Nurse Practitioner Degrees

Curious about becoming a nurse practitioner? Learn about the requirements for becoming an NP, the educational pathways you need to take, and how you can earn your certification to become a licensed nurse practitioner.

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

If you're interested in becoming a nurse practitioner, there are several steps you will need to follow to become certified.

  1. Graduate with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor's of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree
  2. Pass the NCLEX-RN exam to become a certified registered nurse
  3. Choose your NP specialty and apply for an MSN degree program
  4. Graduate with your master's degree
  5. Apply online for your credential

The first step toward becoming a qualified nurse practitioner is getting your ADN or BSN degree. Then, you will need to get licensed as a registered nurse in your state. Though specific state requirements vary, all states will require you to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) to become an RN.

Next, you will decide what you want your specialty as a nurse practitioner to be. There are dozens of options, from family practice to pediatrics, and you will need to know what area you want to work in before beginning your graduate degree. Once you have researched the schooling requirements for becoming a certified NP, you will choose your MSN program and complete your educational requirements.

After you have completed your graduate program, you can apply for your credential though a nurse practitioner certification body and find your first job as a certified nurse practitioner.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Nurse Practitioner?

In general, the length of time to become a nurse practitioner can be up to seven years. Once you have become a registered nurse, you will have one to three years of additional graduate schooling, depending on the requirements and type of the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program you choose.

If you choose to pursue your Doctor in Nursing Practice (DNP) degree after your master's degree program, the program will take an additional three years to complete. Future NPs who wish to obtain their doctorate degrees can expect to be in school for up to 6 years after they become registered nurses.

Nurse Practitioner Requirements

The minimum requirement to become a nurse practitioner is to earn your MSN degree. Within your degree program, you will specialize in a specific area of nursing such as women's health nurse practitioner, family nurse practitioner, or pediatric nurse practitioner. You may also choose to get a more advanced DNP degree which will also qualify you to be a nurse practitioner.

Following your graduate degree program, you'll be required to seek certification for the nurse practitioner specialty area you chose. Certification and licensure requirements vary by state, so be sure to take the steps necessary for your state.

Nurse Practitioner Degree & Education Requirements

There are several educational requirements for becoming a nurse practitioner. The most basic educational requirement that all nurse practitioners must complete is a master's degree in nursing (MSN).

To pursue an MSN, you will first complete an undergraduate nursing program, in the form of an ADN degree, BSN degree, or a bachelor's degree in a related topic. A BSN degree is the most common pathway to earning your MSN degree, but there are several types of MSN programs available, including ADN to MSN bridge programs, which allow students to enter an MSN program with just an ADN degree.

Most MSN programs also require work experience as a registered nurse, so once you earn your undergraduate degree, you should take the National Council Licensure Examination for registered nurses (NCLEX-RN) to become a licensed RN. After completing at least two years working in a registered nurse career, you can apply to an MSN degree program.

Courses for nurse practitioners in MSN programs will include clinical diagnosis, nursing research, nursing management, and clinical pharmacology. Your graduate degree will prepare you for the day-to-day activities associated with a nurse practitioner's job duties.

After completing your master's program, you will need to take a certification exam to become a certified nurse practitioner. The exam and certification process will be specific to your chosen specialty. Periodically, you will need to complete NP continuing education requirements in order to maintain your licensure in your state. Continuing education can include study groups, online courses, workshops, or seminars, but all continuing education enhances your understanding of your practice. It also gives you the chance to meet new mentors and learn about cutting edge techniques. Continuing education courses will be mandated by your state or by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). State guidelines for NP continuing education vary, but the required hours generally range from 20 to 30 hours.

Nurse Practitioner Certification

As mentioned, after you complete your master's program, you will take an exam given by a nurse practitioner certification body. There are several different certification exams to choose from, depending on your desired NP specialty. For instance, you might choose to take the family nurse practitioner certification exam and receive your FNP-BC credential.

To become a certified nurse practitioner, you will need pass a certification exam, where you demonstrate nursing knowledge, given by one of several nurse practitioner certification bodies. Certification providers include:

  • American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
  • Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB)
  • National Certification Corporation (NCC)
  • American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Program (AANPCP)
  • American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN)
  • Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC)

The certification body you choose will depend on the nursing specialization you studied and what state you reside in, as the certification bodies are not all recognized nationally. Certification must be renewed periodically, and different certification bodies have different renewal requirements.

Certification Body NP Certifications Awarded Recertification
ANCC - Acute Care NP
- Adult NP
- Adult-Gerontology Acute Care NP
- Adult-Gerontology Primary Care NP
- Emergency NP
- Family NP
- Gerontological NP
- Pediatric NP
- Adult Psychiatric & Mental Health NP
- Psychiatric & Mental Health NP
- School NP
Every 5 years
PNCB - Acute Care Pediatric NP
- Primary Care Pediatric NP
Every year, with additional update requirements every 7 years
NCC - Neonatal NP
- Women's Health OB/GYN NP
Every 3 years
AANPCP - Adult-Gerontology Primary Care NP
- Emergency NP
- Family NP
Every 5 years
AACN - Adult-Gerontology Acute Care NP Every 5 years
ONCC - Advanced Oncology Certified NP Every 4 years