What Does an APRN Do?

Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) serve an important role in delivering high-quality nursing care to their patients. APRNs are licensed and have specialized education beyond the traditional Bachelor of Science in Nursing. With this advanced knowledge, they can diagnose and treat medical conditions, order tests and prescribe medications.

The APRN’s job duties vary depending on the specialty they pursue, but all focus on providing patient care while promoting holistic health and wellness. In addition, APRNs may also collaborate with other healthcare professionals in a team environment or work to develop treatment plans for their patients.

When needed, they provide education to families and other support systems to coordinate care within their community. This ensures that each patient is receiving the best possible care available while upholding high quality standards of practice.

Primary Responsibilities

    • Primary care provider; provides patient education
    • Disease and condition management; makes diagnoses and orders treatment
    • Oversight of staff, including RNs

Key Skills

    • Empathy
    • Continual learner
    • Good decision-making under pressure
    • Scientific aptitude
    • Communication skills

Where Do APRNs Work?

Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) may work in a variety of settings, and the scope of their practice is determined by state law. These highly trained professionals typically practice in hospitals, clinics, physician offices, nursing homes and other health care settings.

In addition to providing direct patient care, APRNs may also serve in administrative roles as consultants and are heavily involved in education and research. APRNs also work with physicians in collaborative agreements to provide comprehensive care to their patients while playing a crucial role in helping to bridge the gap between primary and specialty care services.

Private Practices

APRNs can act as a primary care provider, diagnose and treat health conditions, and supervise RNs.


Advanced practice nurses might administer medication, lead nursing departments, and diagnose and treat health conditions.

Outpatient Care Facilities

APRNs, such as nurse practitioners (NPs), are valuable members of healthcare teams at outpatient care facilities and clinics where they may provide primary care services to patients.

How to Become an APRN

Becoming an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) is a rewarding path to pursue. Earning such a degree requires dedication, commitment and hard work. Education typically consists of obtaining a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN), followed by completion of a Master’s program or Doctoral program in Advanced Nursing Practice.

Depending on the individual’s career goals and educational institution, programs will vary and usually consist of intensive coursework and clinical training. In addition to completing the formal education requirements, those seeking APRN certification must also pass a national certification exam in their specialty along with successful completion of any required state certifications.

Becoming an APRN is possible and can elevate both personal and professional development for those who have the determination to make it happen.

Graduate with a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN).

Some graduate schools offer bridge programs that combine BSN and master of science in nursing (MSN) studies for students with an associate degree.

Pass the National Council Licensure Examination to receive RN licensure.

The National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN) takes up to six hours and covers clinical and other healthcare situations nurses are likely to encounter.

Explore different nursing specialty areas while gaining clinical experience.

Most specialty nursing entry-level positions include on-the-job training for that area. Clinical experience introduces nurses to work in specialties with different populations. Many graduate school programs require or prefer at least one year of clinical nursing experience.

Apply to an MSN-APRN or doctoral nursing program.

APRN programs typically take two years for a master’s degree or 3-4 years for a doctor of nursing practice (DNP). Some specialties, such as the certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), require a board-certified program, while others require only an accredited program. Admission requirements usually include a GPA of at least 3.0, an essay or personal statement, and recommendations.

Graduate with an MSN or a DNP.
As far as degree level, only the MSN is required to become an advanced practice nurse and qualify for licensing and certification exams, but academic medical centers and teaching jobs often require or prefer a DNP.

Earn certification from an approved nursing specialty board.

Each board has its own requirements beyond passing the certification exam. These typically include an unencumbered RN license, application, and a submission of academic records. Often, earning certification is required before applying for the advanced practice nursing license.

Apply for state licensure.

State advanced practice nurse requirements may include background checks and verification of education and required clinical hours.

Learn More About How To Become an APRN

The Four Types of APRN Roles

msn or dnp Required

High Demand

Certified Nurse Practitioner

Most certified nurse practitioners work in family practice, but others specialize in fields such as gerontology, pediatrics, or mental/psychiatric health.

msn Required

Clinical Nurse Specialist

Clinical nurse specialists are advanced practice nurses who work in a specialty area such as oncology, cardiology, or emergency care.

msn Required

High Demand

Certified Nurse Midwife

Certified nurse midwives are advanced practice nurses who specialize in the care of pregnant individuals, labor, and birth. Like physicians, they are authorized to oversee births.

msn or dnp Required

High Demand

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist

CRNAs administer anesthesia and often treat patients for postoperative pain. They generally earn the highest advanced practice nurse salaries.

Featured Online MSN Programs

What Is the Average APRN Salary?

APRN salaries vary by specialization, experience, education, and certification. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), advanced practice nurse salaries are considerably above the national average annual salary of $75,330. The highest paid APRN specialization is nurse anesthetist with an average annual salary of $202,470. Nurse practitioners can earn an average annual salary of $118,040. The median salary for all APRNs is $117,670.

Demand for advanced practice nurses is growing. The BLS projects a 45% growth between 2020 and 2030.

What Is the Difference Between an APRN and RN? APRN

  • High levels of autonomy; can practice independently in most states with limited physician supervision in others
  • Can make diagnoses and order treatments
  • Can prescribe medications, including controlled substances
  • Minimum six years of college with master’s degree in nursing
  • Requires education and certification beyond RN


  • Limited autonomy and independence; must practice under direct supervision of a physician or an APRN
  • Cannot diagnose conditions or prescribe medications; carries out physician or APRN treatment plans
  • Minimum two years of college with an associate degree in nursing
  • Requires RN license
  • Can be an entry-level position

Advanced Practice Nurse versus Nurse Practitioner

Advanced Practice Nurses (APNs) and Nurse Practitioners (NPs) both provide high-quality healthcare, however there are some key distinctions between the two roles. APNs have a greater emphasis on clinical practice and making decisions based on evidence-based care.

In addition, they can function independently or in collaboration with other health professionals depending on their particular presence or absence in the area where they work. NPs, many of whom practiced first as registered nurses (RNs), have knowledge of both direct patient care as well as aspects of health management such as financial and organizational needs.

Therefore they are uniquely positioned to evaluate patient outcomes across social, medical models and help address population health issues. Both APNs and NPs are dedicated advocates of their patients and help enable healthier communities through providing quality care allowing everyone access to needed treatment.

The following table includes important differences between the two.



Currently an MSN is required at minimum. A DNP may be required in the future.

APRNs must have at least a master’s degree to sit for one of the APRN specialization exams.

Typical duties

    • Take health histories

    • Assess, diagnose, and treat acute and chronic illnesses, often acting as primary care medical provider

    • Offer referrals for specialized care

Typical APRN duties vary depending on the nurse’s specialization. Nurse midwives, for example, focus on women’s healthcare, while nurse anesthetists work primarily in surgical settings.

Can prescribe medications?

Yes, but the types of medicines and level of supervision is determined by state laws.

Some, but not all, APRNs have prescriptive authority depending on their specialization and the state where they work.

Common practice settings

    • Private practice

    • Ambulatory clinics

    • Long-term care facilities

    • Community clinics

Any healthcare setting including hospitals, private practice clinics, and long-term care facilities.

APRNs may also work in educational or healthcare policy settings.

Licensing and certification

Certification for nurse practitioners in various specialties is available through both the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). Nurses must also register with their state board of nursing in the state where they choose to work.

Certification for nurse practitioners and clinical nurse specialists is available through the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

Certification for nurse anesthetists is available from the National Board of Certification & Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists.

Certification for nurse midwives is available through the American Midwifery Certification Board.

Continuing education requirements

NPs must recertify with AANP every five years. Recertification requires at least 1,000 hours of clinical practice over the past five years and 75 contact hours of continuing education for nurses, relevant to the NP’s role and focus. This means an NP who works in pediatrics must focus their continuing education on that population.

ANCC recertification is also required every five years. As of 2018, the ANCC requires 150 continuing education hours, including at least 51% directly related to the NP’s focus and at least 25 hours in pharmacotherapeutics.

The continuing education requirements for APRNs depends on the nurse’s specialization. To recertify in any specialty there will be both clinical and classroom work in that nurse’s specialty.

Specialization or population focus

    • Adult-gerontology acute care

    • Adult-gerontology primary care

    • Psychiatric mental health

    • Family health

    • Neonatal

    • Pediatric acute care

    • Pediatric primary care

    • Women’s health and gender-related

The four main APRN roles are CRNA, certified nurse midwife, clinical nurse specialist, and nurse practitioner.

Every NP is an APRN but the opposite is not true.

The clinical nurse specialist may specialize like an NP and shares some of the same specializations (pediatric and adult gerontology being the most common).

Successful personalities

Like all nurses, NPs are dedicated to patient care. In many states, NPs are free to work without the direct supervision of a physician, meaning the most successful NPs are independent and organized.

Patient communication is also integral to an NP’s job. These skills, along with empathy and the ability to interact with a diverse population, are also important.

An APRN must be committed to providing excellent patient care. Some APRNs work in patient-facing positions, and others work in policy or educational settings.

In all roles, patient communication skills are essential. This means the ability to consult with a patient and families on sensitive and emotional subjects.

APRNs are most successful when they are organized and can handle stress without becoming overwhelmed.

Common clinical collaborators

Some NPs must have collaborative agreements with physicians (e.g., medical doctor or doctor of osteopathic medicine) to practice in some states.

Whether or not this supervision is required depends on the state in which they practice.

In the hospital setting, APRNs will collaborate with other nurses and physicians as well as hospital administrators. APRNs have more professional autonomy in full-practice authority states.

Frequently Asked Questions About APRNs

How long does it take to become an APRN?

Becoming an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) requires dedication and a commitment to higher education. To become an APRN, individuals must have a minimum of a Master’s degree in nursing practice. While the length of time it takes to complete this educational requirement may vary, it usually averages two to three years.

Additionally, depending on the specialization and other certifications that the individual is interested in acquiring, additional educational coursework may be needed. In most states, APRNs receive additional requirements including licensure examinations and state certifications before they can practice.

The entire process of becoming an APRN generally takes around five years or more as many vocational schools are providing accelerated tracks for students who qualify itemmetape.

A DNP typically requires three years, whereas an MSN takes two.

Do APRNs need to earn their doctorate?

Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) have unique and complex roles in the healthcare industry, ranging from roles as nurse practitioners to nurse-midwives and nurse anesthetists. With many APRNs providing direct care to patients throughout their daily duties, there is an ever-increasing need for these professionals to be knowledgeable, skilled and deeply educated.

Many healthcare stakeholders in the United States today are recognizing that earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice can push APRNs even further in terms of excellence and enable them to better serve their patients. In addition, it is expected that advanced degrees will provide APRNs with the additional confidence they need to make more independent clinical decisions and increase their autonomy for specialized practice such as interpretations of lab work or prescribing medication.

As a result, it can be said with confidence that earning a Doctorate is beneficial for APRNs looking to take their performance up a notch.

What is the highest-paying APRN role?

Nurse anesthetists earn the highest advanced practice nurse salary at a median $183,580 annually. Other than the speciality, factors that affect advanced practice nurse salaries include geography, experience, and type of employer.

Is an APRN considered a medical doctor?

No, APRNs hold either an MSN or a DNP which are nonmedical degrees. An advanced practice nurse with a DNP is a doctor of nursing practice but not a medical doctor or physician. In many healthcare settings, only physicians are referred to as doctors.

Resources for APRNs

The ANA offers professional education; issues credentials; publishes books, journals, and newsletters; engages in advocacy for nurses and healthcare reform; and offers networking opportunities. Full membership is open to RNs, and students and others can join as subscribers.

At 118,000 members, the AANP is the largest professional association for NPs in the United States. It offers professional education, including an annual conference, engages in advocacy, and issues scholarly journals, newsletters, and other publications. Membership is open to NPs, students, retirees, and affiliate members.

The ACNM provides professional education, including a conference, publishes newsletters and a journal, promotes the profession of midwifery, and conducts advocacy. Certified midwives and nurse midwives can be full members; students and others can join as nonvoting members.

The AANA serves around 54,000 nurse anesthetists with newsletters and scholarly publications, networking opportunities, professional education in several formats, recognition programs, and malpractice insurance. Membership is open to nurse anesthetists and students.

The NACNS offers publications, toolkits, and clinical resources; provides scholarship and awards programs; conducts research on the profession and clinical nursing standards; and engages in advocacy. Membership is open to individuals and institutions.

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