Certified Nurse Practitioner Career Info and Education Requirements

Nurse practitioners require significant formal education. Learn about the degree programs, job duties and licensure to see if this is the right career for you.

A master's degree in nursing, RN licensure, and certification are required to work as a nurse practitioner. Nurse practitioners are capable of working without a physician in many instances, and are also known as 'advanced practice registered nurses' (APRNs).

Essential Information

Nurse practitioners are primary healthcare providers who often work without the supervision of a physician. A nurse practitioner commonly focuses on a specialty area, such as pediatrics, geriatrics or acute care. A master's degree in nursing and a state nursing license are required. Certification is handled by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and requires an exam.

Required Education Master's degree in nursing
Licensure Must pass national exam for RN license
Certification Certification offered through the ANCC
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 31% for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners
Median Salary (2015)* $98,190 for all nurse practitioners

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Information

The nurse practitioner position was developed because of the inadequate numbers of physicians in the mid 1960s. Unlike registered nurses, who work under the direction of an attending physician, a nurse practitioner provides primary healthcare services to individuals and families. Job duties vary according to the area of specialization, but a nurse practitioner typically performs physical examinations, reads X-rays and laboratory results, diagnoses illnesses and provides counseling services, as well as provides references to other physicians or specialists when needed.

Some nurse practitioners prescribe medication, but this may vary according to the state in which they work. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasts a 31% increase in employment of nurse practitioners for the 2014-2024 period (www.bls.gov). The BLS states that the median annual salary of a nurse practitioner was $98,190 in May, 2015.

Education Requirements

A master's degree in nursing is required to become a nurse practitioner. In order to enter into a master's degree program, an applicant must first complete a bachelor's degree in nursing. Registered nurses who have an associate's or diploma in nursing must first complete a bachelor's degree before applying to a Master of Science degree program in nursing.

A nurse practitioner master's degree program often allows students to choose a focus area. Some common concentration areas include acute care, pediatrics, neonatal and family nurse practitioner.

Many Master of Science in Nursing programs can be completed in two years and the curriculum varies according to the area of concentration chosen by a student. Common courses include advanced pharmacology, physical diagnosis, counseling and interviewing, biostatistics and primary care nursing. The final semester may include a clinical that tests a student's skills and knowledge of the nurse practitioner role.

Certification Requirements

Certification can be obtained via the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). An offshoot of the American Nurses Association (ANA), the ANCC offers certification for nurse practitioners in a variety of specialty areas. For example, certification is available for nine different nurse practitioner areas. Some of these include family nurse practitioner, pediatric nurse practitioner, gerontological nurse practitioner and adult nurse practitioner.

The 31% job growth for nurse practitioners expected from 2014-2024 is significantly higher than average compared to all other occupations. Qualified applicants who possess a master's degree in nursing and are registered and licensed should have many opportunities to work as a nurse practitioner. Nurse practitioners often specialize, and it may be helpful to demonstrate skills in a preferred specialization area, such as pediatrics or gerontology.

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