What Is a Nurse Practitioner? Your Career Guide

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn what types of skills and education you'll need to embark on a rewarding health care career as a nurse practitioner.

[Featured Image] A nurse practitioner is using a tablet while working in a hospital

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada's need for health care is even higher, especially in the field of nursing. When you become a registered nurse in Canada, many exciting career opportunities become available to you. The need for qualified nurses will help ensure you find a job, and with some additional training and experience, you can advance your career beyond what you may have thought possible.

One potential option is to become a nurse practitioner. Nurse practitioners work directly with patients like nurses do, but they also take on some duties and responsibilities of physicians. Here's a guide to becoming a nurse practitioner.

What is a nurse practitioner?

A nurse practitioner (NP) is an advanced practice registered nurse who has earned a master's degree and additional training in a specialty area, such as primary care or pediatrics. The skills of the nurse practitioner go beyond those of a registered nurse (RN) and often mimic what doctors do.

Like physicians, nurse practitioners can treat patients by diagnosing illnesses, ordering and interpreting diagnostic or laboratory tests, and prescribing medicine. NPs may also focus on educating their patients to make healthy lifestyle choices and can serve as both primary and specialty care providers. 

Nurse practitioner salary and job outlook

Nurse practitioners can earn quite a high income. According to the Government of Canada Job Bank, nurse practitioners across Canada make an average wage of $54.00 per hour [1]. Keep in mind salaries may be higher in certain provinces. Glassdoor reports an average annual salary of $105,293 for Canadian nurse practitioners [2]. 

The Government of Canada Job Bank also projects that nurse practitioner job prospects will be good to very good in most provinces over the next few years. If you are seeking an in-demand job in health care, training to become a nurse practitioner may be a good option.


Types of nurse practitioners

Nurse practitioners can work in hospitals, doctor's offices, outpatient centers, or schools. In some provinces, you may need to be certified in specific specialty areas to get a job as a nurse practitioner in that field. Specific types of nurse practitioners include the following:

  • Gerontological nurse practitioner: This type of nurse practitioner works within a hospital, offering immediate care to injured or ill elderly patients.

  • Certified registered nurse anesthetist: Anesthetists administer anesthesia to patients during medical procedures.

  • Family nurse practitioners: These are one of the most common types of nurse practitioners; they provide primary care to people of all ages.

  • Neonatal nurse practitioner: Neonatal nurse practitioners offer advanced care to newborns who are sick, injured, or born prematurely.

  • Pediatric nurse practitioner: Pediatric nurse practitioners provide primary care to patients under the age of 21.

  • Psychiatric nurse practitioner: These NPs offer primary mental health care to patients.

  • Women's health nurse practitioner: These NPs provide primary, acute, and OB/GYN care specifically to females. 

Skills needed to become a nurse practitioner

While working as a nurse practitioner can be a demanding job, it's also a rewarding one. As an NP, consider building both technical and workplace skills.

Technical skills

Becoming an effective nurse practitioner requires a wide range of technical skills. They may vary depending on your specialization, so you may learn some of these skills in your training or certification programs. Typically, you can expect employers to focus on these three areas:

  • Clinical training: A nurse practitioner must possess ample clinical knowledge. Employers will want to assess your clinical experience—that is, direct experience working with patients—to feel confident that physicians can trust you to assist them and administer treatment effectively.

  • Specialty training: Employers will want to see evidence of mastery, such as certifications or training programs in your specialization.

  • Patient education: You will need to demonstrate that you can help patients make informed decisions about their condition and treatment.

Workplace skills

If you possess the following personality traits and skills, you may be a good fit for a career as a nurse practitioner. You can develop these skills with on-the-job training and experience over time:

  • Communication: It's critical to practice active listening to understand the patient's needs and communicate clearly to demonstrate empathy.

  • Critical thinking: As a nurse practitioner, you'll analyze a wide range of medical problems to diagnose and offer treatment plans.

  • Leadership: When caring for patients, you will need to make effective and efficient decisions that benefit their health. As a member of a care team, you will need to make balanced decisions that support you and your clinic.

  • Patience: The work of a nurse practitioner can be stressful at times. Exuding a calm, patient demeanour is an essential quality for NPs.

  • Physical endurance: Working as a nurse practitioner can be mentally, emotionally, and physically draining. You will need to take care of your own health to continue providing the best care for your patients.

How to become a nurse practitioner

Before you can become a nurse practitioner, you must be a registered nurse (RN). While each province or territory will have different qualifications, most of them typically require the following:

  • Fluency in English and/or French

  • Have a registration or eligibility for registration in the jurisdiction where you completed a nursing program

  • Proof of Canadian Citizenship, Permanent Residency, or authorization under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (Canada)

  • Some postsecondary education

  • Have passed the National Council Licensure Examination-Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN)

Once you meet these requirements, you can begin working as a registered nurse and make progress toward becoming a nurse practitioner with these steps. 

1. Get a master's degree in nursing and experience.

Once you become a registered nurse, you can start building work experience, as you'll need several years of it to advance your career to become an NP.  In most cases, you'll also need to get a master's degree in nursing or complete a nursing program with additional advanced or extended primary health care nursing education. During this time, you might also choose a specialization and choose coursework in this area. 

2. Pass the nurse practitioner exam.

After completing all coursework and clinical training, you will need to take an exam to become a certified nurse practitioner in Canada. Each province or territory has its own rules about certification, so you'll need to check with the regulatory body in the geographic location where you plan to work. 

3. Go further in your career.

Becoming a nurse practitioner can take several years of education and training. The work you put in is necessary because you are in charge of people's health and lives, which makes this career path exciting and rewarding.

After becoming an NP, you may choose to pursue more learning and certifications if you want to switch your specialty or dive deeper into your current one. Self-directed learning and professional development are essential to maintaining a steady career as an NP. You will need to continue to update your technical skills as technologies and new systems or tools arise and be open to improving your workplace skills every day.

Career path for nurse practitioners

If you are interested in a career in health care, consider taking Vital Signs: Understanding What the Body Is Telling Us offered by the University of Pennsylvania. By learning the vital signs, such as heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and more, you will gain insight into this exciting and in-demand profession.

Article sources


Government of Canada Job Bank. "Nurse Practitioner in Canada, https://www.jobbank.gc.ca/marketreport/requirements/26454/ca ." Accessed April 23, 2024.

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