What Is an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse?

An Advanced Practice Registered Nurse taking notes on a clipboard

Since its creation, the field of nursing has expanded drastically to include a wide variety of different nursing specializations. One of these is the role of an advanced practice nurse. Also known as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), these professionals are highly educated individuals who are trained to work in patient care, often within a specific patient population.

What to expect in this APRN blog:

What Is Advanced Nursing Practice?

After earning an advanced degree in nursing, APRNs are qualified to perform a variety of tasks within the field; they can not only assess and diagnosis patients but also prescribe medication as well. In addition, APRNs can order tests for patients and are often responsible for developing treatment plans as well as plans for future care.

In general, APRNs are leaders in their field and often contribute to improving patient care within an organization. They may also help educate others in effective nursing practice and promote health and wellness. However, those who pursue this role typically have a passion for a specific patient population and may therefore choose to further specialize their work.

Types of Advanced Practice Nurse Roles

When an APRN chooses to specialize, there are four specializations to select from, according to the APRN Consensus Model, which regulates APRNs’ roles.1 Once the APRN has chosen their specialization, they can choose to focus on a specific population.

Certified Nurse Practitioner

A certified nurse practitioner (NP) is a type of APRN who specializes in providing high-quality patient care; this includes diagnosis, treatment, patient education and preventative health maintenance. NPs consider all the information surrounding a patient—including not only medical information but environmental and mental health factors as well.2

Furthermore, NPs are educators, which means they must stay current on the latest trends and healthcare policies, and they must also know how to communicate effectively with their patients in order to educate them. This approach provides patients with the highest quality of care possible.

Certified Nurse Specialist

At first, the role of a certified nurse specialist (CNS) may sound a lot like that of an NP, because both roles work to improve patient care. However, their scopes of practice are actually quite different. A CNS has a unique role within advanced practice nursing. These professionals act as mentors, educators and advocates within their organization to help encourage and promote facility change and high-quality patient care.3

A CNS uses their expertise from advanced nursing degrees to ensure that nurses are using the best evidence-based care for patients, thus filling a vital supervisory role within an organization. Although they themselves are not directly providing care to the patients, CNSs have the unique opportunity to make real changes within an organization.

Certified Nurse Midwife

A certified nurse midwife (CNM) provides primary care services to women in the area of reproductive health, which includes preconception, prenatal, childbirth and postpartum care. They also provide support to families, helping them plan for the pregnancy process as well as the trials of early parenthood. 

A CNM, unlike an NP or CNS, specializes in treating a single population: new and expectant mothers. They are able to focus on women’s reproductive health, which includes not only their physical health but their mental health as well. They help women with all aspects of reproduction, ensuring the safety and health of both the mother and child, giving CNMs a vital role in lifespan development.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist

The main role of a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) is, as the name suggests, to administer anesthesia to patients in a variety of settings. However, their job does not stop after they have delivered the anesthesia; these professionals are there to help ensure patient safety before, during and after any procedure requiring the use of anesthesia. Such procedures often take place in the operating room and may involve high-risk situations, which means that the role of a CRNA is one of great responsibility.

A CRNA does not necessarily focus on a specific patient population; rather, they provide anesthesia-related care for any patient who requires it. Such care ranges from small, simple procedures to immediate and life-threatening illnesses or injuries that require immediate surgery. These professionals can educate families and patients on specific anesthesia treatments and possible side effects, ensuring that patients are not only well-cared for but also that they feel as though they are receiving the best possible care.

Further Specialization for Advanced Practice Nurses

After choosing an advanced practice nurse role, aspiring APRNs may choose to focus on a particular patient population. The main focuses include:

  • Family/Individual Lifespan 
  • Adult–Gerontology 
  • Neonatal 
  • Pediatrics 
  • Women’s Health 
  • Psychiatric–Mental Health

Additionally, NPs can be specifically trained in acute care or primary care settings. For example, an individual can become an adult–gerontology acute care nurse practitioner. This would mean that an APRN has chosen to fill the role of an NP and to focus on the patient population of adult–gerontology.

APRNs can also choose to stay in the APRN specialty and focus on a patient population as an advanced practice nurse. This could include working in oncology, orthopedics or in the emergency room.4

How To Become an Advanced Practice Nurse

There are multiple steps to becoming an APRN. First, it’s essential that any aspiring APRN become a registered nurse (RN). You will have to pass the NCLEX and earn your nursing licensure to do this, so getting your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) would be beneficial. You can also choose to earn an associate’s degree to become an RN, but because you will later need more advanced education to become an APRN, it is preferable to earn your BSN. 

Next, plan to earn a master’s degree related to the path you plan to pursue—for example, by earning your Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in a program that specializes in adult–gerontology acute care or one for aspiring family nurse practitioners

After graduation, it’s time to earn your APRN certification. There are many options for certifications, which means you can choose the specific APRN role and specialty you wish to practice in. For example, to become certified as an NP, you can choose from one of the two testing agencies for both the family nurse practitioner and adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner programs. After that, you’ll be fully equipped and certified to practice as an APRN!

Grand Canyon University aims to provide an exceptional academic experience for every student. If you would like more information about GCU’s nursing programs, including the Master of Science of Nursing: Family Nurse Practitioner, visit the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions or click on the Request More Information button at the top of the page.


Retrieved from:

1National Council of State Boards of Nursing, APRN Consensus Model in February 2022 

2RegisteredNursing.org, Nurse Practitioner in February 2022 

3RegisteredNursing.org, Clinical Nurse Specialist in February 2022 

4RegisteredNursing.org, Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) in February 2022 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.