APRN Definition

An Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) is a nurse who has a master’s, post-masters, or doctoral degree in a nursing specialty and can generally practice medicine without the supervision of a physician. APRNs help meet the demand for primary and specialty healthcare practitioners, especially in rural and other areas underserved by physicians.

The four types of APRNs are nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, nurse-midwives, and nurse anesthetists.

Nurse Practitioners

The most common type of APRN is a nurse practitioner (NP), representing well over half of advanced practice nurses, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NPs are qualified to provide a range of both primary and acute health care services. They can diagnose and treat medical conditions and perform many of the same tasks as a physician, including writing prescriptions in most states.

Becoming an NP requires a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), post-master’s, or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) in a specialty such as:

  • Acute Care
  • Adult Practice
  • Family Practice
  • Gerontology
  • Neonatal Care
  • Pediatrics
  • Psychiatric/Mental Health
  • Women’s Health

All states license NPs, and their official designation depends on the state and includes titles such as Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner (ARNP), Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN), Advanced Practice Nurse (APN), Certified Nurse Practitioner (CNP), Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner (CRNP), and Licensed Nurse Practitioner (LNP). All states, except California, Kansas, and Indiana as of 2012, also require that NPs be certified by one of the national certifying organizations for nurses.

For more information, visit the American College of Nurse Practitioners.

Clinical Nurse Specialist

While an NP typically provides primary care to patients, a clinical nurse specialist (CNS) typically works in a specialized area of nursing practice defined by parameters such as:

  • Disease or medical specialty (oncology, diabetes, etc.)
  • Population (children, seniors, women, etc.)
  • Setting (critical care, emergency room, etc.)
  • Type of care (rehabilitation, mental health, etc.)
  • Type of problem (pain, eating disorders, etc.)

Just as with NPs, each state has its own licensing requirements, which generally involve a master’s degree or higher from a clinical nurse specialist program and national certification as a CNS. For more information, visit the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists.


Certified nurse-midwives (CNMs) provide primary health care services for women from adolescence throughout their lifetimes. In additional to general primary care, nurse-midwives provide gynecological and family planning services; pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum care; healthy newborn baby care for the first 28 days of life; and treatment of male partners for sexually transmitted diseases.

Becoming a nurse-midwife requires completing a graduate program that prepares students to take the Certified Nurse-Midwife examination offered by the American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB) and to become state-licensed. For more information, visit the American College of Nurse-Midwives.

Nurse Anesthetist

Nurse anesthetists are APRNs who are qualified to administer anesthesia to patients for surgery and other procedures and to provide pre- and post-anesthesia care.

Becoming a nurse anesthetist requires completing a graduate degree program that prepares students to become a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) through the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA) and to become state-licensed.

For more information, visit the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists.

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