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How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

What Does a Nurse Practitioner Do?

nurse practitioner with patient

Nurse practitioners (NPs) are health care providers who practice in a variety of settings such as acute care, outpatient care and specialty clinics. Sometimes they serve in leadership, management, research or teaching roles within healthcare organizations or universities. NPs have undergone advanced academic and clinical training to provide medical care for a wide variety of patients. Their daily practice closely resembles that of a doctor; many NPs serve as primary care providers to adults, children and families. Others specialize in a particular area of medicine, such as psychiatry, dermatology or midwifery.

A nurse practitioner has an advanced degree – either a master’s or doctorate (DNP or PhD). In most states, they practice with independent licensure, but in some states they have collaborative agreements with physicians. Nurse practitioners are known as advanced practice nurses (APRNs) and, if they have a Doctorate in Nursing Practice, can be referred to as DNPs. With their many years of training, they are qualified and licensed to provide a wide array of health services to their patients, such as:

  • Performing thorough examinations and evaluations
  • Diagnosing diseases and conditions
  • Initiating and managing treatments
  • Ordering and interpreting tests
  • Performing minor surgical procedures or assisting in major surgical procedures
  • Prescribing medications (where permitted by law)
  • Providing counseling and education

When it comes to achieving positive outcomes for patients, research shows that nurse practitioners are every bit as successful as physicians. What’s more, patients of nurse practitioners report high levels of satisfaction with their care. For compassionate people who value responsibility and intellectual stimulation, a career as a nurse practitioner is extremely rewarding. Through a combination of counseling, education and medical intervention, they help patients live longer, healthier and more productive lives.

How Are NPs Different from Physician Assistants, Nurse Midwives and Nurse Anesthetists?

NPs, nurse midwives, nurse anesthetists and physician assistants all pursue high-quality graduate education to obtain their level of practice. Nurse midwives (CNMs) and nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) also become BSN nurses at the outset, but they pursue different tracks of graduate study than nurse practitioners. They obtain similar high-quality advanced clinical practice. Meanwhile, physician assistants (PAs) are trained in 2-year graduate programs and can have similar roles as NPs, but cannot work independently of a physician.

Workplace Details

Nurse practitioners work in a variety of environments, including:

  • Hospitals, acute care or ambulatory care settings
  • Outpatient settings
  • Long-term care facilities and nursing homes
  • Private homes providing health care services
  • Hospice and palliative care services
  • Government and community health agencies
  • Universities and research agencies
  • Healthcare or health industry businesses
  • Private practice

The work schedules of NPs vary by their job. Most often they work standard business hours, but may have extended hours some days of the week. Some inpatient roles work standard hours while others have rotating shifts that cover evening, night and weekend hours as well as holidays. In community agencies and private practice, NPs may offer some evening and weekend appointments for the convenience of working patients. Nurse practitioners sometimes take call nights and weekends, depending on their job. NPs can often find full-time, part-time, or PRN (as needed) positions, depending on their experience.

Nurse practitioners spend most of the workday interacting with patients, families, colleagues and administrators. They generally work in clean, well-lit settings, though some travel to patients’ homes.

Salary and Job Outlook

State
Average Wage
New York
$113450
California
$124330
Florida
$95650
Texas
$110060
Ohio
$99680

Hover over any state to explore local income and job growth data.

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ALABAMA

Median Salary: 
$89,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $64,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $127,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 37%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 110

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Birmingham$69,780$94,290$147,020
Huntsville$69,340$91,120$119,570

ALASKA

Median Salary: 
$115,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $78,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $155,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 19%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Anchorage$79,640$110,080$150,700

ARIZONA

Median Salary: 
$104,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $68,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $142,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 35%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 140

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Phoenix$69,340$106,690$143,800
Tuscon$65,540$94,520$154,890

ARKANSAS

Median Salary: 
$91,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $48,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $146,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 36%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 70

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Little Rock$66,590$96,080$147,790
Fort Smith$82,810$97,800$145,290

CALIFORNIA

Median Salary: 
$118,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $83,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $170,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 39%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 670

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Los Angeles$88,660$117,370$155,320
San Francisco Bay$86,950$127,760Over $187,200
San Diego$71,150$114,010$172,620
Sacramento$67,570$126,190$164,420

COLORADO

Median Salary: 
$101,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $74,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $150,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 43%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 130

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Denver$79,800$107,600$161,620
Colorado Springs$73,360$95,290$119,720

CONNECTICUT

Median Salary: 
$101,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $74,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $134,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 26%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 140

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Hartford$80,830$105,890$130,830
Bridgeport$68,010$98,180$163,670
New Haven$81,390$99,150$127,700

DELAWARE

Median Salary: 
$97,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $75,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $140,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 29%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Wilmington$72,620$93,680$120,300
Dover$70,130$98,710$148,990

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Median Salary: 
$100,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $82,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $128,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 27%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Washington DC$73,580$101,120$129,140

FLORIDA

Median Salary: 
$92,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $66,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $124,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 47%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 580

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Miami$56,450$89,920$119,160
Orlando$77,880$97,140$127,900
Tampa$67,120$91,440$118,700
Jacksonville$75,350$97,460$151,720

GEORGIA

Median Salary: 
$92,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $61,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $124,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 53%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 270

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Atlanta$58,560$91,490$121,930
Augusta$68,140$93,370$118,010

HAWAII

Median Salary: 
$114,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $81,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $154,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 26%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Honolulu$83,480$119,450$162,890

IDAHO

Median Salary: 
$92,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $68,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $123,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 32%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 320

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Boise$69,940$95,280$125,610
Idaho Falls$69,880$93,430$164,380

ILLINOIS

Median Salary: 
$93,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $56,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $122,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 25%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 310

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Chicago$64,830$97,780$124,720
Rockford$65,490$90,670$119,580

INDIANA

Median Salary: 
$93,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $72,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $123,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 37%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 210

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Indianapolis$80,780$94,020$122,250
South Bend$73,850$91,700$116,040
Fort Wayne$68,850$91,880$122,410

IOWA

Median Salary: 
$92,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $77,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $119,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 28%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Des Moines$80,520$93,080$123,170
Cedar Rapids$80,380$91,230$104,130

KANSAS

Median Salary: 
$92,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $64,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $121,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 19%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Wichita$63,600$85,550$108,960
Kansas City$51,060$93,640$121,720

KENTUCKY

Median Salary: 
$91,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $68,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $127,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 43%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 160

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Louisville$71,160$90,830$122,860
Lexington$76,600$96,280$175,110

LOUISIANA

Median Salary: 
$93,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $65,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $129,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 25%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 130

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
New Orleans$71,230$96,740$125,050
Baton Rouge$64,230$91,610$124,640
Lafayette$54,880$81,330$119,110

MAINE

Median Salary: 
$94,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $75,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $123,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 25%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 60

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Portland$66,730$93,740$126,930
Lewiston$80,160$92,690$119,750

MARYLAND

Median Salary: 
$97,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $65,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $126,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 33%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 180

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Baltimore$67,910$99,080$125,740
Frederick$37,410$94,080$129,220

MASSACHUSETTS

Median Salary: 
$109,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $79,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $159,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 8%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 160

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Boston$81,720$113,360$167,090
Worcester$81,160$109,280$141,640
Springfield$61,740$98,230$142,350

MICHIGAN

Median Salary: 
$93,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $69,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $123,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 24%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 140

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Detroit$69,990$94,310$123,670
Grand Rapids$69,530$90,990$117,320

MINNESOTA

Median Salary: 
$104,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $81,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $130,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 26%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 140

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Minneapolis - St. Paul$83,400$104,700$131,300
Rochester$72,640$106,210$129,840

MISSISSIPPI

Median Salary: 
$95,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $71,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $130,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 28%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 110

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Jackson$74,240$95,270$125,510
Gulfport$71,460$97,690$148,820

MISSOURI

Median Salary: 
$91,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $66,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $118,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 25%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 170

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
St. Louis$67,000$89,770$116,850
Kansas City$51,060$93,640$121,720

MONTANA

Median Salary: 
$92,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $65,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $125,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 32%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Billings$82,050$95,850$130,520
Missoula$56,430$92,130$118,120

NEBRASKA

Median Salary: 
$90,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $61,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $124,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 22%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Omaha$63,570$91,970$127,990
Lincoln$66,250$87,730$120,900

NEVADA

Median Salary: 
$99,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $78,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $127,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 53%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Las Vegas$74,210$97,480$126,100
Reno$84,380$99,260$123,420

NEW HAMPSHIRE

Median Salary: 
$101,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $75,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $134,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 36%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Manchester$81,220$102,610$129,430
Nashua$74,630$103,730$156,000

NEW JERSEY

Median Salary: 
$112,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $84,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $142,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 28%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 170

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Newark$89,230$114,900$140,180
Trenton$81,500$109,520$130,420

NEW MEXICO

Median Salary: 
$102,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $62,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $150,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 32%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Albuquerque$83,210$105,910$156,330
Las Cruces$22,810$108,790$150,750

NEW YORK

Median Salary: 
$107,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $79,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $141,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 32%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 640

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
New York City$85,910$113,920$147,010
Buffalo$72,790$96,910$123,840
Rochester$71,020$90,040$117,360
Albany$80,120$97,320$132,790

NORTH CAROLINA

Median Salary: 
$96,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $75,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $132,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 39%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 220

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Charlotte$72,470$94,020$130,310
Raleigh$81,200$99,450$122,480
Greensboro$74,470$92,460$119,250
Winston - Salem$82,070$99,130$124,340

NORTH DAKOTA

Median Salary: 
$92,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $68,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $121,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 40%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Fargo$74,960$94,880$121,610
Bismarck$67,300$85,130$107,960

OHIO

Median Salary: 
$94,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $77,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $122,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 28%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 230

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Cleveland$80,430$95,500$121,870
Columbus$74,640$95,000$122,130
Cincinnati$80,290$98,520$127,410
Dayton$76,310$90,350$117,960

OKLAHOMA

Median Salary: 
$87,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $31,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $126,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 25%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 60

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Oklahoma City$29,100$83,200$119,320
Tulsa$36,400$86,540$137,520

OREGON

Median Salary: 
$109,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $82,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $148,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 35%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Portland$83,260$113,260$149,240
Salem$81,560$103,280$161,560

PENNSYLVANIA

Median Salary: 
$92,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $59,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $123,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 28%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 210

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Philadelphia$63,800$97,420$125,570
Pittsburgh$65,990$88,530$110,830
Harrisburg$70,510$99,540$128,550
Allentown$67,930$96,530$130,190

RHODE ISLAND

Median Salary: 
$103,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $80,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $154,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 18%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Providence$80,560$104,450$152,990

SOUTH CAROLINA

Median Salary: 
$90,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $67,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $116,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 32%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 70

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Greenville$66,140$89,010$103,730
Columbia$67,610$90,300$112,930
Charleston$71,910$91,590$122,330

SOUTH DAKOTA

Median Salary: 
$93,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $70,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $122,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 24%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Sioux Falls$70,340$93,970$121,750
Rapid City$70,660$93,770$132,370

TENNESSEE

Median Salary: 
$92,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $67,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $122,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 41%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 260

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Nashville$53,750$85,550$111,340
Memphis$80,970$99,410$125,610
Knoxville$68,450$90,220$117,350
Chattanooga$81,620$99,430$130,330

TEXAS

Median Salary: 
$104,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $71,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $147,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 48%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 580

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Dallas - Ft. Worth$72,950$102,550$135,300
Houston$84,840$113,770$158,620
San Antonio$71,210$96,870$128,520
Austin$48,470$94,370$128,600

UTAH

Median Salary: 
$94,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $66,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $125,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 46%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 110

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Salt Lake City$68,620$94,230$125,850
Ogden$52,780$90,760$129,110

VERMONT

Salary Data Not Available

2014-2024 Job Growth: 21%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Burlington$71,700$94,890$123,040

VIRGINIA

Median Salary: 
$94,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $71,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $125,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 43%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 240

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Virginia Beach$72,050$94,840$148,560
Richmond$69,450$90,410$118,190

WASHINGTON

Median Salary: 
$102,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $79,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $132,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 28%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 140

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Seattle$81,890$106,150$130,690
Spokane$81,610$100,540$129,840

WEST VIRGINIA

Median Salary: 
$88,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $67,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $118,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Huntington$69,190$89,680$122,310
Charleston$72,570$89,630$102,610

WISCONSIN

Median Salary: 
$94,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $75,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $120,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 18%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 100

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Milwaukee$73,700$93,170$117,450
Madison$77,560$94,050$119,000

WYOMING

Median Salary: 
$96,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $57,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $147,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 37%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Cheyenne$59,880$96,460$179,150
Casper$76,010$95,270$125,260

The average annual salary of a nurse practitioner is $101,260 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The top 10% of wage earners make a median of $135,830, while the bottom 10% make a median of $70,540.

The demand for nurse practitioners will grow greatly in coming years; the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects job growth of 31% for NPs from 2014 to 2024. Reasons for this high growth include the increasing insured rate of patients, growing elderly population, shortage of doctors, and the current emphasis on preventative care. Hospitals, health departments and home health care agencies are hiring a growing number of NPs to handle some of the workload formerly handled by doctors, and this trend is expected to continue.

Job prospects will be especially good for nurse practitioners who specialize in geriatrics and are willing to work in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Candidates may increase their job prospects by relocating to rural or urban areas, both of which are experiencing health care worker shortages.

Compare Salaries by City

New York City NY Median Pay

$113920 Per Year

$54.76 Per Hour

Boston MA Median Pay

$113360 Per Year

$54.5 Per Hour

Steps to Become a Nurse Practitioner

1

Complete a bachelor's degree.

Nurse practitioners must first earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) from an accredited training program. This takes about four years of full-time study and requires both classroom and clinical learning. Some RNs that hold an associate degree (ASN) may pursue a bridge BSN program to obtain this degree while working as a nurse. Students who have earned a four-year degree in a non-nursing field should look into an accelerated BSN program, which can allow them to become a nurse in 12-16 months of study.

Show Me Schools »

2

Pass the nursing exam.

Once students graduate with their BSN degree, they must successfully pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).

3

Become licensed in your state.

Students must obtain licensure as an RN in their state. Nurse practitioners must be licensed by the state in which they practice. This requires graduation from accredited training programs, successful RN licensure, and board certification in the advanced practice specialty.

4

Obtain board certification.

The board certification typically requires passing a national exam and most certifications have to be renewed every 3-5 years. In some states, nurse practitioners must meet mandatory training requirements (for example, courses in medication safety) prior to licensure.

The following organizations award board certification in nursing. Candidates must hold an RN license and meet educational and training requirements:

5

Enroll in a graduate and doctoral degree program.

Nurse practitioner students then must complete an additional two to three full-time years of study to earn a master’s degree in nursing (MSN) or Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP). Typically, part-time programs are possible but may take longer to complete. Graduate programs include in-depth courses in pathophysiology, pharmacology, medical ethics, and medical diagnosis and management, as well as extensive clinical training. Many graduate and doctoral programs offer some or all of their didactic courses online. During this phase, students begin to focus on a specialty, such as:

  • Family care
  • Acute care or primary care
  • Oncology
  • Geriatrics
  • Pediatrics
  • Psychiatric-mental health
  • Adult-focused care
  • Neonatology

Many graduate schools require NP candidates to have a year of experience as a registered nurse (RN). Others offer bridge programs so that a student can do an RN to DNP during the same course of study. The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and American Association of Colleges of Nursing list accredited programs on their websites.

6

Gain clinical experience.

All NP/DNP education programs include extensive clinical experience; most require 500-1000 hours of clinical rotations. To enter some specialties and sub-specialties (child and adolescent psychiatry, for example), nurse practitioners must complete additional supervised clinical experience.

7

Consider options for the future.

Experienced nurse practitioners often specialize in one or more clinical area of interest. Others serve as managers or administrators of healthcare facilities and community agencies. Some leave the clinical setting to start a private practice or teach at the university level. Many NPs serve as consultants within the healthcare, pharmaceutical or insurance industries.

Opportunities for advancement increase with education, experience and certification in multiple specialty areas.

Explore Degree Paths

Because you need to earn a bachelor’s degree and become an RN in order to apply for graduate nursing training, the BSN-RN offers the quickest route toward qualification as a nurse practitioner. If a BSN program is not immediately feasible for you, there are other routes you can take toward your goal. Many nursing schools offer “bridge” programs that allow working nurses with a CNA to earn a PN degree; those with a PN to earn an associate degree, or a BSN; and those with an associate degree to earn a BSN. You might, for instance, earn an associate degree in nursing, qualify as an RN, and find a job you like – then go back to school part-time to complete your BSN while working. Remember that there is no disadvantage in gaining a deeper practical experience of nursing before you make decisions about graduate school. You may have a better idea of where your professional interests lie after you’ve had time to develop as a nurse. Graduate schools sometimes prefer applicants who have practiced longer, and some advanced practice specialties require a number of years of work in acute-care settings.

Wherever you study as an undergraduate, make sure to choose degree program(s) with accreditation from either the CCNE (Collegiate Council of Nursing Education) or ACEN (Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing; formerly NLNAC), since this will affect your ability to continue your studies and find employment. Again, your state’s Nursing Commission/Nursing Board can help find out about the accreditation status of programs you’re considering. It’s not a bad idea to visit webpages administered by a few of the graduate programs that interest you, and find out what their admission requirements are with respect to accreditation of BSN programs.

BACHELOR'S DEGREE IN NURSING

approx. 4 years

A bachelor’s (baccalaureate) degree in nursing is both a liberal arts and professional degree, meaning that the science and nursing courses that make up the core of your major are part of a broader plan of study that also includes classes in history, social science, and writing. Because a BSN is prerequisite for graduate education in nursing, this degree is your gateway to specialty practice, research and teaching.

Show Me Schools »

BSN students usually begin taking nursing courses in their second year. Your major coursework will likely include:

Human anatomy and physiology (with laboratory)

An introduction to the biological mechanisms that control and regulate body functions (for instance, respiration and circulation). The class will include lab exercises, dissections and group discussion.

Introductory statistics

Math that is used to describe and predict the frequency of occurrences. In the descriptive part, you’ll learn how to think about and discuss central tendency (“groupiness”) and dispersion (“scatter”) in a set of measurements. In the predictive or inferential part, you’ll learn how to use a set of data from a population, or populations, to answer questions about those groups; for instance, is a drug used to treat cancer demonstrably effective? Does maternal nutrition during pregnancy affect incidence of childhood diabetes?

Nursing competencies (2+ semesters, with clinical practicum)

A course that develops students’ foundational nursing skills through classroom discussion and hands-on practice.

Microbiology (with laboratory)

In this class you’ll learn about the physical structure, genetics and reproduction of viruses and bacteria, with a focus on their importance in human disease.

You may not need to complete a traditional BSN program if you have already earned a baccalaureate or graduate degree in a different field. If you meet the admission prerequisites, an ABSN (accelerated BSN) option would allow you to earn your professional degree more quickly; this is an option you will tend to find at top universities.

GRADUATE SCHOOL

2 years, MSN, full-time; 2.5-3 years, DNP, full-time

Bachelor’s-prepared nurses (BSN-RNs) who want to qualify as a nurse practitioner can earn a master’s degree (MSN) or a doctorate in nursing practice (DNP) in an advanced practice specialty area. There are doctoral degree program options for BSN-RNs, and options for nurses who already have a master’s degree. Many graduate programs also offer part-time study options.

How should you go about deciding between a master’s program and a doctoral program? Your first consideration may be purely practical – how much time you can afford. If you do have time for a doctoral program, think critically about your employment and personal goals for the next five years or so; also consider where you want to take your degree in the long term. Master’s programs focus on advanced practice in your chosen specialty. No matter your population focus, there will be a great deal of coursework and clinical ground to cover in two years. Doctoral programs cover the same areas, but place greater emphasis on leadership and decision-making. A DNP program typically boosts students’ scientific preparation with courses in statistics and experimental design. Both types programs may provide you with an opportunity to specialize within your population focus – for instance, adult endocrinology or pediatric HIV. Doctoral students complete research projects; this is less frequently true for master’s students. If you plan to pursue executive leadership in healthcare, or if you are interested in medical research or teaching in a university, then you will probably need to earn a DNP or Ph.D. at some point.

How to choose the program that’s ideal for your specialty? Like physicians who specialize in internal medicine, nurse practitioners can act as primary caregivers for patients across most of the lifespan – this is probably the role that most people imagine when they think of NPs. But there are various population specialties under the NP “umbrella,” and each of these is recognized with its own credential. For instance, a family nurse practitioner (FNP) sees patients of all ages, including children, while an adult-gerontologic nurse practitioner (AGNP) does not usually treat minors younger than adolescents. A family nurse practitioner may also be qualified as an ENP, or emergency nurse practitioner, meaning that she or he has additional specialty in critical care. There are NPs who work primarily in pediatrics, neonatal care, acute care (i.e., hospital settings as opposed to primary care settings), women’s health, and psychiatry/mental health. Some graduate programs train students in subspecialities within their NP specialty – for instance, in cardiology, oncology, or orthopedics.

Whichever areas of specialty you’re interested in, you should be able to locate many graduate programs that prepare students for licensing. Or if you’re a master’s-prepared nurse wanting to broaden your scope of practice or pursue a new career opportunity, you can look for post-graduate certification or a doctoral program.

When you’re ready to start comparing graduate schools, you’ll discover that advanced practice training programs at different universities have their own areas of emphasis and excellence. Some programs offer “tracks” within a population specialty, so that the trainee can develop a focus – healthcare leadership, or epidemiology, or oncology – while still mastering the core knowledge needed to qualify as a nurse practitioner. Some programs send their students to work abroad. Many have faculty widely recognized for their work in particular specialty areas. Nursing graduate programs are not interchangeable, and the more you research them, the more ideas you’ll develop about the kind of nurse you want to become.

All nursing graduate programs incorporate coursework and clinical work that have general relevance to advanced nursing practice, as well as courses that are specific to your chosen population specialty. Your studies will very likely include foundational courses like:

Advanced physiology and pathophysiology

Students examine how disease processes originate in the disruption of normal body functions, with emphasis on the biological basis of measurable symptoms.

Advanced clinical pharmacology

This course provides a prescriptive knowledge of common pharmacologic agents, and covers mechanisms of drug action, target tissues, and drug elimination from the body.

Advanced health assessment/diagnostic reasoning

Students take their expertise in assessing, diagnosing and documenting patient conditions to a new level. In a clinical setting, students polish their physical exam skills and practice appropriate selection of diagnostic tests, as well as interpretation of test results.

Examples of specialty courses (often taught in combination with a clinical practicum) might include:

  • Advanced practice nursing in primary care: adolescents and adult patients
  • Advanced pediatric practice
  • Advanced neonatal issues
  • Family-emergency nurse practitioner: decision-making in emergency care
  • Advanced practice nursing in acutely ill adult-gerontology patients
  • Mental health issues for advanced practice nursing

Keys to Success as an NP

Necessary Skills and Qualities

Clean criminal record

Healthcare professionals are held to high ethical standards. They undergo background checks, fingerprinting, and validation of all reported credentials in order to obtain licenses, certification, education, and employment. A criminal record may prevent an applicant from succession or stop a current NP from practicing.

Understanding and compassionate

To provide high-quality care, nurse practitioners must be compassionate, empathetic, patient and nonjudgmental.

Interpersonal skills

Excellent interpersonal skills are needed to communicate effectively with patients, families and other professionals.

Detail-oriented

In order to diagnose and treat patients effectively, nurse practitioners rely on excellent analytical and observational skills. They must be especially attentive to detail when performing surgery or prescribing medications.

Physically fit

When working in hospital settings, NPs spend a lot of time on their feet and must be comfortable lifting, bending and stooping.

Technology skills

With the evolving role of technology in the healthcare field, NPs often use electronic medical records to help manage their patients’ care.

Certification Maintenance and Professional Development

There are two separate licensing (credentialing) organizations for family nurse practitioners, adult-gerontologic NPs, and emergency NPs. One of these is the Certification Board of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANPCB); the other is the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). These two organizations administer their exams independently and award distinct credentials. A credential awarded by either organization will qualify you to work as a nurse practitioner, and any graduate degree program you enroll in should prepare you to sit for either/both of these licensing exams. You should make sure that this is the case before you enroll. The ANCC also licenses a variety of other NP specialties, including psychiatry. Neonatal NPs are licensed by the National Certification Corporation (NCC). Pediatric NPs are credentialed by the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB).

Make sure that the state in which you plan to look for your first job as a nurse practitioner recognizes the credentials awarded by a particular licensing body before you register for a certification exam. Every U.S. state has its own Nursing Board/Nursing Commission, so check the rules that apply to you.

  • All family, adult-gero and emergency nurse practitioners must renew their certification on a 5-year basis. Renewal conditions can be met with a combination of continuing education (CE) and clinical practice hours, or by taking an exam. The exact requirements vary by credential and by credentialing organization.
  • Pediatric NPs credentialed by PNCB must recertify on an annual basis
  • If you’re already a nurse practitioner, you may find that you want to earn a post-graduate certificate in a related specialty to broaden your scope of practice; or perhaps you want to earn a doctoral degree to open career opportunities in hospital leadership or medical research. For instance, a primary care specialist might want to qualify for credentialing in acute care; an adult-gerontology NP may have reason to add advanced pediatric expertise. Post-graduate certification can take 1-2 semesters of full-time study, depending on the preparation afforded by your previous training, while a DNP usually requires three semesters of full-time study for a master’s-prepared nurse.

Continuing education opportunities help nurse practitioners stay current with new concepts in their field and prepare for recertification. CE opportunities may be offered as live classes, seminars, or online courses. Professional organizations and credentialing bodies for every nursing specialty will, in general, make an calendar of CE opportunities available online, so start by investigating pages operated by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP); the National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health (NPWH); the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB); and other organizations that serve the community of advanced practice nurses.

Amy Painter, NP

Amy Painter is a board certified family nurse practitioner/nurse educator who has worked clinically in healthcare for the past twelve years, with a wide variety of experience. Amy has served as faculty at a university college of nursing and currently maintains a full-time role in clinical practice. Over the last five years, her practice focus has been pediatric airway and upper GI disease, otherwise known as aerodigestive disease. Her credentials include a BSN, a BS in Applied Sociology/Nutrition, and a master’€™s degree in nursing.

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