How to Become a Health Nurse Practitioner

Learn how to become a nurse practitioner. Research the education requirements, training and licensure information and experience required for starting a career as a nurse practitioner.

Do I Want to Be a Nurse Practitioner?

Nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses (RNs) who provide advanced nursing care in a variety of specialized practices. They perform examinations relevant to their specialty, make assessments and diagnoses, order or perform diagnostic tests, perform minor surgical procedures, provide medical treatment and prescribe medications under the supervision of a licensed doctor. Many work hours may be spent standing, and lifting or turning of patients might sometimes be required.

Job Requirements

These professionals have completed a graduate nurse practitioner degree program or a post-graduate program covering the specialty in which they practice. Licensing and certification are required. The following table describes the general requirements to become a nurse practitioner:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Master's, post-graduate or doctoral degree***
Degree Fields Nursing (for undergraduate); specialty area for nurse practitioner graduate program***
Licensure and Certification All RNs and nurse practitioners must be licensed; certification is required for all advanced practice nurses**
Experience 2 years of family nurse practitioner experience*
Computer Skills Data entry, word processing and automated medical records programs*
Technical Skills Specialized medical equipment such as EKG units, intravenous infusion pumps, nebulizers, cardiac monitors and oxygen analyzers, according to the nurse practitioner's specialty*
Additional Requirements Current basic life support for healthcare provides certification*

Sources: *CareerBuilder.com job listings (September 2012), **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ***American Nurses Credentialing Center.

Step 1: Complete a Bachelor's Degree in Nursing Program

Before applying to a graduate-level nursing program, nurse practitioner applicants must meet the education and training requirements for becoming a registered nurse (RN) by obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree (BSN). Admission is typically competitive, with students with the highest GPAs commonly preferred. Courses in a BSN program may include fundamentals of nursing practice, pharmacology and pathophysiology, patient health assessment, clinical processes and nursing throughout all life stages.

Success Tip:

  • Develop nursing skills through clinicals. One of the requirements of a BSN program is hands-on experience. Students may complete supervised clinical rotations in areas such as pediatrics, mental health, obstetrics and community health. A minimum number of hours for each area are required.

Step 2: Obtain State License as Registered Nurse

All nurses, including nurse practitioners, must be licensed by the state in which they practice. Most states require candidates to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. There may also be additional state nursing board requirements in order to earn and maintain state licensure. Nurses who are licensed in one state may apply for license by endorsement in another state.

Step 3: Gain Experience

Ideally, aspiring nurse practitioners will choose their specialty before attending graduate school, because many graduate degree nurse practitioner programs encourage or require applicants to have at least one year of experience working as an RN in their chosen specialty. Nurse practitioner specialties vary widely and can include women's health, family health, geriatrics, primary care or pediatrics. Nurses can find work at hospitals, nursing homes, private practices and long-term care facilities among other settings to acquire the necessary experience.

Step 4: Earn a Nurse Practitioner Master's Degree from an Accredited Program

Candidates may choose from several graduate degree programs in order to become a nurse practitioner. Nurses who have a master's degree in a different nursing background may opt to complete a post-master's degree program in a nurse practitioner specialty. Master's degree programs generally take 1-3 years to complete, depending on the school and the specialty.

Nurse practitioner programs combine didactic learning and clinical experiences. The programs place heavy emphasis on learning advanced clinical skills, such as performing physical examinations, conducting assessments and providing treatments. Core courses generally cover general medical practices and issues, with an added curriculum that focuses on the respective nurse practitioner specialty.

Step 5: Get Certified

Graduates of accredited nurse practitioner programs are generally eligible to take the nurse practitioner certification exam for their practice specialty. The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners is one organization that grants certification; however, the certification board isn't the same for all nurse practitioner specialties. Most credentialing agencies require applicants to have a valid RN license, to have performed a minimum required number of hours of nursing practice in their specialty, have completed certain medical classes and passed an examination. Generally, certification is good for 3-5 years depending on the practice specialty.

Success Tips:

  • Maintain certification. In order to renew nurse practitioner certification, most credentialing agencies require certified nurse practitioners to have completed continuing education hours from an accredited provider. They could also demonstrate competence and expertise by fulfilling a minimum number of hours of professional nurse practitioner care in their specialty. Nurses must have also maintained their RN license in good standing. Recertification requirements for RN licenses vary from state to state.
  • Obtain state nurse practitioner license. Most states require nurse practitioners to be licensed in addition to their RN license. This license is granted by the state nursing board and the general requirements include a valid RN license, graduation from an approved nurse practitioner master's degree program and certification from a recognized nurse practitioner credentialing agency.

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