Becoming a nurse practitioner is a popular and exciting career choice. Nurse practitioners deliver primary and emergency care to patients, diagnose and treat illnesses, and prescribe medication. In 23 states, NPs have full practice authority, meaning they can practice independently without the supervision of a physician.
The path to becoming a nurse practitioner may look a little different for everyone, but in general, there are specific academic and licensure credentials you must obtain. From your bachelor’s through your graduate degree, you can expect to be in school for at least seven years. After you earn your graduate degree, you must also pass a national certification exam. This blog post outlines the responsibilities of nurse practitioners, discusses how to become a nurse practitioner, and provides a brief overview of the current job landscape and opportunities.
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What Is a Nurse Practitioner?
Nurse practitioners (NPs) are licensed clinicians who provide comprehensive care to patients. The best nurse practitioners are understanding and compassionate people who enjoy solving complex problems and helping others.
Nurse practitioners focus on preventative and holistic care, as well as treating acute and chronic conditions. A clinical nurse specialist’s responsibilities vary depending on their area of practice. For example, a neonatal nurse practitioner works with neonatologists to treat newborns and infants, whereas a family psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner works with patients of all ages who need mental health treatment. Other nursing roles include psychiatric nurse practitioner, emergency nurse practitioner, family nurse, and nurse midwife to name a few.
In general, responsibilities of nurse practitioners may include:
- Providing primary and emergency care to patients
- Performing physical exams and recording patient medical histories
- Ordering and conducting diagnostic tests
- Developing appropriate patient treatment plans
- Prescribing and administering medications and treatments
- Evaluating the patient’s response to treatment plans and making adjustments as necessary
- Providing mental health counseling
- Educating patients on healthy lifestyle choices and how to prevent injury and disease
Nurse Practitioner vs. Registered Nurse: What’s the Difference?
Becoming licensed as a registered nurse (RN) is one step in becoming a nurse practitioner (see How to Become a Nurse Practitioner). If you continue with graduate education to become a nurse practitioner, you will have more responsibilities and autonomy than registered nurses. Nurse practitioners need to earn either a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing, whereas registered nurses only need an associate degree or bachelor’s degree.
Unlike a nurse practitioner, a registered nurse is not permitted to diagnose patients or develop treatment plans. Typical responsibilities of a registered nurse include monitoring patients, maintaining patient records, ordering diagnostic tests, and assisting physicians with patient care.
The work environment for the two professionals also tends to differ. Nurse practitioners usually work more standard hours in private practice or community clinic settings. Registered nurses, however, typically work a variety of shifts, including night shifts, in hospitals or surgical clinics.
How to Become a Nurse Practitioner
To become a nurse practitioner, you will need advanced training in nursing such as a family nurse practitioner certification or a nurse practitioner certification in general. This means earning a master’s or doctoral degree in an NP program, as well as the certifications and licensures required for your area of practice. To succeed in your nursing program, you will need to hone your study techniques and time management skills. Although graduate nursing school is challenging, many students feel their effort is well worth the satisfaction of knowing they will make a difference in the lives of others. Below, we outline the steps to becoming a nurse practitioner.
1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing
The first step to becoming a nurse practitioner is to earn a bachelor’s degree. A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is recommended, given that some graduate-level programs, such as the nurse practitioner program offered by the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences, require an undergraduate degree in nursing rather than in a related field such as public health. The core curriculum of a BSN program includes courses in anatomy, pharmacology, mental health, pathophysiology, statistics, and more.
The BSN degree also requires that students complete clinical training hours—typically, three clinical learning hours for every one hour of classroom instruction. Depending on your background and personal situation, you can take various paths to accomplish this:
- Direct-entry BSN: Designed for students who hold a high school diploma and have not previously completed a bachelor’s degree program or nursing education. A full-time BSN program typically takes 4 years to complete.
- Licensed practical nurse (LPN) to BSN: Designed for students who are licensed practical nurses, which requires about a year of collegiate nursing education. The length of a full-time LPN-to-BSN program is typically 2–3 years, depending on the school and transferable credits.
- RN to BSN: Designed for registered nurses who have completed an associate degree in the field. Full-time RN-to-BSN programs typically take 1–2 years to complete, depending on the school and transferable credits.
- Accelerated BSN (ABSN): A second degree program for students who already have a bachelor’s degree in a different field. The length of a full-time ABSN program is typically 12–19 months, depending on the school and transferable credits.
Get Your RN License
In order to practice nursing and/or enter a graduate nursing program, you must first obtain your licensure as an RN by applying to the appropriate nursing regulatory body and successfully completing the NCLEX-RN examination, as well as meeting any other requirements of the state in which you intend to practice. To sit for the exam, you must have completed an associate degree in nursing, a hospital-based diploma program, or your BSN.
Gain Valuable Work Experience
Before applying to graduate school, it’s a good idea to practice in the field for a while. Clinical practice can give you valuable information about whether becoming an advanced practice registered nurse is the right path for you to pursue—and if it is, what interests you most about the work. It can also help you decide down the road what level of degree and area of specialization is best for you.
Some universities require applicants to have clinical experience before entering their graduate nursing program or beginning clinical experiences, so it’s important to look into each school’s requirements before applying. Additionally, some nursing programs, including ours here at USAHS, hold a white coat ceremony for nurse graduates to commemorate the milestone.
2. Earn a Graduate Degree
The next step to becoming a nurse practitioner is to earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) with a family nurse practitioner (FNP) role specialty.
Along with the FNP specialty, students in MSN and DNP programs can choose from other role specialties, depending on the university’s offerings. Popular specialties include nurse educator, nurse executive, adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner (AGPCNP), adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner (AGACNP), pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP), and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP).
- Master of Science in Nursing: An MSN is an advanced nursing degree that opens doors to prestigious positions in the field. An MSN-FNP is a sufficient qualification for becoming a nurse practitioner. A full-time MSN program with an FNP role specialty typically takes 2-3 years to complete.
- Doctor of Nursing Practice: A DNP-FNP provides more coursework on leadership and research for aspiring nurse practitioners who want to lead in these areas. A full-time program typically takes 3–4 years, depending on specialty, with the FNP specialty typically taking about 4 years.
3. Become a Certified Nurse Practitioner (CNP)
Be sure to review information on licensure and regulatory requirements in your state. The AANP is a good resource.
To become licensed to practice as a nurse practitioner, you will need to take a national certification exam. You can take this exam through any of five national certification boards, including the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), the National Certification Corporation (NCC), or the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Each organization’s exam is different, so you should research the focus and format of each one and consider your personal career goals and testing preferences when deciding which exam to take.
Nurse Practitioner Job Opportunities and Outlook
U.S. News & World Report ranks the nurse practitioner profession as #4 in its 2020 Best Healthcare Jobs list, highlighting the projected employment growth for this career.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual pay for nurse practitioners was $107,030 in 2018. Employment of nurse practitioners is projected to grow 28.2 percent from 2018 to 2028, with an estimated 53,300 jobs added during that period. The BLS ranks this as the ninth fastest-growing profession.
Nurse practitioners work in a variety of settings, the most common being physicians’ offices. They also work in general medical and surgical hospitals, outpatient care centers, clinics, and offices of other health health care practitioners.
Additional Tips and Resources for Nurse Practitioners
There are a number of activities you can participate in that will contribute to your professional development. Visit the additional resources below to learn more about the path to becoming a nurse practitioner.
Ways to Grow Professionally
- Volunteer to treat patients in underserved communities. This is a great way to grow your skills, learn from professionals across disciplines, and make a real difference.
- Attend events and conferences to expand your knowledge and network with your peers.
- Find a mentor you can learn from and who inspires you to grow as a professional.
The following organizations can help you learn more about becoming a nurse practitioner:
- American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN)
- The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP)
- American Academy of Nurse Practitioners National Certification Board (AANPCB)
- American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
- National Certification Corporation (NCC)
- The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN)
- Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB)
The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) offers Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), and Post-Graduate Nursing Certificates designed for working nurses. Our degrees are offered online, with optional on-campus immersions* and an annual interprofessional trip abroad. Role specialties include Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), Nurse Educator,** and Nurse Executive. The MSN has several options to accelerate your time to degree completion. Complete coursework when and where you want—and earn your advanced practice nursing degree while keeping your work and life in balance.
*The FNP role specialty includes two required hands-on clinical intensives as part of the curriculum.
**The Nurse Educator role specialty is not available for the DNP program.
American Association of Nurse Practitioners. “What’s a Nurse Practitioner (NP)?” Accessed January 20, 2021. https://www.aanp.org/about/all-about-nps/whats-a-nurse-practitioner. Accessed: January 26, 2022
Nurse Journal. “How to Become a Nurse Practitioner.” Last reviewed November 30, 2021. https://nursejournal.org/nurse-practitioner/how-to-become-a-np/. Accessed: January 26, 2022
Nurse Journal. “Nurse Practioner Career Overview.” Last reviewed November 30, 2021. https://nursejournal.org/nurse-practitioner/. Accessed: January 26, 2022
Nurse.org. “How to Become a Nurse Practioner (NP).” September 20, 2021. https://nurse.org/resources/nurse-practitioner/. Accessed: January 26, 2022
To become an NP, one must be a registered nurse (RN), hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), complete an NP-focused graduate master's or doctoral nursing program and successfully pass a national NP board certification exam.How long does it take to become a nurse practitioner in Florida? ›
To become an NP in Florida, you need to hold a valid nursing license and a master's degree. Depending on the path you take to your master's degree, it often takes about six years to qualify for the license. That includes 3-4 years to earn a bachelor's and an additional 2-3 years of study for the MSN.What is the difference between a nurse practitioner and an Aprn? ›
APRNs deliver a particular type of care in a role such as nurse anesthetist, certified nurse midwife, clinical nurse specialist, or nurse practitioner. Nurse practitioners focus on a particular population, from the very broad family practice to the very narrow neonatal population.What does it take to be a good nurse practitioner? ›
The most successful nurse practitioners are highly creative in their ideas, problem-solving abilities, and communication. They seek innovative methods and solutions in their patient care, and they are early adopters of new technologies.What is the difference between a nurse practitioner and an MD? ›
The biggest difference between the two medical professions is the type of schools they attend. A Doctor of Medicine (MD) goes to medical school, but a nurse practitioner does not. The amount of time they spend in training also differs between the two roles. It takes about 11 years (or more) to become a physician.What is the easiest NP program to get into? ›
- Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner. ...
- Pediatric Nurse Practitioner. ...
- Family Nurse Practitioner. ...
- Occupational Health Nurse Practitioners (OHNP) ...
- Aesthetic Nurse Practitioner.
Nurse Practitioner Education
The 4-year degree must be in nursing at a minimum. After earning your BSN, you'll need to complete a master's degree program that trains nurse practitioners. These are called Nurse Practitioner (NP) degrees. NP degrees can take 2 to 4 years.
Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
A DNP degree is the highest level of education in the nursing field and prepares nurses for leadership roles in their health care organizations.
Is NP higher than PA? Neither profession ranks "higher" than the other. Both NPs and PAs work in the healthcare field but with different qualifications, educational backgrounds, and responsibilities. They also work in different specialties.Which is higher APRN or FNP? ›
As previously mentioned, FNPs are a type of advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). This means that every FNP is also an APRN. An FNP is set apart from other APRNs because they have skills needed to handle patient care at all ages, and to act as primary care providers in a clinical setting.
- Emotional work. ...
- Varying hours. ...
- Working with people. ...
- Power imbalance and hierarchy. ...
- Not being able to help everyone. ...
- Restrictive practice settings. ...
- Being challenged too little or not enough. ...
- Charting, charting, and more charting.
As a hospitalist NP, you can expect to have one of the highest-paying nurse practitioner jobs. The average yearly wage is about $117,880. And while hourly rates vary based on region and specific hospitals, it is $56.67 on average.Which nurse practitioner specialty is in highest demand? ›
- Family (70.3%)
- Adult-Gerontology Primary Care (8.9%)
- Psychiatric/Mental Health (6.5%).
Nurse practitioners are typically not as booked as doctors, and can fit patients in sooner, providing relief without long delays or wait times. Nurse practitioners see a variety of patients, meaning that their knowledge and experiences are varied and may be better suited to creating preventative care plans.Why would someone be a nurse practitioner instead of a doctor? ›
Many duties can overlap, but a nurse practitioner's role differs from a doctor's in flexibility and scope. A nurse practitioner, for example, can often be available to patients who need immediate care sooner than from a doctor, allowing nurse practitioners to serve as a frontline of defense in helping patients.Is it harder to become an MD or an NP? ›
It definitely takes longer to become an MD than an NP. While there are accelerated programs for an NP license, there are very few for an MD.What is the ideal age to become a NP? ›
The mid to late 20s is a great time to apply to NP school if you know, as a young nurse, this is the career path you want to pursue.Is the NP exam hard? ›
Becoming a Certified Nurse Practitioner isn't easy, and yes, both the AANP and ANCC certification exams are challenging — very challenging. They will take a great deal of analytical thought, clinical judgement, and preparation.What is the lowest GPA to NP program? ›
Many schools will require a 3.0 GPA to get into nurse practitioner school. Based on the type of NP program you are applying for (MSN or DNP), your GPA will be calculated from your bachelorly or master's degree coursework.Is 50 too old to become a nurse practitioner? ›
Age-Perfect! You're past the angst of the 20s, family-focused 30s, and wage-earning 40s. You'll find as an older student it's probably even easier to earn your Masters of Science in Nursing with a concentration in Nursing Education or Family Nurse Practitioner.
More time with patients.
Despite these positives when compared to working as an RN, the NP role can be very challenging and more demanding. Their duties may be more stressful compared to RNs because nurse practitioners often manage complicated patient cases and are responsible for making higher-level decisions.
The first year (or more) students complete the RN portion of their degree. The second (and possibly third) year of the program students are prepared as nurse practitioners. This means that upon graduating you have an RN degree but will be immediately eligible for employment as a nurse practitioner.Is BSN higher than NP? ›
Registered nurses need a bachelor's degree in nursing, to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), and to obtain a state licensure to get started in the medical field. Nurse practitioners, on the other hand, must have earned a master's degree in nursing (MSN) or higher.What degree do most nurse practitioners have? ›
Most nurse practitioners will start with a bachelor's degree in nursing, then gain work experience. Finally, they will earn a graduate degree. This might include a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree.What is the lowest type of nurse? ›
As the name suggests, CNAs assist nurses with patient admittance and vitals. It is the lowest-level credential related to the nursing field and the quickest point of entry.Is PA school harder than nursing school? ›
Yes, in general, physician assistant school is harder than nursing school.What is above a nurse practitioner? ›
Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)-Prepared Practitioner
The Doctor of Nursing Practice is a terminal nursing degree, meaning that it is the highest possible practice-based degree in nursing.
Physician assistants train using the medical model, similar to physicians, which means they focus on the testing, diagnosis, and treatment of the disease that the patient has. Nurse practitioners train on the nursing model, which means they focus on the testing, diagnosis, and treatment of the patient with the disease.Is an APRN as good as an MD? ›
APRNs can diagnose and treat disease just like an MD or a PA for the most part. At minimum, an APRN has a registered nurse license (RN), hands-on clinical experience, and a master's degree in the nursing field. APRNs are also supervised by a licensed MD.What comes after nurse practitioner? ›
The highest level of clinical nursing is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), which is a nurse-midwife, nurse practitioner, certified registered nurse anesthetist, or clinical nurse specialist.
Some people may find that mastering the initial concepts in Nursing school is much harder than building upon those concepts in Nurse practitioner school. On the other hand, some students find that nurse practitioner school and its advanced concepts are harder to grasp and apply in practice.What is the disadvantage of being a nurse practitioner? ›
In some cases, the challenges of being a nurse practitioner include being on-call and working overtime. The long and unpredictable hours may negatively affect the nurse's family and social life. Unhappy nurse practitioners may experience burnout and dissatisfaction with their career choice.What is the hardest type of nurse to be? ›
- Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurses. ICU is an extremely high-pressure environment and these nurses work with patients who have significant injuries and disease with added morbidity risks. ...
- Emergency Department nurses. ...
- Neonatal ICU. ...
- OR nursing. ...
- Oncology Nursing. ...
- Psychiatric Nursing.
The most stressful nursing jobs include ICU nurse, ER nurse, and NICU nurse. In these roles, nurses work in an intense environment with high stakes.What state pays the highest for nurse practitioners? ›
Family Nurse Practitioner or FNP is the most common Nurse Practitioner specialty, accounting for about half of all NPs – and there's good reasons for that, because FNPs are the most versatile NP certification that there is. FNP programs focus on family medicine, spanning from birth to death, ages 0-100+.What city pays nurse practitioners the most? ›
There is a wide range of salaries for nurse practitioners, from the lowest-paying city, Punta Gorda, Florida, where NPs make an average annual salary of $86,800 to the highest-paying city of San Jose, California, where the average annual salary is $197,870.What is the average salary of a Nurse Practitioner near me? ›
As of May 14, 2023, the average annual pay for a Nurse Practitioner in Los Angeles is $141,574 a year.What is the job outlook for the next 10 years as a Nurse Practitioner? ›
If you are considering changing careers to nursing, we explain the excellent job outlook for nurse practitioners, as the profession is expected to grow 40% in the next 10 years.Can a nurse practitioner identify as a doctor? ›
The California Association for Nurse Practitioners specifies that, while there is no California law that prohibits DNPs from being called “doctors,” other states prohibit DNPs from using that title.
A doctor of nursing practice, or DNP, and a medical degree are both earned following rigorous coursework, and both lead to or accelerate careers in the health care field.What does FNP C stand for? ›
What does FNP-C mean? The designation FNP-C means certified family nurse practitioner. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB) offers this credential.Can a nurse practitioner have more than one specialty? ›
NPs can obtain multiple degrees across multiple specialties, or they may choose to just focus on one area. Depending on your geographic region, knowledge about specialty NPs may be fairly uncommon, or a specialty certification may be the only way to get a job in a particular area.What is the difference between a CNP and a FNP? ›
CNPs are authorized to diagnose illnesses, treat conditions, and provide evidence-based health education to their patients. The most common specialization of an NP is as an FNP. An FNP serves the healthcare needs of individuals and families by providing comprehensive care throughout their lifespans.What can doctors do that nurse practitioners Cannot? ›
A primary difference between physicians and NPs is the fact that all doctors can prescribe medication to patients as a part of their duties. Nurse practitioners also prescribe medicine, but in some states they must be directly overseen by a doctor or physician in order to do so.How many years does it take to become a MD from NP? ›
After you become a nurse practitioner you will still need to go to four years of medical school and 4 years of residency if you want to be a doctor. If you are already a nurse practitioner and want to go through the process of becoming a doctor make sure that you are spending your time and money wisely.What is a MD salary? ›
- Get a bachelor's degree in nursing. ...
- Get a registered nursing license. ...
- Select a specialty. ...
- Finish a nurse practitioner program. ...
- Take the board exam for the specialty you choose. ...
- Obtain certification as a Florida nurse practitioner. ...
- Seek employment.
Florida APRN applicants are required to hold an active Florida RN license or an active multistate RN license from another jurisdiction, a master's degree or post-master's certificate in a nursing clinical specialty area and national advanced practice certification from an approved nursing specialty board.What is a nurse practitioner salary in Florida? ›
The average Nurse Practitioner salary in Florida is $114,852 as of May 01, 2023, but the range typically falls between $106,576 and $124,773.
|Rank||Type of NP||Annual|
|1||Neonatal Nurse Practitioner||$116,730|
|2||Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)||$114,520|
|3||Emergency Nurse Practitioner||$111,750|
|4||Dermatology Nurse Practitioner||$109,330|
Nurses who introduce themselves as “Doctor Jones, a nurse practitioner,” would be subject to disciplinary action, including denial of a license.Do NPS have to work under a doctor in Florida? ›
According to the Florida Department of Health and the Florida Board of Nursing, FNPs in Florida can practice independently if they have a signed agreement with a physician. They can even have their own practices. A physician does not necessarily need to be present at the time of service.What are the 2 NP certifications? ›
There are currently two recognized certifying boards for NPs: The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP).What states the easiest to get a nurse practitioner license? ›
- Utah. Time frame: 4-6 weeks.
- New Hampshire. Time frame: 4-6 weeks. Important Details: ...
- Virginia. Time frame: 4-6 weeks. Important Details: ...
- Kansas. Time frame: 4-6 weeks. Important Details: ...
- Vermont. Time frame: 4-8 weeks. Important Details: ...
Physician Assistants (PAs) and Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioners (ARNPs) can prescribe controlled substances listed in Schedule II, Schedule III or Schedule IV as defined in s. 893.03 Florida Statutes, beginning January 1, 2017.What is the timeline of becoming an NP? ›
It takes between six and eight years of education to become a nurse practitioner. But how long it takes you will largely depend on your current qualifications and education level. Nurse practitioners are well-educated medical professionals with a wealth of health knowledge and patient-care experience.Is it worth going from RN to NP? ›
Being a nurse practitioner is worth it because most NPs are highly satisfied with their career and job. In fact, U.S. News and World Report ranks nurse practitioners as the best health care job in 2022! So, if you are planning to go to school to become an NP, you can expect a pleasurable and engaging career.What type of NP gets paid the most? ›
As a hospitalist NP, you can expect to have one of the highest-paying nurse practitioner jobs. The average yearly wage is about $117,880. And while hourly rates vary based on region and specific hospitals, it is $56.67 on average.What is the lowest paid Nurse Practitioner? ›
The average annual salary for a Nurse Practitioner is $118,040. The bottom 10% of average annual NP salaries is $79,470. The top 10% is $163,350 per year. The median annual wage for a Nurse Practitioner is $120,680.
- 1. California. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, California is the highest paying state for nurse practitioners. ...
- New Jersey. ...
- Washington. ...
- New York. ...
- Massachusetts. ...
- Nevada. ...
- Minnesota. ...