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What Education Is Required to Be a Nurse Practitioner?

If you're interested in becoming a nurse practitioner, you must earn a bachelor's and a graduate degree, as well as maintaining current licensure and certification. Continue reading for an overview of the education steps and professional requirements of nurse practitioners.

Nurse Practitioner Overview

Nurse practitioners are registered nurses (RN) who have additional education that allows them to take on a primary health care provider role similar to that of a doctor, including the ability to prescribe medication. Some nurse practitioners take on specialty care responsibilities in family practice, pediatrics, women's health and acute care.

Important Facts About Becoming a Nurse Practitioner

Online AvailabilitySome coursework online; hands-on courses and clinicals onsite
Continuing EducationRequired every five years to maintain certification
Key SkillsLeadership, communication, critical thinking
Similar OccupationsRegistered nurse, nurse midwife, nurse anesthetist
Median Salary (2018) $107,030
Job Growth (2016-2026) 36%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education

Undergraduate Degree

Prospective nurse practitioners must start their education with a diploma, an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree in nursing. A bachelor's degree is required to enter a master's degree program in nursing, but nurses can complete an RN-BSN program to earn their baccalaureate. A registered nursing program includes coursework in anatomy and physiology, chemistry, psychology, biology and public health nursing. Clinical training rotations are also required.

Graduate Degree

A graduate nurse practitioner degree program takes an additional 2-4 years, depending upon if the student chooses a master's or doctoral degree program. The most common program for prospective students is the Master of Science in Nursing degree, which usually is a 40-50 hour, 2-year degree program. Students in this program may choose a concentration area.

A master's program usually requires students to participate in two or three clinical rotations or 700-800 hours at clinics, health centers or private practices. These rotations give students hands-on experience in primary care settings and allow them to work with experienced physicians and nurse practitioners. Most programs also require students to complete a thesis or scholarly paper before graduation.

The Doctor of Nursing Practice degree takes at least twice as long as the master's program since it is an additional 2-4 years after a master's degree is completed. The American Association of Colleges of Nurses (AACN) recommends that all nurse practitioners obtain a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree by 2015. This requirement is only for those who enter the nursing practitioner program in 2015 or later; a master's degree will no longer be enough since a doctorate will provide enhanced educational preparation.

Licensing

Before any nurse practitioner can practice medicine, they must receive a license to work in a health care facility or hospital. This involves passing a national licensing exam, which is known as the NCLEX-RN. In the United States, nurse practitioners are licensed in the state in which they practice, but they can hold licenses from more than one state. They must abide by the rules and regulations stated by the state's specific license.

Certification

Certification is required for nurse practitioners and is obtained upon completion of the educational programs. Certifications are given in the future nurse practitioner's specialized area of study, which include nurse midwife, neonatal, emergency care, and long-term care. Nurse practitioners must have a registered nurse license to apply for certification from a national organization. Two popular certification organizations are the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners and the American Nurses Credentialing Center. If students fail the exam, they must complete a minimum of 15 hours of continuing education in their area of weakness. Students may also only take the exam twice per calendar year.