Nurse Practitioner School Requirements and Prerequisites

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

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Nurse practitioners are becoming more and more popular as an advanced medical occupation and this career is expected to grow at a faster rate than the national average for all occupations. At this time, you have some options regarding the education path you take. Credentialing requirements can vary somewhat from state to state.

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Essential Information

A nurse practitioner is a highly trained registered nurse who is licensed by the state to practice in a specialty area such as primary care, mental health or pediatrics. Aspiring nurse practitioner students must be licensed registered nurses with a bachelor's degree. Nurse practitioners need at least a master's degree in nursing, but a doctoral degree may become standard as the minimum requirement in the future. Each state has its own licensing standards for nurse practitioners, but requirements generally include completing an accredited degree program or obtaining professional certification from a national organization.

Required Education Master's degree in nursing
Licensing Must meet state nurse practitioner credentialing standards
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 31%
Median Salary (2015)* $98,190

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Nurse Practitioner School Requirements

Nurse practitioners (NPs) are registered nurses (RNs) who have training and education beyond the bachelor's level. While requirements vary by specialty and state, all nurse practitioners are required to obtain a master's degree.

Degree Information

Nurse practitioners are required to earn at least a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) from an approved nursing program. These degree programs are designed to prepare students for primary care and specialty practice. Topics of instruction include advanced pathophysiology, ethics, advanced nursing practice and other related topics. A Master of Science in Nursing program takes about three years to complete and is presently the minimum educational requirement for an NP.

Licensing and Certification Information

NPs must obtain a license from the state in which they work. Requirements differ by state but may include completing a state approved nurse practitioner program or obtaining certification from a nationally recognized certifying organization.

Criteria for certification varies by area of specialty. Certification specialty areas include family care, adult care, geriatrics, mental health, school nurse and diabetes management and consist of 500 didactic hours and from 500 to 700 clinical hours. Certification is available from the American Nurses Credentialing Center, American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, Pediatric Nursing Certification Board and other organizations.

Nurse practitioners are allowed to prescribe medication. Regulations differ by state; some states (i.e. Arkansas and California) allow NPs to prescribe controlled substances, while other states (i.e. Alabama and Florida) do not.


A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is a prerequisite for enrollment in a Master of Science in Nursing program. The BSN curriculum consists of courses in anatomy, physiology, nutrition, microbiology and nursing. The BSN takes four years or so to complete.

In addition, applicants to a nurse practitioner program must be currently licensed registered nurses. Criteria for licensure varies by state, but generally calls for completion of an approved nursing program, clinical experience and passing an exam known as the National Council Licensure Examination or NCLEX-RN. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing developed this exam.

To summarize, in order to become a nurse practitioner, you must hold a bachelor's degree and master's degree and be a registered nurse. At this time, a master's degree is the bare minimum qualification. You should note that the American Association of Colleges of Nursing recommended that Doctor of Nursing Practitioner (DNP) become the minimum requirement to become a certified nurse practitioner.

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