Essential skills needed to be a successful nurse practitioner

The healthcare industry faces various challenges every day. Nurse practitioners require different skills to help them address challenges such as discrimination, patientc care, illness and sudden emergency, while still providing patients with the best level of care.

The US News & World Report ranked the nurse practitioner (NP) role first in its ‘best healthcare jobs’ list. It is a growing field with fantastic benefits like upward professional mobility, a competitive salary and projected growth in employment. With all these enticing prospects, one may be considering a career as a qualified nurse practitioner. Nurse practitioners are trained to provide care and equipped with the essential skills for a successful career.

How to be a successful nurse practitioner

One common question among nurses looking to specialize and become NPs is how to become a nurse practitioner in NC. To become an NP, one needs to have a Bachelor of Science and be a registered nurse. They also need to complete a doctoral or master’s nursing program and pass a national NP board certification exam. The last step is to obtain a nurse practitioner license in North Carolina to start practicing. 

The aspiring NP also needs to acquire some skills. Teamwork, problem-solving, communication and leadership skills are some essential soft skills that an NP requires to succeed. Hard skills are learned on the job and in school. Combining these skills makes the nurse effective and well-positioned. This detailed guide dives deeper into these skills and why they are vital for nurses looking to grow in their careers.

Soft skills

Excellent verbal and written communication skills

Communication plays a critical role in nursing. Excellent communication skills allow an NP to interact with patients, making them feel safe and cared for. Speaking to patients also makes it easy to understand the patient’s needs and provide the best care. 

Open communication with patients promotes trust and allows them to disclose their symptoms. They can also follow treatment plans and understand directions, which reduces medical errors. A large part of communicating also involves being friendly to patients. That involves smiling when appropriate, remembering little details from previous conversations and asking questions with an open mind. 

When speaking to patients, NPs need to be empathetic. For example, when a patient is frustrated, empathy allows the NP to share in their emotion and choose the best response to diffuse the tension. Be respectful by knowing when to initiate communication and giving them time to finish before responding. 

Good communication skills also promote effective collaboration with other healthcare professionals such as colleagues and supervisors. That reduces conflict and errors and improves productivity in the workplace.

Nurse practitioners must also have strong written communication skills to create treatment plans, update medical records and record a patient’s medical history, among other duties. Written communication should be simple to understand, concise and accurate. 

Another overlooked aspect of communication is the non-verbal cues. Nurses must understand non-verbal cues, especially when a patient is uncomfortable or in pain. Understanding a patient’s facial expressions, tone and body language will help to discover something they cannot articulate in words. Additionally, NPs need to practice non-verbal communication skills when talking to patients. That includes having the right posture, making eye contact, smiling and checking voice tone. 


Nurse practitioners must pay attention to detail to provide high-quality patient care. One mistake can lead to the wrong diagnosis and, ultimately, the wrong treatment, which could lead to tragic results.

Another essential aspect of being detail-oriented is ensuring that all healthcare forms and records are filled out completely. That will help in understanding which medication to prescribe or what tests to conduct for the right diagnosis. 

NPs constantly monitor their patients for any changes. They must be keen to determine if the patient’s condition worsens or improves. They will need to check their vital signs, pain levels, cardiac rhythm, lab values and body language, among other things, to know their current condition. 

Exceptional leadership skills

Nurse practitioners provide the highest level of care in most hospital and non-hospital settings. A successful NP is knowledgeable about the healthcare system, conflict management and professional development. 

Other specialists like nursing assistants, physical therapists and medical assistants look up to the nurse practitioner for guidance and tips on navigating different aspects of patient care. An NP must manage an intricate care team, make tough decisions and delegate — depending on the situation. 

Nurse practitioners also identify healthcare trends and find ways to integrate them into their practice. They need to guide those under their leadership toward embracing these changes. Succeeding as a nurse practitioner leader involves supporting the team. It is important to listen to their needs and support their endeavors to ensure employee satisfaction. 

Overall, leadership as an NP entails working to improve health policies, leading others by example, mentoring younger nurses, advocating equal treatment and endeavoring to provide the best care. 

Time management skills

Learning how to manage time effectively is a common struggle for most nurse practitioners. There are lots of responsibilities to handle, and time is limited. Proper time management skills allow the NP to provide high-quality care and maintain a healthy work-life balance. That results in reduced stress, enhanced productivity and improved efficiency.

There are different ways to master time management. One can start by creating a routine with a daily task list and assigning time to each task. Avoid multitasking and instead delegate when and where possible. 

Take time to rest and recharge by taking breaks in between work — this prevents burnout and leads to improved quality of patient care. 

Organizational skills

Working as a nurse practitioner involves ordering diagnostic tests, writing prescriptions, recording a patient’s medical history, documenting symptoms, updating medical records and creating a treatment plan. 

An NP needs to have organizational skills to keep track of all this information from different patients. These skills are also valuable when they need to provide this information to the physician and delegate some tasks to other healthcare team members.

Teamwork skills

Providing the best level of patient care is the primary goal of any nurse practitioner. However, providing quality care without working with colleagues is impossible. 

A collaborative approach in nursing allows NPs to reduce duplication of effort, save time, improve communication and enhance their working relationships. That leads to better patient outcomes as they enjoy a conducive healing environment. Teamwork skills also lead to job satisfaction for nurses.

Adaptability and creativity

Adaptability as a nurse practitioner is critical due to the ever-changing medical environment. They need to anticipate changes, know how to respond to them and devise ways to manage them daily. 

For example, patients may react differently to treatment plans and care. NPs must be adaptable and consider what adjustments to make in testing and medication to improve their patient’s condition if their previous treatment plan does not work. 

Furthermore, some emergency cases may require an NP to respond to them immediately. They need to maintain calmness and respond efficiently and quickly. Exhibiting patience under stress also helps the patients stay calm and complete the required procedure. 

Problem-solving skills 

Nurse practitioners encounter challenges in their line of work daily. Sometimes treatment plans do not work. NPs must decide who gets treatment first and determine how to manage workload, among other problems. All these issues can cause stress and burnout if not handled properly. 

Implementing a problem-solving approach in nursing care allows NPs to ask the right questions and consider several options. With these skills, they can determine a treatment plan to improve their patient’s health.

Analytical and critical thinking skills

Analytical skills involve taking complex information and breaking it down into bits to arrive at a decision. Critical thinking involves considering existing complexities and reviewing external information before judging. 

It is essential for an NP to have both skills as it allows them to evaluate different conditions depending on the symptoms and determine the best treatment plan. Additionally, these skills enable the NP to 

recognize changes in a patient’s comfort levels and decide what to adjust to improve their condition. 

Working as a nurse practitioner involves understanding that treatment plans and patient education change over time based on the cost, effectiveness and research carried out. Deciding on the best care decision can also be influenced by health system limitations and resource availability. NPs need to analyze all these aspects carefully and decide on the best treatment plan for their patient. 

Nurse practitioners can also use critical thinking skills to improve processes around the hospital. That enhances efficiency and productivity. 

Strong work ethic

Having a strong work ethic as a care provider is vital as it allows one to make decisions based on their values.

Sometimes NPs may have to deal with a conflict of interest. For example, when the facility or hospital they are working in recommends a specific brand of drugs they know will not work, they must be decisive and ensure their patient’s well-being comes first. 

Having a high ethical standard also involves the NP providing the best care possible, even if they do not agree with the patient’s religious or cultural beliefs. 

Hard skills

Nurse practitioners also need to acquire clinical skills to be successful. Some of these skills include:

Performing physical exams and recording patient’s history

NPs must assess a patient’s physical condition and determine any changes that could have caused the illness. Physical exams like recording a patient’s body weight, noting their blood pressure and assessing their respiratory activity can give the NP an overview of their health. 

Asking questions about a patient’s medical history, learning more about their family history, and their current medication helps to determine if they are at risk of certain diseases.

Request for lab work and tests

Nurse practitioners need to request different diagnostic tests like bloodwork. The findings will help to determine the best treatment plan. They can also use the results of the tests to follow up after treatment to find out if the treatment worked. 

As a health professional, ordering appropriate tests helps the patient understand the cause of their illness, gives them an overview of how the condition can be managed and acts as the basis of a treatment plan. It also saves them money as they get treatment from the findings and not through guesswork. 

CPR skills

NPs should be CPR proficient to succeed in this career. That means they must know when to perform this procedure and have the skills to administer it effectively. 

Creating a treatment plan

Nurse practitioners must be skilled enough to prescribe medication and create a treatment plan. 

Sometimes, treatment may be as simple as prescribing medications to address a specific condition. However, certain cases are complex and may require the NP to know if the patient is allergic to a particular medication. Other treatment plans need them to consider the patient’s lifestyle. 

Provide education and counseling on disease management 

Although most nurse practitioners work with patients who require regular care, sometimes they may also work with individuals with chronic illnesses. NPs educate these patients and their families on how to manage illness. They also advise patients on how to maintain good health through physical exercise and nutrition, despite their condition. 

Articulating and explaining complex medical terms in a layman’s language is critical to ensure the patient understands their requirements. 

Technologically savvy and open-minded

Although attending nursing school allows one to gain clinical and soft skills to start their job, that is not enough if they want to be successful. 

Healthcare is rapidly evolving, and new systems are being set up to make work easier. As a nurse practitioner, one needs to know about the latest medical sector advancements. Their technological skills must be up to date to be successful and guide their colleagues. 

Visiting education sites for further study is a great way to learn and progress about upcoming conferences or courses about a related profession. Education or blog sites also offer on-demand courses that help NPs learn about the latest advancements in pharmacology and primary care. 

Final thoughts

Working as a nurse practitioner requires certain learned and acquired skills, as highlighted above. These skills are essential as they make it easier to interact with patients, provide quality assessments, collaborate with other healthcare team members and ultimately offer the best care. 

While some of these skills are taught in school, others are learned on the job. Take time to decide on strong skills and work towards those needed to succeed.