How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

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

Should I Become a Nurse Practitioner?

A nurse practitioner (NP) is an advanced practice registered nurse who provides health care services similar to those of a physician. Nurse practitioners may choose to specialize in family, pediatric, or geriatric nursing. Common duties include diagnosing and treating illnesses and injuries, prescribing medications, and educating patients. Nurse practitioners may also order diagnostic tests and analyze the results.

The work of a nurse practitioner can be physically and emotionally demanding, since they must spend shifts standing for long periods and making life-and-death decisions. Some of these nurses must be on call or work night and weekend shifts.

In order to become a nurse practitioner, you will need a master's or doctoral degree in nursing, as well as to be licensed and certified. Nurse practitioners need to have skills in problem solving, decision making, communication, leadership, critical thinking, resourcefulness, and compassion. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurse practitioners as of May 2015 make a median salary of $98,190 a year.

Basic Education

Students on a path to becoming a nurse practitioner will need to earn a bachelor's degree to qualify for necessary graduate study. Completion of a bachelor's degree program prepares students to meet state requirements for licensure as a registered nurse (RN). Common areas studied in undergraduate nursing programs include pharmacology, anatomy and physiology, pediatric nursing, and community health. In the clinical experience part of the program, students will have the opportunity to practice skills learned in the classroom under the guidance of their instructor.

To be successful you should:

  • Take communications classes. Prospective nurse practitioners may benefit from taking communications classes, as excellent writing and speaking skills are important to concisely explain procedures to patients and their families.
  • Enroll in an accelerated program. This option allows students who already hold a non-nursing bachelor's degree to complete a program of study more quickly.

After receiving your bachelor's degree, you will need to receive a license to be a registered nurse. Every state requires a practicing nurse to first pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). Additional licensing and registration requirements, which typically include background checks and fingerprinting, may be required at the state level. Before candidates can pursue a graduate degree or advanced nursing licensure, an RN license is required.

Advanced Education

Registered nurses with a bachelor's degree who are interested in becoming nurse practitioners can qualify for the position by earning a master's or doctoral degree in nursing. Many nurse practitioners specialize in a specific area of medicine such as pediatrics or family medicine during their graduate study. These programs typically take 2-3 years to complete and require students to take courses, seminars, and lectures in addition to completing a clinical residency. Common courses may include healthcare management, pathophysiology, and advanced pharmacology.

Most states require additional licensure to work as an advanced practice nurse. Advanced practice nurses operate in one of four roles: nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife, or clinical nurse specialist. Licensing is regulated by individual states, and requirements vary. However, all NPs must first be licensed RNs with a master's degree in one of the four advanced practice specialties. Some states mandate extra exams and professional experience. Many states require continuing education classes or maintenance of a national certification to renew a license.

The successful completion of a graduate degree program and licensure requirements prepares graduates to sit for certification examinations specific to their careers. The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) are two organizations that offer national certification commonly recognized by state nursing boards. Certification usually requires passing an examination, and most organizations mandate continuing education to maintain the credentials.

Available specialty examinations nurse practitioners may choose from include acute care, diabetes management, family care, school nursing, mental health, gerontology, and pediatrics. Nurses wishing to specialize in a specific area of practice should obtain the proper materials needed to study for the exam. Individuals are strongly encouraged to take any practice tests available.

Nurse practitioners are a form of advanced practice nurse that require RN nurse licensure, an advanced degree, and licensing and certification in order to complete their education.

Related to Becoming a Nurse Practitioner

Search Degrees, Careers, or Schools