Skip to main content

What Are the Essential Skills for Nurse Practitioners?

Originally published April 13, 2020 and refreshed April 18, 2023.

The nursing profession as a whole has a well-earned reputation for not only compassion but competence and proficiency. Nurse practitioner skills include caring for people in an ambulatory setting either independently or in collaboration with a partnering physician. 

A nurse practitioner (NP) is a nurse with a graduate degree in advanced practice nursing. The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners describes nurse practitioners as individuals who:

  • Manage acute and chronic illness
  • Provide medical services to individuals, families and groups
  • Promote disease prevention

Diagnosing and treating illness, performing exams and helping manage a patient’s overall health are core skills for nurse practitioners. Additionally, these nursing professionals receive advanced training in pharmacology, physical assessment and diagnosis.

The right skills enable nurses to serve as patients’ primary health providers. About 70% of nurse practitioners deliver primary care, meaning the patients see them regularly as they care for acute and chronic medical problems seen in an ambulatory setting.

Nurse practitioner competencies can be broad and generalized, enabling nurses to go into family practice. Or they can be specialized, enabling nurses to serve a specific demographic, such as the aging population or women. Beyond clinical aptitude, nurse practitioner skills also include leadership abilities and analytical skills.

For many patients, nurse practitioners like FNPs and PMHNPs provide primary, emergency and specialized health care — including diagnosis and treatment — across the lifespan.


General Skills for Nurse Practitioners

Most nursing credentialing organizations consider the following criteria and skills for nurse practitioners essential across the field, regardless of specialty or focus.


Educational Prerequisites

Prerequisites to becoming a nurse practitioner are a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in nursing. NPs must have a registered nursing (RN) license in the state where they practice. They must pass a national certification exam and must renew that certification periodically.

Most programs include classroom education and clinical experience. Courses cover such subjects as pathophysiology and advanced health assessment.


Necessary Skills

Necessary skills among nurse practitioners include:

  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
  • Patient/family education and instruction
  • Treatment planning

After graduating and passing the NP certification, NPs in a clinical setting may order laboratory and radiologic testing, diagnose illness and manage care. Additionally, nurse practitioners can prescribe medicine in all 50 states and may perform invasive procedures such as bone marrow biopsies or fine-needle aspiration.


Administrative and Communicative Nurse Practitioner Skills

Beyond clinical skills, nurse practitioner skills may include administrative skills. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) lists writing discharge orders, referring for consultations and ordering lab tests as necessary skills.

Nurse practitioners also lead others in problem-solving, work collaboratively with others and contribute to research.

Nurse practitioner skills across every specialty also encompass adept communication. According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, only 12% of adults in the U.S. have proficient health literacy skills. To provide excellent care, NPs must communicate not only with their colleagues but with patients and their families.

Additionally, bilingual health care workers are in increasing demand.


Industry Standards

Finally, nurse practitioner skills cover nine areas of core competence, according to The National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties:

  1. Scientific foundation — critically analyzing data
  2. Leadership — assuming leadership roles to advance change
  3. Quality — continuously improving the quality of clinical practice
  4. Practice inquiry — leadership in bringing new knowledge into practice
  5. Technology and information literacy — integrating appropriate technologies in health care
  6. Policy — understanding policy and practice
  7. Health delivery system — minimizing risk to patients
  8. Ethics — integrating and evaluating ethical principles
  9. Independent practice — functioning as a licensed practitioner and demonstrating accountability


Skills for Nurse Practitioners by Speciality

While a generalized nurse practitioner may work in a broad area, such as family practice, others are more specialized. Nurse practitioner skills vary according to their patient areas. NPs may work with children in pediatrics, with older adults in geriatrics or with patients with mental illness in an ambulatory setting.

Students exploring specialties at the beginning of their careers should ask themselves what types of environments they will enjoy in the long term. Some NPs practice in fast-paced environments or focus on a specific patient demographic. Note that a nurse practitioner may be certified in more than one specialty.

Of nurses who go into primary care, roughly 65% focus on some form of family care. Others choose specialties such as adult gerontology, psychiatric mental health, pediatric care and women's health care.


Nurse Practitioner Skills for FNPs

The majority of nurse practitioners work in family care. As the name implies, a family nurse practitioner treats the individual and family through evidence-informed primary care.

Family nurse practitioner skills encompass all ages of patients. In some states, FNPs can open an independent practice. Their services include diagnosing, prescribing medication, advising preventative care and wellness checkups.

There are several essential skills that family nurse practitioners should cultivate. These include:


Triage Assessment

Family nurse practitioners may see patients afflicted by a number of comorbidities. An NP’s job is to assess which of these conditions are the most urgent, which can be deemed lower priorities and which might require intervention from specialists.


Giving Injections

Family nurse practitioners might be tasked with providing medications to patients, including injectables and vaccinations. To ensure an optimal patient experience and to keep patient workflows moving along efficiently, family nurse practitioners must be prepared to administer injections promptly and safely.


Critical Thinking

Critical thinking skills are important for any advanced practice nurse, from primary care providers to psychiatric nurse practitioners. For family nurse practitioners, it is important to have the analytical thinking ability to assess different symptoms, sort through overlapping conditions and determine the best course of treatment.



Hospitals and primary care practices can be fast-paced environments, where the mood, the energy in the room and the patient volume can all change very suddenly. The best family nurse practitioners are ready to turn on a dime, adapting to new conditions without losing their composure.



Sometimes, family nurse practitioners might see patients facing chronic or even terminal diagnoses. It is critical to exhibit empathy both to patients and their family members, who may be caught off guard by diagnoses. Empathy is among the most essential of all nurse practitioner skills.


Start Your Nursing Career at Marymount University

The entry-level option for students with non-nursing undergraduate degrees is the Online ABSN. In just 16 months, Online ABSN students complete the following requirements in preparation for RN careers:

  • An on-campus residency
  • Clinical placements in Virginia
  • 100% online courses on topics like Research and Evidence-Based Practice

Marymount’s ABSN is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Nursing courses at Marymount are taught by practicing APRNs who can speak with authority about the profession. The university’s stellar reputation is confirmed by top U.S. News & World Report rankings in its National Universities and Nursing categories. 

If you want to become an RN, contact one of our student advisors to discuss if this program is right for you.


Request My Free Marymount Accelerated BSN Program Guide

Back to top