How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

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Written by Morganne Skinner, BSN Content Writer, IntelyCare
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Reviewed by Ayana Dunn, BSN Content Writer, IntelyCare
Nurse practitioner and medical team

Studies have shown that nurse practitioners are some patients’ preferred providers because of their stellar bedside manner and interpersonal skills. These patients have been more satisfied with their care, feel more listened to, and get to spend more time with NPs compared to doctors.

One reason for this may be that nurse practitioners are trained in the nursing model, not the medical model. As a result, they tend to be more holistic in their care — and patients notice.

You’ve noticed too. This may even be one reason why you’re choosing to continue your education in nursing to become a provider. So whether you are dreaming about starting your nursing career or are already an experienced nurse, we will show you how to become a nurse practitioner.

What Is a Nurse Practitioner and What Does a Nurse Practitioner Do?

A nurse practitioner is a registered nurse with an advanced degree and additional license. Exactly what does a nurse practitioner do? They diagnose and treat health conditions, prescribe medications, and order diagnostic tests. In essence, NPs have similar prescriptive and ordering authority as a doctor and more responsibility than a registered nurse.

What Do Nurse Practitioners Make?

According to the Bureau for Labor Statistics (BLS), the average nurse practitioner salary is $124,680 a year. You can see why a nurse might be attracted to this advanced role. Depending on your location and population you serve, your income may be above or below this salary.

The BLS also estimates that the demand for NPs will grow to a whopping 46% in the next 10 years — much higher than the demand for other professions.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Nurse Practitioner?

Becoming a NP is a commitment — it takes about six years. But when you compare this to the average of 12 years to become a doctor, it’s suddenly not so scary.

What’s the Difference Between a Nurse Practitioner vs. Physician Assistant?

The key difference between a nurse practitioner vs. physician assistant (PA) is the model they are trained in. A nurse practitioner is trained in the nursing model, which focuses on the individual patient with a disease process. Practically speaking, this means an NP assesses how a disease affects all areas of a patient’s life.

A physician assistant is trained in the medical model, which focuses on the patient’s disease process. This means a PA is concerned with how diseases work biologically and how to cure them.

Both have advanced degrees and are licensed healthcare professionals. An NP tends to have a specialized degree whereas a PA tends to have a generalized medical education. An NP can work independently in many states, whereas as a PA works interdependently with physicians.

What’s the Difference Between a Nurse Practitioner vs. Doctor?

Similarly, the key difference between a nurse practitioner vs. doctor is their training models. A NP is trained in the nursing model and a doctor is trained in the medical model.

Doctors are able to practice independently in all 50 states. Nurse practitioners can practice independently in 27 states. Both are licensed healthcare providers with advanced degrees, the authority to prescribe medications, and the ability to order diagnostic tests.

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner: 5 Steps

Now that you’ve learned what a NP is and what they make, let’s jump into exactly how to become a nurse practitioner. There are five main steps.

1. Obtain Your Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree (BSN)

Your nurse practitioner schooling begins by earning your BSN. Most programs will take about four years, depending on the route you choose. A BSN program will prepare you to become a RN, and will include a combination of general course work, laboratory work, and clinical rotations.

If you already have an associate degree in nursing (ADN) and your RN, you can enroll in an accelerated RN-BSN program. These programs take an average of 11 to 18 months.

If you have a bachelor’s degree in another field, you also have a few fast track options to earn your BSN. Many schools offer these programs, allowing you to use credits you earned from your current bachelor’s degree towards your BSN. These programs typically take 18 months to complete.

Whichever route you choose to become a nurse practitioner, make sure your nursing program is accredited. In the U.S., you’ll want to look for an Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCEN) accreditation.

2. Take the NCLEX

Once you’ve completed your nursing degree, your next step is to take the NCLEX exam. The NCLEX is the national exam required of all nursing school graduates to begin practicing as a registered nurse. Once passing this exam, you can officially call yourself a RN.

Consider this like a driver’s license test for students who completed their required driver’s education and hours to obtain their driver’s license. The NCLEX gives you the license to practice nursing.

3. Practice as a RN

Before you are eligible to apply to a program to become a nurse practitioner, you’ll need nursing experience. Most programs require one to two years of clinical nursing experience. Use this time to identify the specialty you want to work in as an NP.

Try to enjoy this time before entering an NP program. Not only are you strengthening your nursing skills, you are learning what it truly means to work in healthcare. These years will give you confidence in your choice to pursue further nursing education.

4. Apply to a Graduate Program

Several questions surrounding how to become a nurse practitioner are about the types of programs. You have two main options for nurse practitioner programs: a master of science in nursing (MSN) or doctorate of nursing practice (DNP).

A MSN program can be completed in one to two years, whereas a DNP will take you three to six years to complete. Both MSN and DNP programs have online nurse practitioner programs.

For a MSN, you will have a clinical practice requirement of 600 to 700 hours that must be done in person. For a DNP, you will need to complete at least 1,000 practice hours. Typically your program will help you find a facility near you.

Choose Your Specialty

The exact program you enroll in will depend on the patient population and nursing specialty you want to study. This will reflect the area you want to work in. Nurse practitioner specialties include:

  • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care NP (AGANP)
  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care NP (AGPNP)
  • Family NP (FNP)
  • Neonatal NP (NNP)
  • Pediatric NP (PNP)
  • Psychiatric Mental Health NP (PMHNP)
  • Women’s Health NP (WHNP)

5. Earn Your NP License

All nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), which requires additional licensure. Once you’ve completed your NP program, you’re ready to take the national board certification exam.

Each state has their own criteria, but in general, you will take the nurse practitioner certification exam specific to your specialty area. For example, if you completed a family NP program, you would take the Family Nurse Practitioner Certification exam.

Where Do Nurse Practitioners Work?

As an NP, you can work in many settings including:

  • Hospitals: acute or chronic care, emergency departments, and surgery
  • Outpatient: specialty care, urgent care, and rehabilitation
  • Primary care: public or private practice
  • Community health: federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), clinics, or community health centers

A nurse practitioner can work just about anywhere a registered nurse can work. Depending on where you live, you may be able to practice independently, meaning without a doctor’s oversight.

Wondering How to Get Started?

Now that you know how to become a nurse practitioner, you’re ready to start finding jobs and gaining experience that can put you on the road to your NP license. IntelyCare can help. Take a look and start your application today.