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What's a Nurse Practitioner?

What's an NP?

A nurse practitioner (NP) is a registered nurse (RN) who has additional education and training in a specialty area, such as family practice or pediatrics. Pediatric and family practice NPs can provide regular health care for kids.

Nurse practitioners (also referred to as advanced practice nurses, or APNs) have a master's degree in nursing (MS or MSN) and board certification in their specialty. For example, a pediatric NP has advanced education, skills, and training in caring for infants, children, and teens.

Licensed as nurse practitioners and registered nurses, NPs follow the rules and regulations of the Nurse Practice Act of the state where they work. If accredited through the national board exam, the NP will have an additional credential, such as Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (CPNP) or Certified Family Nurse Practitioner (CFNP).

An NP who specializes in pediatrics can:

  • document health history and perform a physical exam
  • plan a child's care with parents and the child's health care team
  • do some tests and procedures
  • answer questions about health problems
  • treat common childhood illnesses
  • specialize in and manage chronic illnesses
  • change the plan of care with a child's doctor as needed
  • teach families about the effects of illness on a child's growth and development
  • teach kids about self-care and healthy lifestyle choices
  • write prescriptions
  • order medical tests
  • teach other health care members, student nurses, and local groups about children's health care
  • provide referrals to community groups
  • provide telemedicine care for children and their parents

NPs and Doctors

Most NPs maintain close working relationships with doctors and consult them as needed. NPs are licensed in all 50 states and can dispense most medicines. Some states require a doctor to co-sign prescriptions. In a few states, NPs can practice and prescribe without physician supervision.

Although doctors have additional training to help patients deal with complex medical problems, many people feel that NPs spend more time with their patients. NP training emphasizes disease prevention, reduction of health risks, and thorough patient education.

Like doctors, NPs are involved in more than just direct patient care. Many participate in education, research, and legislative activities to improve the quality of health care in the United States.

Should My Kids See a Nurse Practitioner?

Pediatric NPs can deliver much of the health care that kids require, consulting doctors and specialists as necessary. Educating kids and their families about normal growth and childhood development issues (e.g., toilet training, temper tantrums, biting) is a big part of the pediatric NP's role.

Pediatric and family practice NPs can treat acute (short-term) illnesses such as upper respiratory infections, ear infections, rashes, and urinary tract infections. They can also specilaize in and manage chronic illnesses such as asthma, allergies, diabetes, and many others.

If your child has severe health problems that require advanced training or highly specialized medical care, you may need to see a doctor. If you're unsure about your child's specific illness and want to know if an NP can help, ask your doctor. The scope of an NP's practice depends upon your state's regulations.

If you want to verify an NP's credentials, check with the American College of Nurse Practitioners (ACNP). It's also a good idea to ask NPs about their specific qualifications, education, and training, just as you would interview any doctor for your child.

Also be sure to check with your health insurance provider to be sure that services provided by NPs are covered through your policy.

How Can I Find an NP?

You can find pediatric NPs through the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (NAPNAP) and through local hospitals or nursing schools. Also, many doctors share office space with NPs to provide all types of primary care. Other doctors work with NPs to offer them training in different types of health care. Your doctor might already have such an arrangement in place, so just ask.

Reviewed by: Kimberly Shoe, MSN, CPNP, CDE
Date reviewed: October 10, 2016