What You Need to Know About Nurse Practitioners: The Basics

Nurse practitioners play a vital role in many areas of nursing. Advanced practice nurses specialize in specific areas of nursing, such as mental health or paediatrics. Most of nurse practitioner roles require an MSN degree, and some require you to have a DNP. Whatever stage you are at in your nursing career, it can be useful to consider online nurse practitioner programs as a flexible and adaptable educational option when it comes to training to be an NP. Whether you are just starting out as a nurse or are an RN looking to take the next step in your career, here is an overview of the basics of nurse practitioners. 

How do you become one?

In order to become an NP, you will have to undertake extensive training in your desired specialism, and online nurse practitioner programs can help you do this. Nurse practitioners require advanced training in a specific area of nursing, whether this is to masters or doctor’s level. The online nurse practitioner programs are BSN to MSN/NP programs that can take 24-30 months to complete, depending on which pathway you choose to take. 

The pathways are:

  • Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Degree, 28 months to complete.
  • Family Nurse Practitioner Degree, 30 months to complete. 
  • Paediatric Nurse Practitioner Degree, 28 months to complete.
  • Adult-Gerontology, Primary Care, Nurse Practitioner Degree, 24 months to complete.

In each pathway, there are many different courses that you will need to take, and these can be studied one at a time to make them manageable, following a 7-1-7 model in which a 1-week break follows each 7-week course. This is because online nurse practitioner programs are designed to be studied alongside your current job, fitting around your life and shift patterns. The courses include Theoretical Perspectives for Advanced Practice and a Moral and Ethical Decision-Making residency. 

Each course will also have its own set of entry requirements that you will have to fulfil in order to be accepted to study, such as:

  • 3.0 GPA
  • Unrestricted and unencumbered current nursing license
  • BSN degree from a regionally accredited institution or a nursing program

Making sure you are eligible for the courses you want to take is incredibly important, and it can help to be prepared and plan ahead as soon as you know which area of nursing you would like to be an NP in. Before undertaking your online nursing programs, you will have to undergo many years of training and experience. 

The general path to becoming a nurse is to complete a BSN degree from an accredited institution, which normally takes around four years. You will then need to take the licensing exams for the state you wish to practice getting your license and become an RN. You can then gain clinical experience in general nursing, which can help you understand where your passions and skills lie and in which area of nursing you would most like to specialize in. From here, you can apply to study online nurse practitioner programs to earn your MSN. You will then need to pass further certification and licensing exams to become an NP in your field.

It is also a great idea to have courses and programs in mind for the future so that you can plan your educational journey. Make sure you look at the requirements of the different nursing roles you are interested in to know what will be required of you. 

What do they do?

NPs are a vital part of any healthcare team. Their advanced training in certain areas means that they are highly skilled, both technically and personally, and can perform a variety of tasks. In general, nurse practitioners focus on promoting the wellness of their patients through education. NPs are mid-level practitioners who take on many of the diagnostic and clinical functions of a medical doctor, despite not being trained as one, making them non-physician clinicians. One distinction between RNs and NPs is that NPs can practice without the supervision of a physician in certain states. There are many specialisms when it comes to NPs, and some require you to have a DNP as well as an MSN. Here are the careers that the online nurse practitioner programs can prepare you for.

Family Nurse Practitioner 

FNPs have a wide-reaching role with many different tasks. If you are an FNP, you will be treating patients of all ages and genders across all body systems and diseases. You could work in different settings, including hospitals, clinics, community centers, and areas that have historically long waiting lists for physicians. The daily tasks of an FNP can include:

  • Educating patients to promote health
  • Assessments and diagnoses
  • Managing treatment plans
  • Prescribing medication

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner 

PMHNPs are trained to offer a range of mental health care services to individuals, groups, or communities. If you want to be a PMHNP, you can work as a generalist or specialist. Specialisms within this field can include working with adolescents, young people, psychotherapy, geriatrics, or forensics. PMHNP tasks and responsibilities include:

  • Assessing and diagnosing patients
  • Prescribing and managing medication
  • Conducting therapy
  • Providing emergency psychiatric services
  • Consultancy
  • Educating families and staff
  • Managing patient care 

Paediatric Nurse Practitioner 

PNPs specialize in the care of patients from birth to the young adult stage, which is usually 21 years old. They focus on primary care, preventative health, growth, and development and manage acute and chronic illnesses. The tasks of a PNP can include:

  • Prescribing medication
  • Performing physical assessments and developmental check-ups
  • Treating various illnesses and injuries
  • Providing emotional support and advice to patients and their families

Adult-Gerontology, Primary Care, Nurse Practitioner 

Gerontology is the study of aging, but this does not mean AGNPs only treat the senior population. They provide health care services to young adults upwards. There are two types of AGNPs; primary care and acute care. The online nurse practitioner programs will prepare you to work as the former, treating patients who are not usually ill. The role of an AGNP providing primary care can include:

  • Promoting and encouraging healthy life choices, with the aim of maintaining health.
  • Educating patients and caregivers 
  • Assessing the competence of caregivers
  • Managing the transition between care settings, for example, from home care to a senior living community 

What skills do you need?

There are plenty of personal skills and characteristics that make up a great nurse. If you are already an RN, then you will most likely have many of them. The online nurse practitioner programs can help you develop these skills further and learn how to apply them in the different situations you may face as an NP. These skills can include:

  • Advocacy – speaking up for your patients when they cannot
  • Stamina – both physically and emotionally
  • Communication – this includes speaking, listening, and observation
  • Teamwork – collaborating with other members of the health care team
  • Willingness to learn – being able to adapt to changes in methods or technology
  • Attention to detail – paying close attention to your work and patients
  • Compassion – feeling sympathy and the desire to fix whatever is causing pain or distress
  • Empathy – putting yourself in the place of your patients to understand their emotions and thoughts
  • Critical thinking – making the best decisions, sometimes quickly, using your problem-solving, judgment, critical thinking, and decision-making skills

Nurses also often have a more holistic approach than some other medical professionals. This means that they see the patient as an individual rather than just their illness or injury. Nurses can consider factors other than just the physical, such as their social environment, psychological, cultural, and religious beliefs.

What are the benefits of studying online?

One of the main benefits of online nurse practitioner programs is that they use blended learning, which is a combination of in-person and digital learning methods and techniques. This allows for the teaching to be more flexible, which is perfect for busy RNs. If you are looking for a course that allows you to become an NP, but you do not want to study in-person full-time, then online nurse practitioner programs could be the best option.

Soft Skills

Online learning has plenty of unique challenges, and by overcoming them, you can help develop your soft skills. The programs themselves will teach you many beneficial personal and technical skills, and the process of online learning can also contribute to this. Soft skills are a set of personal, non-technical skills that are transferable and can be applied to almost any workplace environment or role. As an RN, you will most likely already have many of these skills due to your years of education and clinical experience. However, they can always be improved and developed. Soft skills include communication, creativity, problem-solving, time management, teamwork, and self-motivation, many of which are particularly beneficial for nurses of all roles and levels.

When studying online nurse practitioner programs, you can help develop these skills, perhaps without even realizing it. One example is organization. Nurses must have great organizational, time management, and prioritizing skills to handle the multiple patients at one time. You will also have to be incredibly organized in order to complete your studies to a high level, especially if you are working at the same time. You will then have a great practical example to give to employers in an interview of a time when you utilized this skill. 


Studying at any level can be expensive, and master’s degrees are no exception. However, it can be very beneficial for your personal and career development and can open up the opportunity for more higher paying jobs, making it a worthwhile investment in the long run. When you choose to study online nurse practitioner programs, you can reduce or remove some of the costs that come with being a student. These can include transport, accommodation, tuition, and educational materials. Tuition fees for online courses can be cheaper than in-person counterparts, and you might still be eligible for financial support from your university. Working online also means that you won’t have to commute to classes every day or worry about finding and paying for campus accommodation. 


Your location can limit you to the courses or levels of study that your local colleges or universities offer. If they do not offer what you need, you could end up wasting time and money on alternative courses. When you study mostly online, your physical location can become less of a barrier, opening up more opportunities at different institutions. Another benefit of online study is the ability to have more control over your learning environment and the pace and techniques with which you choose to learn.  


The online nurse practitioner programs are aimed at RNs who are practicing, giving them a study option that allows them to work and learn at the same time. This also means that they can continue to earn money alongside the program, making it even more cost-effective. For those who do not enjoy learning in a classroom or are unable to commit to full-time, in-person education for whatever reason, blended learning could be the perfect option. Having more control over your learning can increase the enjoyment you gain from studying, making you a more independent learner and allowing you to develop useful learning skills and techniques that you can use going forward. Furthermore, this kind of learning allows you to take more time absorbing new information, removing some of the pressure and making the online nurse practitioner programs feel more achievable. 

Becoming a nurse practitioner takes many years of hard work and dedication, but it is an extremely rewarding career that allows you to help a large range of people, from individuals to communities. Specializing in a field of nursing will give you more in-depth knowledge and skills, making you a valuable addition to a medical team. Online nurse practitioner programs offer a combination of high-quality education and flexibility, with the chance to develop your technical and personal skills and take your nursing career to the next stages. 

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