Advanced practice registered nurses typically do the following:
APRNs work independently or in collaboration with physicians. In most states, they can prescribe medications, order medical tests, and diagnose health problems. APRNs may provide primary and preventive care and may specialize in care for certain groups of people, such as children, pregnant women, or patients with mental health disorders.
APRNs have some of the same duties as registered nurses, including gathering information about a patient’s condition and taking action to treat or manage the patient’s health. However, APRNs are trained to do other tasks, including ordering and evaluating test results, referring patients to specialists, and diagnosing and treating ailments. APRNs focus on patient-centered care, which means understanding a patient’s concerns and lifestyle before choosing a course of action.
Some APRNs also conduct research or teach staff about new policies or procedures. Others may provide consultation services based on a specific field of knowledge, such as oncology, which is the study of cancer.
The following are types of APRNs:
Nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) administer anesthesia and provide care before, during, and after surgical, therapeutic, diagnostic, and obstetrical procedures. They also provide pain management and some emergency services. Before a procedure begins, nurse anesthetists discuss with a patient any medications the patient is taking as well as any allergies or illnesses the patient may have, so that anesthesia can be safely administered. Nurse anesthetists then give a patient general anesthesia to put the patient to sleep so they feel no pain during surgery or administer a regional or local anesthesia to numb an area of the body. During the procedure, they monitor the patient’s vital signs and adjust the anesthesia as necessary.
Nurse midwives (CNMs) provide care to women, including gynecological exams, family planning services, and prenatal care. They deliver babies, manage emergency situations during labor, repair lacerations, and may provide surgical assistance to physicians during cesarean births. Nurse midwives may act as primary maternity care providers for women. They also provide wellness care, educating their patients on how to lead healthy lives by discussing topics such as nutrition and disease prevention. Nurse midwives also provide care to their patients’ partners for sexual or reproductive health issues.
Nurse practitioners (NPs) serve as primary and specialty care providers, delivering advanced nursing services to patients and their families. They assess patients, determine how to improve or manage a patient’s health, and discuss ways to integrate health promotion strategies into a patient’s life. Nurse practitioners typically care for a certain population of people. For instance, NPs may work in adult and geriatric health, pediatric health, or psychiatric and mental health.
Although the scope of their duties varies by state, many nurse practitioners work independently, prescribe medications, and order laboratory tests. Nurse practitioners consult with physicians and other health professionals when needed.
See the profile on registered nurses for more information about clinical nurse specialists (CNSs), also considered to be a type of APRN.
Nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners must have at least a master’s degree from an accredited program. These programs include classroom education and clinical experience. Courses in subjects such as advanced health assessment, pathophysiology, and pharmacology are common as well as coursework specific to the chosen APRN role.
An APRN must have a registered nursing (RN) license before pursuing education in one of the advanced practice roles, and a strong background in science is helpful.
Most APRN programs prefer candidates who have a bachelor’s degree in nursing. However, some schools offer bridge programs for registered nurses with an associate’s degree or diploma in nursing. Graduate-level programs are also available for individuals who did not obtain a bachelor’s degree in nursing but in a related health science field. These programs prepare the student for the RN licensure exam in addition to offering the APRN curriculum.
Although a master’s degree is the most common form of entry-level education, APRNs may choose to earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or a Ph.D. The specific educational requirements and qualifications for each of the roles are available on professional organizations’ websites.
Prospective nurse anesthetists must have 1 year of experience working as registered nurse in a critical care setting as a prerequisite for admission to an accredited nurse anesthetist program.
States’ requirements for APRNs vary. In general, APRNs must have a registered nursing license, complete an accredited graduate-level program, pass a national certification exam, and have an APRN license. Details are available from each state’s board of nursing.
To become licensed and use an APRN title, most states require national certification.
The National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA) offers the National Certification Examination (NCE). Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) must maintain their certification through the Continued Professional Certification (CPC) Program.
The American Midwifery Certification Board offers the Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM). Individuals with this designation must recertify via the Certificate Maintenance Program.
There are several different certifications for nurse practitioners, including those available from the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB), the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), and the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB). Each of these certifications requires periodic renewal.
In addition, APRN positions may require cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), basic life support (BLS), or advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) certification.