Education Requirements for Nurse Practitioner
Nurse practitioners are considered advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) and require more education and training than other nurses, such as registered nurses (RNs). Below we examine each step to becoming a nurse practitioner in more detail.
Step 1: Registered Nurse Schooling
All nurse practitioners must first become an RN. There is no shortage of RN colleges available throughout the country that may offer diploma, associate's, or bachelor's degree programs in nursing to help prepare students for licensure.
Although a nursing diploma or associate's degree is a viable option for RNs, a bachelor's degree in nursing is the preferred educational path for an aspiring nurse practitioner. These are typically offered as Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degrees and some can be completed in as little as 3 years. Students in these programs generally complete clinical experiences for hands-on learning and may take courses in topics like:
- Community health nursing
- Anatomy and physiology
- Patient care
- Health assessment
Step 2: RN Licensure
After completing RN schooling, students must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN), to become a licensed nurse. RNs will also need to meet any additional state requirements for the state in which they work and may choose to earn additional certifications in areas of interest, such as pediatrics.
Step 3: Nurse Practitioner Schooling
Nurse practitioners must then go on to earn their master's degree. Again, there is no shortage of available nurse practitioner schools that offer master's degree and/or doctoral degree programs in nursing.
Nurse practitioner programs are usually offered as Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degrees in nurse practitioner and require extensive clinical training. The most common kind of program is family nurse practitioner (FNP), but there are many different areas of specialty, such as pediatric nurse practitioner, adult-gerontology nurse practitioner, women's health nurse practitioner, or neonatal nurse practitioner. Some of these programs may be available with online coursework and could be completed in as little as 2 years, although some may take 8 semesters or more. Students in these programs may take advanced courses in topics like:
- Physical assessment
Step 4: Nurse Practitioner Licensure
APRNs must meet their state's licensing requirements, which usually require nurse practitioners to pass a national certification exam after completing their master's program. Nurse practitioners can pursue certification through the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board in Family Nurse Practitioner, Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner, or Emergency Nurse Practitioner. These certifications require recertification every 5 years.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Nurse Practitioner?
Due to the various educational routes available to become an RN and the differences in length between individual programs and specializations, there is not a set amount of time that it takes to become a nurse practitioner. In general, if students complete a traditional, 4-year BSN program, followed by a traditional, 2-year MSN program, they are looking at about 6 years of formal education.
What Does a Nurse Practitioner Do?
Nurse practitioners are APRNs that can serve as primary and specialty care providers and can typically prescribe medications. These nurses will consult with doctors, but in general are able to work independently, order lab tests, operate medical equipment, and diagnose various health issues. Other job duties for nurse practitioners may include:
- Evaluating patients
- Recording medical histories
- Developing treatment plans
- Educating patients
- Interpreting test results