What Does It Take to Become a Nurse Practitioner?

Nurse practitioner wearing scrubs and holding medical chart in hospital room
Nurse practitioner wearing scrubs and holding medical chart in hospital room

First and foremost, nurse practitioners are registered nurses, so the first step is obtaining a registered nursing degree and license.

Many students who start with a nurse practitioner degree as a goal will immediately get their BSN from an accredited nursing program and then pursue their advanced degree for licensing as a nurse practitioner. In today’s changing educational environment, it is now possible for associate degree or diploma prepared nurses to pursue advanced degrees through online RN-MSN bridge programs, such as the program offered through Spring Arbor University.

No matter what route you take as a prospective nurse practitioner student, you must become a registered nurse first. After that, the amount of time depends on the type of degree pursued and whether bridge coursework is required to enter a graduate program. The length of graduate nursing programs can range from 1.5 years to 4 years, depending on the type of degree and whether the student chooses to go part or full time.

What are the Steps to Becoming a Nurse Practitioner?

  1. Start at the beginning if possible. Graduate from high school with the best GPA possible in an academic program with a strong science background.
  2. Nurse practitioner programs can be competitive. Some prospective students volunteer in hospitals to strengthen their college applications.
  3. Enroll in an accredited BSN-program. There are multiple educational routes to an advanced practice nursing degree, but a baccalaureate degree from an accredited institution fulfills most of the prerequisites for graduate nursing studies. BSN programs certified by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) are necessary to advance to graduate nursing studies.
  4. Sit for NCLEX examination and obtain a registered nursing license.
  5. If pursuing an ADN to BSN or diploma, develop and prepare research options for online RN-MSN programs to get on the right track for advanced nursing degrees.
  6. While not necessary, many MSN students work for 1-2 years to gain experience before resuming school. Employee tuition reimbursement is an attractive option for some students.
  7. Research and apply for acceptance to an accredited graduate school and pursue a graduate degree in nursing.
  8. Most advanced nursing degrees require 1.5 to 4 years of coursework. The amount of time needed depends on the type of degree and whether the student chooses to go to school part-time or full-time. An MSN degree takes about two years, and a doctorate of nursing practice (DNP) takes an average of four years.
  9. After degree completion, apply for specialty certification after completing requirements for that specialty.

Admission Requirements to Graduate School

  • CV or Professional Resume
  • Official High School and College Transcripts
  • Personal mission statement or essays
  • Professional letters of recommendation
  • Admission interview
  • Proof of RN licensure
  • Some schools will require GRE or Miller’s Analogy Test results
  • Application Fee

After degree completion, most candidates seek specialty certification in their field of choice through the American Nurse’s Credentialing Center (ANCC). Most certifications require the following:

  • RN licensure
  • NP degree from a program accredited by CCNE or ACEN
  • Coursework completed in specialty area
  • Proof of 500-supervised clinical hours in specialty
  • Passing certification exam
  • Paying certification fee


Types of Advanced Practice Nurses

Advanced Practice Registered Nurses, whether they are Nurse Practitioners, Clinical Nurse Specialists, Certified Nurse Anesthetists or Certified Nurse Midwives, play a vital role in the future of health care. Nurse Practitioners work in a variety of settings and specialties:

  • Acute Cure
  • Adult Primary Care
  • Adult-Gerontology
  • Long-Term Care
  • Neonatal Care
  • Pediatric Primary Care
  • Psychiatric/Mental Health
  • Women’s Health
  • Private Group Practice


The Need for Nurse Practitioners

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the job growth for nurse practitioners to increase by 35 percent. There is a nursing shortage, and the aging baby boomer population, compounded by health care reform, has contributed to the need for advanced practice nurses.

APRN’s or advanced practice nurses have advanced Master’s Degree in Nursing (MSN). Advanced practice nurses have prescriptive rights in addition to assessing, diagnosing and treating patients in their certification specialty. Nurse practitioners can work independent of physician supervision in some states. Nurse practitioners work in just about every area of healthcare and the need for qualified practitioners is expanding with no signs of stopping.

What Does It Take to Become a Nurse Practitioner? Infographic