How To Become A Nurse Practitioner: A Step-By-Step Guide

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner: A Step-by-Step Guide

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If you want a rewarding career in healthcare without spending a decade of your training to become a doctor, you might consider working as a nurse practitioner (NP). These advanced practice nurses are primary care providers whose career path is significantly shorter and less costly than that of a physician.

Our guide explores how to become a nurse practitioner, including education, licensure, and potential specialty areas.

What does a nurse practitioner do?

What is a Nurse Practitioner? NPs are Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) who provide healthcare services to specific patient demographics.

Role and responsibilities

NPs provide primary care to their patients. They analyze patients’ medical histories and order, perform and evaluate diagnostic tests. They typically work with healthcare teams to create treatment plans and provide follow-up care.

Due to their advanced education and training, many NPs can work independently and write prescriptions. Nurse practitioners may also perform medical procedures such as debridement, wound casting, and intubation. Other responsibilities of the IP may include the following:

  • Global management of patient care
  • Educate patients on how to prevent disease and make positive health choices
  • Tips

Working environment

A nurse practitioner can work in any health care organization, including doctors’ offices, hospitals, ambulatory care centers, educational institutions, and nursing homes.

Some NPs also work in home health, providing treatment or follow-up care in patients’ homes. They can also participate in rural outreach programs, travel and provide services in areas where access to health care is limited.

Nurse practitioners often work shifts in healthcare settings where patients need round-the-clock care. In doctors’ offices, NPs tend to work during regular business hours.

Benefits of IPs

NPs do a lot to improve the lives of community residents. By acting as counselors and educators, NPs guide patients toward healthier lives, thereby reducing the cost of health care. According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), patients who view NPs as their primary health care providers tend to have lower drug costs, shorter hospital stays, and fewer visits to physicians. emergency room.

NPs also approach patient care more holistically. In addition to targeting the physical problem, NPs listen for signs of mental distress and guide patients through recovery. NPs’ approach to patient management improves patient satisfaction.

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

Earn a BSN

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is the preferred academic qualification to begin a career as a Registered Nurse (RN). A bachelor’s degree is also required for admission to a graduate level nursing program.

Full-time students typically take four years to earn a BSN degree. However, it is a longer process for part-time students.

Obtain an RN license

Once you earn a BSN, the next step becomes an RN. This process requires passing the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).

It is quite common for aspiring nurse practitioners to work as RNs before advancing in their careers. However, nursing experience is not necessary to take the next step.

Win an MSN

A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is the minimum academic qualification for NPs. An MSN program advances your clinical knowledge and patient management skills.

It is best to choose your area of ​​specialty before enrolling in a master of nursing program so that you can focus your studies accordingly.

Consider earning a DNP

A Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program equips APRNs for leadership in clinical settings. A DNP degree is the highest academic qualification a nurse practitioner can possess.

Although this degree is not a prerequisite for working as an NP, those who want to increase their earning potential and have more influence on health policy can consider earning one.

Pass a national certification exam

After graduation, you must take and pass a national board certification exam specific to your chosen area of ​​interest. In most states, NPs are not allowed to practice until they pass a certification exam.

There are many organizations that administer NP certification exams. The exam you take depends on the specialty area you have chosen.

Obtain an APRN license

In most states, APRNs, including NPs, are required to hold a state license. Once you have obtained NP certification, you can apply for licensure in the state where you plan to practice.

Types of Nurse Practitioners

Acute care

Acute care NPs manage urgent medical crises and care for people with chronic conditions. These providers can work in emergency departments, intensive care units, cardiology units, coronary care, and surgical departments.


NPs in this specialty provide medical support to patients between late adolescence and adulthood. These NPs primarily provide primary care, which involves administering physical exams, diagnosing illnesses, creating treatment plans, and educating patients about their condition.


A family nurse practitioner provides comprehensive health care to individuals and families. Their expertise is not restricted to any age group, making this specialty one of the most flexible for NPs. Family nurse practitioners primarily focus on preventive care, but they also treat common illnesses and monitor patient health over time.


Gerontological nurse practitioners care for older populations. They help manage chronic illnesses, stabilize patients during acute episodes, analyze health records, and help patients make lifestyle changes as they age. NPs in this specialty can work in emergency rooms, hospitals, doctors’ offices, hospices, and nursing homes.


A neonatal nurse practitioner cares for sick and premature newborns. Their scope of practice spans a variety of settings, including neonatal intensive care units, outpatient settings, private practices, hospitals, and community clinics.


NPs in this specialty treat and care for cancer patients. They work with oncologists to develop treatment plans specific to each patient’s condition. These NPs order diagnostic tests, supervise infusion therapy, monitor patient recovery, and refer patients to other specialists.


Pediatric nurse practitioners treat children and young adolescents in acute and primary care settings. They perform checkups, offer vaccinations, treat injuries and educate their patients about disease prevention.


Psychiatric NPs work in the field of mental health. They diagnose mental illnesses, develop treatment plans and monitor patients’ progress over time.

women’s health

This specialty concerns the reproductive and sexual health of women of all ages. Women’s Health NPs offer wellness advice to teenage and older women approaching menopause. They also treat female-specific infections.

Sub-specialty areas

The specialties listed above are relatively broad areas of intervention. As an NP, you can focus even more on specific body parts and functions rather than population groups. Potential subspecialties to consider include dermatology, immunology, hematology, neurology, urology, occupational health, and gastroenterology.

Nurse Practitioner Certification Boards

American Academy of Nurse Practitioner Certification Board (AANPCB)

The AANPCB administers certification exams for Family, Adult Gerontology, and Emergency Nurse Practitioners. Before you can apply for certification, you must create an account on the council’s official website to become a member.

American Nurse Certification Center (ANCC)

Nurse practitioners can choose from four certifications administered by the ANCC. Offers include:

  • Family Nurse Practitioner Certification (FNP-BC)
  • Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Certification in Adult Gerontology (AGPCNP-BC)
  • Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Certification in Adult Gerontology (AGACNP-BC)
  • Psychiatry and Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Certification (PMHNP-BC)

Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB)

PNCB offers two certifications that validate NPs’ critical thinking skills and understanding of child health. Offers include:

  • Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner in Acute Care (CPNP-AC)
  • Certified Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (CPNP-PC)

Nurse Practitioner Job Outlook and Salary

How much does a nurse practitioner earn? The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the median annual salary for NPs is $120,680. However, salaries for NPs vary depending on location and work environment.

The five highest paying US states for nurse practitioners and the average annual salaries for NPs in each state are as follows.

  • California: $151,830
  • New Jersey: $137,010
  • New York: $133,940
  • Washington: $130,840
  • Massachusetts: $129,540

Recent data from the AANP reports more than 355,000 licensed NPs in the United States, and according to the BLS, this number is expected to increase significantly.

The BLS projects a job growth rate of 46% for NPs from 2021 to 2031. This growth rate is more than nine times faster than the job growth rate projected for all occupations in the national scale.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

How long does it take to become a nurse practitioner?

At a minimum, it takes six years to complete the bachelor’s and master’s degrees required to become an IP. Aspiring NPs who study part-time or work as RNs before earning more advanced degrees may need more time.

Is becoming a nurse practitioner worth it?

For many, yes. The process to become a nurse practitioner can be daunting, but NPs earn a high median annual salary ($120,680) and have exceptionally strong job prospects.

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