Understanding the Different Types of Nurse Practitioners

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Nurse practitioners (NPs) typically can provide many of the same services  as physicians, but often with a more holistic approach and at a lower cost. As the nation grapples with changing health care demands and physician shortages, these advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) are in high demand.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 52% job growth for NPs between 2020 and 2030 — a rate that far exceeds the 8% average projected growth for all occupations the BLS tracks. Individuals interested in this in-demand career can pursue a variety of specialty areas focused on different populations and conditions. Among the different types of nurse practitioner specializations are family, adult-gerontology, and psychiatric-mental health care.

NPs have advanced training in their chosen practice areas. Postgraduate nursing programs, such as online BSN to DNP programs, can prepare nurses to advance to this role.

Nurse Practitioner Job Description

Nurse practitioners provide urgent, primary, and specialty care, either independently or as part of a team of health care providers. They often work in clinics and physicians’ offices, but they also work in hospitals and health care centers. The practice authority and level of responsibility that NPs may hold varies, with many states permitting NPs to have their own practices.

Depending on the practice authority granted in their state, NPs may be allowed to prescribe medication without a physician’s supervision. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) reports that 96% of nurse practitioners did so in 2020. Other typical NP responsibilities include:

  • Recording patients’ medical histories and symptoms
  • Conducting physical exams and assessing patients
  • Ordering, performing, and interpreting diagnostic tests
  • Discussing approaches to enhance patients’ well-being
  • Diagnosing medical conditions
  • Administering medication and treatments

Nurse Practitioner Specializations

Different types of nurse practitioners work with different patient populations. The AANP reports that 70% of nurse practitioners deliver primary care, and that family, adult-gerontology acute care, and psychiatric-mental health are among NPs’ top practice areas. Other NP specialty areas include adult-gerontology primary care, neonatal, pediatrics, and women’s health.

Family Nurse Practitioners (FNPs)

Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) provide a variety of services, often over the long term, to patients from infancy through old age. Their work ranges from treating serious illnesses to educating patients about healthy practices, and they can earn additional certifications to focus on areas such as diabetes or pain management.

FNPs practice in settings such as private practices, community health centers, health care systems, and universities.

Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioners (AGACNPs)

Adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioners (AGACNPs) offer disease prevention, acute care, and palliative services to patients from adolescence to old age. Their primary role is addressing complex, acute health concerns while also developing care plans that seek to prevent future complications and promote overall well-being. AGACNPs may pursue additional certifications in treating chronic conditions such as HIV/AIDS or diabetes.

AGACNPs typically work in acute care, intensive care, and trauma units in hospitals. They also practice in specialty clinics and long-term care facilities, and their work may include administrative, research, and teaching responsibilities.

Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (PMHNPs)

Psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) assess, diagnose, and treat the mental health concerns of individuals, families, and groups. Many professionals in this NP role provide therapy, and prescribe medications for patients with mental health disorders or substance abuse issues. They create treatment plans, implement those plans, and evaluate patients’ progress.

Often working with primary care and specialty health care providers, PMHNPs frequently work in hospitals’ mental health units and in psychiatric hospitals, private practices, physicians’ offices, and nursing homes.

Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioners (AGPCNPs)

Adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioners (AGPCNPs) work as primary care providers for patients from adolescence to old age. These nursing professionals focus on preventing illness and improving patients’ overall health. They sometimes are responsible for managing transitions between care settings. They also may provide patient and caregiver education.

AGPCNPs usually work in long-term care facilities, private practices, and hospital clinics.

Neonatal Nurse Practitioners (NNPs)

Neonatal nurse practitioners (NNPs) provide care to high-risk infants with conditions such as low birth weight, heart abnormalities, and complications from premature birth. NNPs also provide health care education for families of high-risk infants. While neonatal care typically refers to a baby’s first month, NNPs sometimes care for infants up to age 2 if they have long-term problems.

NNPs often work in hospitals, treating infants in nursery areas designated for those who need additional or critical care. They also work in emergency and delivery rooms, and in specialty clinics. Sometimes NNPs make home visits to provide follow-up care.

Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (PNPs)

Another of the different types of nurse practitioners is a pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP). These PNPs specialize in providing care to children from birth to age 21. They provide well-child care and work with patients and families to prevent and manage common pediatric conditions. PNPs also work in the community, providing care at well-child clinics and educating children and families about healthy behaviors.

PNPs practice in pediatric offices, hospitals, school-based health care centers, urgent care facilities, and specialty clinics.

Women’s Health Nurse Practitioners (WHNPs)

Women’s health nurse practitioners (WHNPs) provide care to women throughout their lives, focusing on gynecological, reproductive, and obstetric care. They diagnose and treat patients as well as providing preventive care including routine exams and breast cancer screenings. Their work includes care related to contraception, pregnancy, fertility, after-pregnancy treatment, and menopause.

WHNPs often work in private practice settings.

Nurse practitioners in scrubs standing outside and smiling.

Steps to Become a Nurse Practitioner

NPs must be registered nurses (RNs), so the path to becoming a nurse practitioner begins with training to become an RN. Following are steps to become a nurse practitioner.

1. Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree is required to apply for postgraduate nursing programs. Options for BSN programs include those accelerated for students with bachelor’s degrees in other disciplines as well as programs tailored for RNs without BSN degrees.

2. Pass the NCLEX Exam and Become an RN

The National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) is a national certification exam typically required for state RN licensure. After passing the NCLEX exam, those pursuing a career as an NP should apply for an RN license from their state.

3. Enroll in a Postgraduate Nursing Program

Advanced-level nursing programs include online BSN to DNP programs. Through this program, BSN graduates skip over the MSN to pursue a DNP. When enrolling in a BSN to DNP program, students should select which of the different types of nurse practitioner specializations they want to study and pursue as a career.

4. Pass a National Certification Board Exam and Obtain an NP License

The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB), American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), and Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB) are among the national certifying bodies for NPs. After passing a national NP certification exam, nursing professionals should apply for an NP license through their state. National and state NP certifications typically require periodic renewal.

Provide Advanced-Level Nursing Care

Nurse practitioners provide a broad range of services to meet the needs of communities facing physician shortages and changing health care needs. Hawai‘i Pacific University’s online BSN to DNP program can prepare you for a role as an FNP, AGACNP, or PMHNP. In an online program that you can complete in as few as 34 to 44 months, you’ll enjoy the convenience of online education while receiving strong faculty support and thorough preparation for your certification exam.

Explore the concentrations and discover how Hawai‘i Pacific University’s online BSN-DNP programs can help you become a successful nurse practitioner.

Recommended Reading:

Patient Rights and the Essential Role of Nurses

10 Effective Nursing Communication Skills for Nurse Leaders

What Is Evidence-Based Practice in Nursing?


American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board, Certifications

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, “Are You Considering a Career as an Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner?”

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, “Are You Considering a Career as an Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner?”

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, “Are You Considering a Career as a Family Nurse Practitioner?”

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, “Are You Considering a Career as a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner?”

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, “Are You Considering a Career as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner?”

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, “Are You Considering a Career as a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner?”

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, “Are You Considering a Career as a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner?”

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, NP Fact Sheet

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, “The Path to Becoming a Nurse Practitioner”

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, State Practice Environment

American Nurses Credentialing Center, Our Certifications

Association of American Medical Colleges, “U.S. Physician Shortage Growing”

Incredible Health, “Can Nurse Practitioners Prescribe Medication?”

Indeed, “Learn About Being a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner”

Indeed, What Does a Family Nurse Practitioner Do?

Indeed, What Does a Nurse Practitioner Do?

Indeed, What Does a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Do?

Indeed, What Does a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Do?

Indeed, “What Is an Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner?”

Indeed, “What Is a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner?”

Normal Nurse Life, “Can a Nurse Practitioner Have Their Own Practice?”

Pediatric Nursing Certification Board, Certifications

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2020, Nurse Practitioners