How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

Registered nurses with graduate education in nursing are called nurse practitioners (NPs). Most NPs complete at least two years of study after obtaining a bachelor’s degree in nursing to hold a master’s degree.

NPs may specialize the focus of their practice into any of the following areas:

  • Pediatric and/or neonatal services
  • Adult and/or gerontology services
  • Family primary care
  • Women’s health primary care
  • Psychiatric or mental health care
  • Occupational health care
  • Acute care settings
  • Sub-specialty training, such as oncology or gastroenterology

1. Earn a Bachelor's Degree (4 Years)

To be a NP, you need to get a BSN as you will need to go on for your master's. A receiving your BSN will make you a more educated RN, ready to go on to graduate school.

A conventional BSN program takes 4 years to complete. A popular movement now finds more and more colleges and universities offering students who already hold a bachelor’s in another field an accelerated route to nursing-program graduation.

These accelerated BSN programs take between 12 to 18 months to complete. If you already have your RN from an associates degree, you can do the RN-to-BSN program in 2 to 3 years, which can open you up to more opportunity and growth.

2. Take the Graduate Requisite Exam (GRE)

Most graduate programs revolving around forensic science require the GRE for admittance. It's a 3 hour and 45 minute, standardized, multiple choice exam that covers analytical writing, quantitative reasoning, and verbal reasoning.

The GRE is broken down into six primary sections:

Section Section Breakdown
1 Analytical Writing Section
  • 2 writing assignments
  • 60 minutes
  • Tests student's abilities to assess arguments and communicate ideas.
2 Quantitative Reasoning Sections
  • 20 multiple-choice questions
  • 35 minutes per section
  • Tests student's abilities to solve mathematical problems and interpret data.
2 Verbal Reasoning Sections
  • 20 questions per section
  • 30 minutes per section
  • Tests the ability to understand and analyze written material
1 Unscored Section
  • A duplicate of one of the above sections

You can find study materials, GRE registration, and test scores on the GRE website.

3. Earn a Master's Degree (2 Years)

It's not necessary to get your master's to be a practicing RN, but you need do get your Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) to become a NP.

Educational programs for training nurse practitioners include graduate-level courses in a variety of health sciences, such as pathophysiology, epidemiology and pharmacology.

The program also includes courses in the identification, diagnosis and clinical management of illness, injury and wellness. Students are required to complete several semesters of supervised clinical practice.

They are expected to demonstrate competency in providing direct patient health care. Upon graduation from these programs, students are eligible to sit for national board examination to obtain their certification. There are programs available for an accelerated master’s degree (MSN), which takes about three years to complete.

More and more RN-to-MSN and BSN-to-Ph.D. programs are being launched as a way to meet the increasing demand for more highly educated nurses in the workforce. Another accelerated program is being offered by an increasing number of four-year institutions.

These programs, called articulation agreements, are formed in collaboration with community and junior colleges to enable associate degree nurses or bachelor’s degree nurses to effortlessly transition into BSN and MSN programs.

4. Earn a Doctoral Degree (4-6 Years)

A national movement to require all NPs to earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice (D.N.P.) degree is growing in popularity.

This D.N.P. degree is called a practice doctorate, similar to the academic credentials required by other health care professionals, such as physicians (M.D./D.O.), dentists (D.D.S), clinical pharmacists (Pharm.D.), clinical psychologists (Psy.D. or Ph.D) or other health care providers.

A D.N.P. program requires three to four years of study beyond the base degree of bachelor’s in nursing.

5. Earn the Required License and Certification

You need to pass the National Council Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) before they can practice as a nurse practitioner.

The exam is administered by each state’s board of nursing. In order to take the test, you must first apply for your nursing license from your state board. Each state is different, so you must check to see if you meet all of the requirements for your state.

The NCLEX covers the following:

  • Safe, effective care environment: Management care and safety and infection control
  • Psychosocial integrity: Coping and adaptation and psychosocial adaptation
  • Health promotion and maintenance: Growth and development through the life span and prevention and early detection of disease
  • Physiology integrity: Basic care and comfort, pharmacological and parenteral therapies, reduction of risk potential and physiological adaptation

To become a NP, you need to pass the national certification exam administered by either the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

Certification usually requires passing an examination. Available specialty examinations nurse practitioners may choose from include acute care, diabetes management, family care, school nursing, mental health, gerontology and pediatrics.