How to Become a Nurse Practitioner in 5 Steps

Explore the career requirements for nurse practitioners. Get the facts about education, salary, licensure requirements and job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Family Nurse Practitioner degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Nurse Practitioner Do?

While all nurse practitioners (NPs) are registered nurses, NPs receive advanced education beyond the bachelor's degree level and typically hold more advanced licensure and certification. In fact, NPs have many of the same responsibilities as primary care physicians. Duties can include taking patient histories, diagnosing conditions, prescribing treatments and providing preventive education and healthcare advice to patients. Research and teaching may also be aspects of the job. Many NPs specialize in a specific field, such as pediatrics or family medicine.

The following chart provides an overview about a career as a nurse practitioner.

Degree Required Master's degree at minimum
Required Field of Study Nursing
Job Duties Examine, evaluate, diagnose and treat patients; order and review diagnostic tests; provide medications, prescriptions and vaccinations; counsel patients on their medical conditions
Licensure/Certification All states require nurse practitioners to be licensed as registered nurses; professional certification as a nurse practitioner is required
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 35%*
Median Salary (2015) $98,190*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What is a Nurse Practitioner?

Like physicians, nurse practitioners can provide primary and specialty healthcare to patients. This career serves to fill a need where physicians are in short supply. As a nurse practitioner, you examine patients, diagnose health problems, order diagnostic tests, prescribe medications and develop treatment plans. When treating patients, you likely place more emphasis on wellness and disease prevention than would a physician. You also provide patients with referrals to other healthcare professionals as necessary.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

Since a master's degree is required to become a nurse practitioner, you first need to earn a bachelor's degree. A BSN program typically takes four years to complete. You may take courses in biology, chemistry, psychology, anatomy and physiology, pathophysiology, nutrition, health assessment and nursing. Part of your education includes gaining clinical experience in multiple hospital departments, such as psychiatry, surgery, maternity and pediatrics. You may also be given opportunities to participate in research.

Step 2: Earn a Nursing License

A license is required to work as an RN in the United States. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) administers the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). Each state board of nursing regulates the eligibility requirements to test for licensure.

Step 3: Gain Experience Working as an RN

Master's degree programs generally require applicants to have completed at least one year of clinical nursing experience prior to admission. The type of experience required can vary based on your specialty interest. For example, if you plan to specialize in acute care, you may be required to have experience working in an intensive care unit. Likewise, if you plan to specialize in pediatrics, you may be required to have experience in pediatric nursing.

Step 4: Earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

While enrolled in an MSN program, you spend time in classrooms as well as clinical environments. You can choose from a number of specialties, including acute care, pediatrics, family practice and geriatrics. You may take courses in writing, physical assessment, pharmacology, pathophysiology and ethics. You also take courses and gain clinical experience in your area of specialization.

Step 5: Consider Earning Board Certification in Your Specialty

After earning your master's degree, you may earn board certification in your specialty. Two organizations that offer board certification for nurse practitioners are the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Certification is generally valid for a period of five years. Continuing education and retesting are typically required for certification renewal.

What Are Some Related Alternative Occupations?

Nurse anesthetists and nurse midwives also fall under the classification of Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs). The former specialize in administering anesthesia for pain management and/or surgical intervention. These professionals also talk with and monitor patients before, during and after a procedure requiring anesthesia. Nurse midwives, on the other hand, specialize in the areas of gynecology and prenatal care. They may provide gynecological exams, wellness education and family planning options to patients. In addition, nurse midwives may play a prominent role in deliveries of all types, from routine to emergency. A related occupation necessitating a master's degree outside of nursing is physician assisting. These professionals work on healthcare teams and help diagnose and treat patients.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

  • 1. Degree Options:
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  • Kaplan University

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  • The George Washington University

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  • American University

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