15 Ambitious and Achievable Career Goals for Nurse Practitioners

Written By: Kasee Wiesen DNP, APRN, FNP-C

Congratulations on completing your degree as a nurse practitioner! You worked hard to get to this point in your career, including earning your BSN, gaining knowledge and experience by working as a BSN-prepared nurse, and finally completing your advanced degree. Have you now wondered what is next for you? As a nurse practitioner (NP), it is important to set ambitious and achievable goals as these will help guide you in your career. Below, I have compiled a list of 15 ambitious and achievable goals for nurse practitioners, including career and developmental goals. I have also provided a brief description of why this applies to you as a nurse practitioner and how to achieve each goal.


Why Goal Setting Is So Important For Your Career As A Nurse Practitioner?

So first, why is it important to set goals? Simply because setting professional and development goals for nurse practitioners is a vital component of ongoing improvement. Writing your goals using the SMART goal template will allow you to clarify your purpose, focus your thoughts and increase your chance of achieving your goals. Evaluating your nurse practitioner career goals quarterly, mid-year, and annually is a vital component to ensure you are achieving everything you want to in your NP career.


(Following are the 15 Ambitious Career Goals every Nurse Practitioner should set and aim to achieve.)

1. Complete National Certification Board Exam

I believe, one of the top nurse practitioner career goals is to obtain board certification in your specialty. Graduating from an accredited NP program does not allow a nurse to start practicing as an NP. Most states require NPs to become board certified by completing an exam from a specific certification body before a state-issued NP license can be obtained. There are multiple certification bodies for NPs, depending on your specialty (focus population), which include: The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB), The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN), The Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB) and National Certification Corporation. Each certification body varies in the specialties they certify and the process to obtain the certification. Specific information regarding each certification can be found on their respective website.

2. Learn Your Passion and Do Not Be Afraid To Specialize

There are many career goals for nurse practitioners, but one of the most important goals will undoubtedly be to specialize in an area of your interest. For example, you could specialize in women’s health, geriatrics, acute care, psychiatric, or family practice. One of the above specialties will be declared while you're in school because it will affect the APRN board you sit for. Each specialty has unique employment opportunities and allows you to work in a variety of settings. If you specialize in one area but decide you want to take a different path, you can always dual certify/specialize. For example, if you are initially a board-certified family practice nurse practitioner (FNP), you can return to school and specialize in acute care, allowing you to obtain both your FNP license and acute care license. While this does require more school and sitting for another state board test, it can provide more opportunities and career satisfaction.

Once you have passed your state board, you can also branch out, which is one of the many reasons NP is such an excellent career path. There are many unique NP career options, such as forensic NP, legal consultant, and aesthetic NP. The sky's the limit when it comes to opportunities for the nurse practitioner; if you are not afraid to branch out, follow your passion.

3. Do Not Be Afraid to Challenge Yourself

An NP never stops improving, and this can be done by challenging yourself. Therefore, do not be afraid to set this as one of your nurse practitioner career goals, and challenge yourself and step outside your comfort zone. This can lead to many benefits, including growing your self-confidence in your daily practice and life. By challenging yourself, regardless if you succeed or not, you will learn something new. This new knowledge will help you further develop your personality, career goals, and practice style, which will help you continue to succeed as an NP. You may learn that you have a knack for leadership, prefer working in a different environment such as urgent care vs. a clinic, or find that you want to focus on research.

This is a very broad career goal that can be interpreted in many different ways. Therefore, it is essential to narrow it down and determine what challenges you want to attempt in your career. The next 3 ambitious and achievable NP goals I discuss, tie in with this career goal.

4. Continue To Develop New Skills

Another crucial professional development goal for nurse practitioners is to develop new skills. This is a vital component of a practicing NP in providing evidence-based medicine. Regardless of your specialty, healthcare is always changing, whether it is treating an illness/disease, tools/techniques to complete a procedure, or medications available to treat health conditions. Learning a new skill makes you confident as you are building on your knowledge and practice to further meet the needs of your patient or client population. While this career goal could mean advancing your degree, obtaining dual certification, or changing your practice setting entirely, it can also be as simple as learning a new technique. Regardless, learning new skills will ensure you are achieving professional development to provide the best care possible to meet the needs of the population you serve.

5. Advance Degree To Terminal Degree, If You Have Not Done So Already

To practice as an NP, a master of science in nursing (MSN) degree is required, but many more NPs are obtaining a doctorate of nursing practice (DNP) for one reason or another. A possible career goal for an NP is to get a DNP. There are many similarities between these two degrees, and it is important to first understand the similarities, before determining if advancing your degree, or starting with a DNP program is the right path for you.

There are benefits, though, to obtaining a DNP.

◦ A DNP is a terminal degree which means you have obtained the highest level of education possible for a nursing professional
◦ A DNP typically makes more money than an MSN. The average salary for a DNP prepared NP is $117,000 compared to an MSN prepared NP whose average salary is $ 112,000
◦ A DNP curriculum prepares the NP to seek out leadership roles, quality improvement, application of evidence-based medicine into practice, and make changes within the health system
◦ A DNP is a preferred hire in most University settings, including BSN programs.

6. Start Your Own Practice

Before knowing if this is an achievable nurse practitioner career goal, you must first know if your practicing state allows an NP to work independently and own their practice--this is called a Full Practice State. If it does, this may be a very ambitious NP career goal for you. If you practice in a Full Practice State, you can evaluate patients, diagnose, order and interpret diagnostic tests; and initiate and manage treatments, including prescribing medications and controlled substances, under the exclusive licensure authority of the state board of nursing.

Practicing in a Full Practice State is very appealing to many NPs as it opens the door to many new opportunities. NPs can own their own practice/clinic, creating flexibility, independence, and the ability to practice to their potential. At the same time, this can also be very intimidating to many NPs, especially new graduates. It is not uncommon for your state’s licensure board to require new graduate NPs to work with a supervising physician for the first two years of their career (or so many hours) to gain experience. It is also not uncommon, if you work for an organization, to work with a supervising physician within the clinic. For more information regarding if your state is a Full Practice State or not and the requirements to work independently, contact your state board of nursing.

7. Stay Current With Trends and Practices in Medicine by Delivering Evidence-Based Care

One of the essential professional development goals for nurse practitioners is to stay current and deliver evidence-based care. The delivery of evidence-based care is the gold standard in healthcare and ensures we are providing the best care possible to our patients. According to Dr. Bernadette Melnyk, Ph.D., RN, APRN-CNP, FNAP, FAANP, FAAN, the use and application of evidence-based care can be very empowering and lead to overall better outcomes for our patients.

While we know that implementing evidence-based care is the best for our patients, many don’t know how to go about doing this. Completing continuing education (CE) courses every year is the first step. Most of us know about CE courses because we have to complete them to maintain our nursing license—the same is true for your NP license. CE can come in many forms, such as conferences, webinars, and online courses. While it is easy to go to a conference solely based on location or complete a webinar due to the convenience, it is vital to find CE courses that apply to your daily practice. There are also a lot of online tools available, including online databases such as UptoDate, that can be accessed daily while at work to ensure the care you provide is following evidence-based guidelines. Lastly, joining professional organizations, reading research articles, and networking with other healthcare providers will ensure you stay relevant with the latest trends in advanced practice nursing.

8. Correctly Assess, Diagnose and Treat Disease In Patients

This goal should be a top career goal for nurse practitioners—we should always be striving to correctly assess, diagnose and treat our patients. While this sounds simple to do, it is not always the case. This goal ties in perfectly with Goal #1 and # 7 discussed above. No one is perfect, not even those who work in healthcare. It is important to remember this, and it is even more important to deliver the best care possible every day.

Goals #1 and #7 help us achieve this goal by providing the foundation needed to correctly assess, diagnose, and treat disease. Becoming board certified in your specialty indicates a solid foundation for the specialty. Besides, Goal #7 will help you in your day-to-day practice, ensuring you are staying current with information in healthcare and providing appropriate, up-to-date care.

9. Individualize The Care You Deliver

One of the ambitious but achievable career goals for nurse practitioners is to tailor the care they deliver to the individual. What I mean by this is to treat each person as an individual. Every person is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. When interacting with the patient, do not go into the room with assumptions but instead ask questions to get to know the patient, their condition, and their goals for treatment. I read an article recently that said to treat a patient how you want to be treated—and this stuck with me.

By treating each person as an individual, you are likely to have higher patient satisfaction, leading to greater compliance with the treatment plan—which is the ultimate goal. You want your patients to trust and believe in the care/treatment you are giving. Therefore, taking an extra 5 minutes to understand fully is sometimes needed to ensure the patient experiences the best possible outcomes.

10. Involve Your Patient in the Decision-Making Process of Their Care

This goal ties in perfectly with Goal #9—individualize the care you deliver. Having a person feel that they play an active part in the decision-making process leads to higher patient satisfaction and greater compliance with the treatment plan. Patients have voiced frustration that they feel they are being told what to do instead of feeling included and involved in making decisions regarding their health and lives. They are told they have hypertension and need medication, but hypertension is not explained to them, nor do they understand what lifestyle changes they could make to improve their health without medication.

As an NP, a career goal would be to include your patient in the decision-making process. Explain the illness, or provide a handout, and allow the patient to ask questions or return to the clinic for a follow-up to discuss further. Do not force a treatment plan or medication, but instead explain “why” it will benefit them. As I stated above, taking a few extra minutes to explain the “why” will often lead to higher compliance and satisfaction with care.

11. Advocate For Interdisciplinary Care

The next attainable career goal for nurse practitioners should include advocacy for interdisciplinary care. This means working together with other disciplines to ensure the best care possible is being delivered to our patients. This could consist of working with physical therapy (PT) or occupational therapy (OT), consulting a specialist such as cardiology, or working alongside a care/case manager to provide resources to the patient. This will look different for each patient depending on their medical history, if they’re outpatient or inpatient, and resources available. For the interdisciplinary care team to be successful, communication between the disciplines must occur to ensure the patient’s goals are being met and the appropriate disciplines are involved. This is a revolving care team for most patients and should be updated as needed.

While I do think this goal is incredibly important, I do understand based on a person’s work environment/community, all of these resources may not be available and is not always an easily attainable goal.

12. Share Knowledge With New NPs and NP Students

As an NP, we all started as a nurse, and remember how challenging it can be. For those NPs who have been practicing for a couple of years, you probably also remember how challenging and scary starting your practice can be. Therefore, one of the career goals for nurse practitioners should be the willingness to share knowledge with both new NPs and NP students. I know precepting is not for everyone, and that is okay. But what you can do, is if you see a student precepting with another NP in your practice, and you have an exciting patient or a procedure, invite the student to discuss the patient or watch/assist with the procedure. This will have a great impact on the student and provide them a learning opportunity that can better prepare them for their practice. In regards to new NPs, could you do the same with them? We all know in nursing school and in NP school, you typically don’t get to see everything you will see in practice. So be kind to those who ask you a question or bounce an idea off of you because, to be honest, you will probably want to bounce an idea off of them at some point as well.

13. Build Your Network

Networking allows you to build relationships with others who work in the same field as you. While this may not seem like an important nurse practitioner career goal, these relationships can often lead to great opportunities. Networking can lead to a new job and volunteer opportunities to improve your practice and build on your skills. Networking can also help ensure you are practicing evidence-based care. It can keep you informed of changes occurring in practice or other aspects of healthcare that could impact the way you practice. It can also help build interprofessional relationships that can have a profound impact on your patients. Lastly, it can lead to advocacy for our patients and our profession as well.

Networking can be completed through your NP programs and alumni gatherings. It can also be achieved through meetings that are held at your organization or just even working side by side with other disciplines. Most recently, networking has started to occur more online—which can include LinkedIn or other social media platforms. Regardless of the method you use, networking is an achievable goal for nurse practitioners that can certainly lead to awesome opportunities.

14. Become Active In A Leadership Role

It is not uncommon for an NP to find themselves in a leadership role, regardless if it was a goal or not. This role may be your daily role as an NP in the practice, especially if you work alongside a physician and they are not there for a day. You may choose to take on a management position—which can include anything, from being the manager of a clinic to playing the CNO of a hospital. Becoming an educator in a University setting is also a leadership role you can aspire to where you will guide and educate the future nurses, APRNs, etc., to provide high-quality care.

Fortunately, your education does prepare you for leadership more than you realize. Good NP leaders demonstrate strong communication and listening skills, use evidence-based care, and are proficient at decision-making. They also practice self-care, create learning environments, and support staff. Therefore, without even realizing it, this NP career goal can most certainly be achieved by all practicing NPs.

15. Find Work-Life Balance and Practice Self-Care

This goal is incredibly important—and while I feel it is one of the most important career goals for nurse practitioners, it tends to be one of the most challenging. To successfully care for others, you must first take care of yourself! Work-life balance means you take time for your family as much as you can—you find the balance between work and home. Our job is important, but so is our family. We need to identify the importance of leaving work at work--or setting aside a designated time at home to work, and once the timer goes off, you stop and spend time with family. It is easy to get wrapped up in caring for our patients and their concerns, but we must make our families a priority! And to do that, we must care for ourselves as well. This may look different for everyone. It could include taking a nap, a relaxing bath, reading a book, or going for a run. Regardless, make sure you intentionally make time for family and yourself—I cannot express how important this is!

To go along with this goal, we often talk about nurse burnout, but this can also happen to NPs. Taking steps to prevent burnout, identifying the symptoms of burnout, and knowing about resources available to help with burnout is critical. This will help ensure you are providing the best care possible to your patients.


Goal setting is very personal, takes time, and is constantly evolving. I hope the 15 career goals for nurse practitioners discussed above have sparked some ideas to advance and build on your career. So, I ask you, what are the most ambitious and achievable nurse practitioner career goals you plan to set for your career?

Kasee Wiesen DNP, APRN, FNP-C
Kasee Wiesen is a practicing family nurse practitioner. Her nursing background includes emergency medicine, pediatrics and peri-op. Education is a passion of Kasee’s, and she has taught BSN, RN-BSN and DNP students, and has enjoyed every moment of it!