Careers advice

How to become a Nurse Practitioner in NZ

You’ll need to put in a lot of mahi, but the rewards are immense.

Last updated: 17 April 2024

It’s no secret that Aotearoa is in need of more medical staff. From doctors, to nurses to healthcare assistants, there are vacancies for many of these positions across the motu.

But today, we’re going to be looking into one very particular type of healthcare job that you might see advertised in NZ - Nurse Practitioners.

We’ll look at what a Nurse Practitioner is, the common roles they perform, and how the best pathway to becoming a Nurse Practitioner in NZ.

What is a Nurse Practitioner?

The role of Nurse Practitioner (Mātanga Tapuhi in te reo Māori) is a relatively new position in the context of the history of nursing in Aotearoa. The first Nurse Practitioner in the country only attained that position in 2001, and today there are still fewer than 800 across NZ, according to Nursing Council of New Zealand data from December 2023.

In Aotearoa, a Nurse Practitioner is an advanced practice registered nurse who has completed additional education and training beyond that required for a registered nurse (RN). Nurse Practitioners have advanced clinical skills and knowledge, allowing them to provide a wide range of healthcare services, including assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and management of health conditions.

Another core feature of the Nurse Practitioner role is that these professionals specialise in certain medical fields – for example, working with neonates, primary care, surgery and whānau ora.

Nurse Practitioners have a wide range of responsibilities, including prescribing medications.

The pathway to becoming a Nurse Practitioner in NZ

As you’ll probably have realised by now, Nurse Practitioners are highly skilled and experienced healthcare professionals, and this means that it’s not a career you can jump into straight away.

Here are the hoops you’ll need to jump through:

  • Be a registered nurse: we hope this goes without saying, but to become a Nurse Practitioner, you’ll need to be registered with the Nursing Council.
  • Experience: To register in the nurse practitioner scope of practice, you’ll need at least four years’ experience within your specific area of practice.
  • Complete a Nursing Council accredited master’s degree programme: these programs have a focus on clinical skills, and include over 300 hours of clinical skills. For RNs who decide to undertake the Postgraduate Diploma in Registered Nurse Prescribing, the diploma credit can be put towards a Nurse Practitioners Master’s Programme.
  • Assessment: Once you’ve completed your training, you’ll be assessed by a panel based on the Nurse Practitioner competencies.
  • Clinical supervision: You’ll need at least 300 hours of clinical supervision.

It takes a while to become a Nurse Practitioner, but the rewards are very much worth it!

Core responsibilities of Nurse Practitioners

The Nursing Council deliberately gave the Nurse Practitioner role a broad potential scope, to allow these skilled staff to meet the most urgent needs of their focus area. And one of the best parts of being a Nurse Practitioner role is the variety that it can provide. As well as the bread-and-butter of nursing, these practitioners can often work in areas such as research, leadership and mentoring of other nurses.

The incredible variety of the role can make providing a concise list of responsibilities for Nurse Practitioners challenging. However, here are some common responsibilities that Nurse Practitioners have:

  • Prescribing medications: this is one of the biggest differences between Nurse Practitioners and most RNs. Within their area of competence, Nurse Practitioners are able to prescribe medications in the same way that a GP would.
  • Admitting and discharging patients: another responsibility given to Nurse Practitioners is the ability to admit and discharge people from hospitals and other healthcare facilities.
  • Ordering and interpreting diagnostic and laboratory tests: again, this is something more typically associated with the role of GP or doctor, but a Nurse Practitioner has the ability to order and explain test results for their patients.
  • Championing nursing: as highly skilled and experienced nurses, Nurse Practitioners often take on leadership roles within their facility or department, and use this to advocate for other nurses.
  • Networking within the facility: again, their seniority and experience means that Nurse Practitioners are often key cogs that facilitate different teams or specialists working together.

There are also examples of where Nurse Practitioners take the role in very different directions. As well as opening doors to areas such as nurse-led research, for instance, some Nurse Practitioners have opened or taken over their own practices, or gone to work for non-governmental organisations.

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Al Hall
Al Hall

Al Hall is a regular contributor at Trade Me Jobs and Trade Me Property. He’s dedicated to helping people succeed in their aspirations to find their dream job and place to live.