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Nurse Practitioner Qualifications and Schooling Information

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a nurse practitioner. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties, and licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

Nurse practitioners oversee patient care and provide primary and specialty care to patients. A nurse practitioner will need to earn a master's degree and licensure. The following information details the educational requirements and job outlook for this occupational field.

Essential Information

Nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses. Nurse practitioners perform many of the same duties as registered nurses, including performing tests and providing basic medical care to patients. These patient-care-focused nurses can also prescribe medication, recommend specialists, and provide more detailed health information.

Required Education Master's degree in a nursing program
Other Requirements National or state licensure
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 35%*
Average Salary (2015) $101,260*

Source *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Nurse Practitioner Qualifications

While training requirements vary by specialty and state, all nurse practitioners (NPs) are required to obtain at least a master's degree. All states require licensure, and some may require national certification. Nurse practitioners must be compassionate, conscientious and meticulous, as well as possess excellent communication and leadership skills. They must have the ability to cope with stress and emergency situations.

Licensure for Nurse Practitioners

All nurse practitioners must be licensed in the United States and U.S. territories. All nurse practitioners must first become licensed registered nurses. Licensure as an RN is gained by passing the National Council Licensure Examination-Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN). Criteria for examination generally include completion of an approved nursing program and clinical experience. Passing the NCLEX-RN provides employers and patients with the security that nurses are educated and able to perform their duties in the healthcare industry.

Nurse Practitioner Schooling Information

Aspiring NPs are required to complete at least a master's degree in nursing through an accredited education program. Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) programs are available at many universities and offer various nurse practitioner track options. Among the many nurse practitioner specializations available are:

  • Family care
  • Adult primary care
  • Gerontology
  • Mental health
  • Acute care

Obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is a prerequisite to gain entry into an MSN program. However, some schools also offer a direct entry option in which candidates holding a non-nursing bachelor's degree may pursue the MSN. This involves completing an accelerated BSN followed by the master's program.

Master of Science in Nursing

Master of Science in Nursing degree programs typically take 2-3 years to complete. Clinical practice in a live health setting is built into MSN program curriculum. In addition, MSN education includes common courses, such as:

  • Advanced pathophysiology
  • Health assessment
  • Pharmacology
  • Ethics
  • Theoretical nursing concepts

Doctor of Nursing Practice

Doctoral degree programs take three years to finish and provide nurse practitioners with advanced theory and knowledge of the best practices in providing patient care. Graduates may also have the option to consider teaching nursing at the university level. Common courses include:

  • Population health
  • Health care policy
  • Chronic illness issues
  • Evidence inquiries

Certification for Nurse Practitioners

Obtaining national certification is required by many states and employers for nurse practitioners and other advanced practice nurses. Credentialing is available through the American Nurses Credentialing Center and American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. Candidates must pass a certification examination in a specialty field to gain certification. Typically, this area of specialty is the same one in which graduates of advanced degree programs have already completed their education.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for nurse practitioners were anticipated to grow 35% during the 2014-2024 decade. This above-average job growth is due to advancements in the medical field, a growing emphasis on healthcare and the increasing population of older individuals requiring medical services. In May 2015, the BLS listed the mean annual salary of nurse practitioners at $101,260.

Nurse practitioners are in high demand and will have a much faster than average job growth in the coming decade. Earning a master's degree and licensure in this field will equip you with the tools you need for success in this field.


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