10 Essential Nurse Practitioner Skills

Essential Nurse Practitioner Skills
Essential Nurse Practitioner Skills

There are a variety of nurse skills that translate to the nurse practitioner (NP) profession, but there are many nurse practitioner skills that are required for NPs to carry out their advanced-practice duties and serve the complex needs of patients. Here is a look at 10 essential nursing skills of nurse practitioners.

Clinical Nurse Practitioner Skills

An NP’s scope of practice is broader than a registered nurse, meaning they must possess a number of additional clinical skills.

1. Assessment and Diagnosis

One nurse practitioner skill that is distinct from essential nursing skills is patient assessment and diagnostic reasoning. NPs must be able to conduct a comprehensive physical exam and order diagnostics tests when necessary to get a full picture of a patient’s health. With this information, they should be able to make a list of potential differential diagnoses to determine the best workup, treatment plan and follow up care. NPs must be able to interpret data from the history and physical as well as diagnostic results to inform their decisions about treatment.

2. Formulation of Treatment Plans

NPs must be able to formulate treatment plans for their patients. This advanced practice nurse skill can require consideration of many factors such as a patient’s personal and family medical history, lifestyle, culture, financial hardships, familial obligations, religious beliefs, allergies, sensitivities and more. NPs need to use critical thinking skills to shape treatment plans that meet the unique needs of the individual patient to promote optimal health outcomes. A treatment plan is only as good as the consistency with which the patient follows it, and NPs must consider how easy or difficult it will be for a patient to incorporate treatment into their lifestyle. 

3. Patient Education

One essential nursing skill that is also a nurse practitioner skill is patient education. Nurses of all levels of seniority and specialty must be skilled in providing patient education. They do this by explaining procedures and after-care instructions, describing medical conditions in terms that patients can understand and educating patients on treatment plans. Especially in chronic disease management, NPs must educate patients on the ways their lifestyle can impact their condition and counsel them on lifestyle modification. Good patient education is critical to patient health outcomes because patients who understand their condition and treatment plan are more likely to adhere to treatment.

Scientific and Analytical Nurse Practitioner Skills

NPs must possess an advanced set of scientific and analytical competencies to allow them to conduct and examine research to inform their practice and benefit patients.

4. Interpretation and Translation of Research into Practice

Healthcare research is an ever-changing landscape with new findings emerging every day. An essential nurse practitioner skill for NPs is that they must be able to interpret research so that they can evolve their practice as medicine evolves. Not all research findings are conclusive, nor are all studies equally credible. NPs with advanced nurse skills will be able to evaluate research for quality and apply credible findings where appropriate to improve patients outcomes.

5. Generation of Knowledge from Practice Experience

In the reverse, NPs must use their experience to generate new knowledge that expands the literature on advanced-practice nursing. While there is a value and place for theoretical research in the advancement of the medical field, there is also a need for real-world data gathered outside the lab to inform evidence-based guidelines and best practices. NPs should be able to identify quality improvement opportunities from observations and data gathered in clinical practice. Doctorally prepared NPs often conduct translational research to examine how best practices can be implemented in real-world settings to improve quality.

6. Use and Development of Technology and Information Systems 

Healthcare is increasingly being advanced by technology that is used for delivery of care as well as for documentation and records. NPs must have the technical skills to use these tools but also the ability to inform their configuration and improvement. Few technological solutions can be used “off the shelf”— they must be calibrated and customized to fit the needs of a particular care setting, patient population and staff. An essential nurse practitioner skill is the ability  to inform these processes by advocating for the needs of patients and staff in technology implementation. 

Leadership Skills

As advanced-practice nurses, NPs are positioned to lead discussion on patient care. Patient outcomes can be affected by nursing practice, but also nurse working conditions. Leadership is an essential nursing skill NPs need for decision-making in these two arenas to improve quality outcomes in healthcare.

7. Advocating for Patients and Healthcare Professionals

Nurses have some of the closest, most-trusted relationships with patients, making them ideal advocates. NPs must be able to leverage these relationships to advocate on behalf of patients as they seek insurance coverage for necessary procedures and accommodations for medical conditions. Similarly, NPs should be able to advocate for improvements to the working conditions of their teams, to reduce opportunities for error that can lead to poor health outcomes, and to reduce burnout, which can exacerbate staffing shortages.

8. Coordination and Transfer of Care Among Various Providers

NPs working in primary care will often work collaboratively with specialists, such as nutritionists, cardiologists, endocrinologists and pulmonologists to coordinate care for their patients. Managing a complex care team and ensuring proper communication among the providers is a critical essential nursing skill for NPs.

Policy Skills

NPs must be able to lend their expertise to policymakers who may not be as familiar with the shortcomings of current healthcare policy or opportunities for improvement in patient outcomes.

9. Development of Health Policy to Advance Practice and Improve Outcomes

NPs need to understand how health policy is developed and contribute to strong policy with evidence-based recommendations. They must know how to work with legislators and all the advocacy channels available to build consensus and approval for policies that will improve patients’ lives and health.

10. Evaluation and Identification of Policy-Improvement Opportunities

NPs advance policy improvement, so they must have the analytical and critical thinking skills to evaluate existing policy and identify opportunities for improvement. This can involve conducting their own research to compare outcomes before and after policy interventions, or it can be based on a survey of scholarly literature to look for patterns. When NPs identify trends in research that show that policy has had a negative effect on patient outcomes or operational efficiencies, they must be able to articulate these findings and propose policy changes to ameliorate them.

Nurse Practitioner Job Outlook

The NP job outlook is strong. Between 2020 and 2030, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the NP profession will grow by 52%, “much faster than the average for all occupations,” according to the BLS.

NPs can specialize in a variety of types of care. Below are some NP specialties with respective job outlooks for each:

Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) and Primary Care Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP-PC)

The job outlook for FNPs and PNP-PCs is very strong right now—just one of the benefits of becoming an FNP. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) projects a shortfall of 48,000 physicians by 2034. Because primary care providers are in high demand but short supply, these nurse practitioner skills are needed across the country—especially in rural and underserved areas.

Adult-gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AGACNP) and Adult-gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP)

Adult-gerontological nurse practitioners can treat any adult age 18 and older; however, the exponential growth of the gerontological population due to the aging baby boomer generation demands that more providers be available to treat the many health concerns that come with advanced age. AGACNPs and AGPCNPs are also in high demand. AAMC projects that by 2025 there will be 27,000 fewer geriatricians than needed.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)

One in five Americans is currently living with a mental health condition, and at the same time, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reports that just 44% of adults and 20% of children receive the behavioral healthcare they need. These figures are undoubtedly exacerbated by the continuing opioid epidemic and the mental health crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. PMHNPs are sorely needed to close the gaps in mental health care facing Americans.

Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP)

Like primary care, women’s healthcare is generally in higher demand in rural areas. HHS finds that by 2030, only about 51% of the need for women’s health will be met in nonmetropolitan areas, leaving a large gap for WHNPs to step in and provide the crucial care women need.

Ready to Develop Nurse Practitioner Skills?

The nurse practitioner field offers many career paths, each with its own rewards. Rockhurst University’s CCNE-accredited online nursing programs give students the essential nurse practitioner skills they need to achieve their career goals. Rockhurst offers a variety of programs for aspiring nurses looking to make a career change into the nursing field, working nurses who want to advance as nurse practitioners (MSN-FNP or MSN-AGACNP), and MSN--prepared nurses who want to to become an FNP (with a Post-master’s FNP) or add an AGACNP post-master’s certificate to their credentials.

With three intakes per year, part-time and full-time flexibility, and the ability to complete coursework from anywhere, Rockhurst’s online graduate nursing programs (with on-campus immersions) are a great fit for working nurses who want to further their education without relocating or pausing their employment. If you’re ready to hone your essential nursing skills for a career as an NP, learn more about Rockhurst’s online nursing programs.