthcare system
  • Follow ups - Regrouping on prior testing, treatments, and lab work results is a typical experience. 
  • Collaborative Care - Supporting healthcare team members, such as nurses and physicians, throughout the clinical day. 
  • Telemedicine - Virtual visits are becoming routine. These include triage care with appropriate disposition of patients and updated plans of care for follow up.
  • After Hours - Depending on the setting, there may be assigned after-hours work and supervision of nursing staff and nursing and/or medical students.

What should nurses entering this specialty expect to encounter on a regular basis? 

Nurses entering this specialty should anticipate a continuation of what they know as a nurse: change is a constant! Many people rely on nurse practitioners (patients, families, staff, and students) and prioritizing based on acuity will continue to inform clinical days as they already have. 

Responsibilities are likely to shift depending on the patient, staffing, and institution requirements. Therefore, staying flexible is to be expected. 

As there are an increasing number of ways that healthcare institutions can connect with patients and families, staying up-to-date with their employer’s use of telemedicine will inevitably be a part of their work - even if they are not actively seeing patients virtually. 

All patients need follow-ups during the pandemic and beyond, whether they are seen in-office or remotely. There will be more interfacing with technology than just a few years ago as accessing care has changed. 

nurse practitioner gives vaccine to man on the right through is nasal cavity FNP


My experience as a Family Nurse Practitioner

My personal experience as a nurse practitioner includes working in telehealth triage and inpatient settings, as well as teaching nursing students, medical students, patients, and families. I’ve also communicated and advanced healthcare topics from the bedside to the boardroom and worked in outpatient settings both in the office and virtually.  

What are some of the benefits of working as a Family Nurse Practitioner? 

We all bring a unique set of work, academics, and life experiences to our careers. Some benefits of working as a nurse practitioner include further developing your specific interests in nursing and health care. 

I love being a health care communicator and particularly enjoy health promotion work across the lifespan. My experience teaching patients and families about how to optimize their health and/or treat active problems recently led me to become a provider working in lactation.

There are also many leadership opportunities to promote health in individuals, families, and communities. I am currently tasked with updating protocols for staff using evidence-based guidelines and also have experience in program development at the c-suite level. 

From a more personal angle, there is always an opportunity to improve work-life balance needs by obtaining additional education. 

What are some of the not-so-great parts of working as a Family Nurse Practitioner? 

Working as a nurse practitioner can be very busy. Depending on your location, you may not work directly with other advanced practices nurses. To navigate potential times of isolation, it’s important to maintain awareness of institutional culture and leadership. 

You have to be your own best advocate. If you did not hone this skill as a new nurse, start strategizing ways to look out for yourself as you chart your new career path. 

Keep in mind that you may be spending more time navigating details such as dealing with no breaks due to acuity/no relief and understanding benefits and continuing education perks that may or may not count as your scheduled work time. (This is especially important when it comes to warding off nurse burnout.)

Share your favorite piece of advice for nursing new grads or students looking to become a Family Nurse Practitioner

My best advice for nursing new grads or students is to get comfortable with the understanding that you will not always have the answers; you must continue being in a learning mode throughout your career. 

Also, network with colleagues near and far. Staying curious and interested in learning and understanding your resources (within yourself and the healthcare system) will foster your competency as a practitioner. By remaining open to networking, opportunities to expand your career and professional growth will follow.  

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