What’s a nurse practitioner?

So much to learn!
So much to learn!

Deciphering the various letter combinations that follow a healthcare provider’s name can be confusing: MD, DO, PA, NP, FNP, PNP, CRNA, CNS … huh??

I won’t use this space to demystify all medical credentials – there are simply too many.  I will, however, explain the role of a Nurse Practitioner (NP) and define what some of the letters in the NP credentialing system mean.

A NP is a registered nurse (RN) who goes on to have advanced medical training by obtaining a masters or doctoral degree in nursing.  This usually means 6-8 years total medical training – 4 years in an RN program obtaining a bachelors degree and another 2-4 years doing graduate work.  After graduation one must pass a national certification exam and only then can the graduate display NP credentials alongside his or her name.

Credentials come in many forms based on one’s focus in school and what specialty credentialing exam he or she takes.  Some more commonly encountered credentials are:

  • FNP: Family Nurse Practitioner
  • ANP: Adult Nurse Practitioner
  • CPNP-PC: Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner – Primary Care (me!), often shortened to PNP
  • CPNP-AC: Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner – Acute Care
  • CRNA: Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist

This is not an exhaustive list, there are also NPs certified in geriatrics, neonatology, midwifery, women’s health, mental health, and more!  All these specialties have their own set of unique identifying credentials.  Confusing, right?

If you are ever sitting in an exam room and a medical provider walks in with credentials you don’t recognize, ask!  It’s your right as a patient to know who’s taking care of you and what type of credentialing they have.

Credentials are displayed after the provider’s name.  Using myself as an example, this is how it appears:

Sarah Kiser, MSN, RN, CPNP-PC

MSN = Master of Science in Nursing

RN = Registered Nurse

CPNP-PC = Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner in Primary Care

For brevity (and less confusion!) I often shorten my credentials to:

Sarah Kiser, CPNP-PC


Sarah Kiser, PNP

Once a NP is credentialed he or she is able to diagnose and treat various medical conditions.  A NP’s official scope of practice is dictated by state law; though, generally NP’s are able to provide preventative care such as physicals, care for the sick or injured, order labs, order x-rays and scans and prescribe medication.  Nurse practitioners are also trained to know when to refer to a physician or other specialty provider.

Can you rely on medical care provided by an NP? Absolutely!  Care is high quality and effective – check it out!

Curious to read more? “What’s a NP?”

Also, more on my role as a Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner in Primary Care


Creative Commons License
What’s a nurse practitioner? by Sarah Kiser, CPNP-PC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Scroll To Top