How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner – Overview

How do you become a nurse practitioner? If the nurse practitioner (NP) career interests you, you might be wondering how to get started.

The general path starts with a registered nurse (RN) and then getting a master’s and sometimes a doctoral degree.

Certification and state licensure are also required for advanced practice registered nurses (APRN).

The other most common question is how much it costs to become a nurse practitioner. It depends on which school you enroll in, undergraduate and graduate, and whether you pursue a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree.

The nursing program fees also vary from state to state.

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

A Nurse Practitioner (NP) is a type of Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) who holds either a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN).

NPs have responsibilities similar to doctors and have more authority than registered nurses. NPs diagnose, counsel, treat, and prescribe medication to patients.

In some states, nurse practitioners can practice independently, but in others, they require physician oversight. They can serve as primary care or specialty care providers, typically focusing their care on certain specialties, including geriatrics, mental health, pediatrics, women’s health, or adult medicine.

Clinicians focus on disease prevention and health promotion in their patients.

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner – Steps Involved

Becoming a nurse practitioner involves:

  • Gaining years of clinical work experience as a registered nurse.
  • Completing a bachelor’s degree.
  • Gaining experience.
  • Obtaining a graduate degree.
  • Completing certification.

However, it is essential to understand the importance of getting the right degree and certification at the right time.

Check out the following steps to becoming an NP and obtain your path most efficiently.

1. Become a Registered Nurse

To become a nurse practitioner, you must first become a registered nurse by obtaining an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).

2. Get Bachelor’s Degree

Obtain a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Degree. Holders of an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) can enroll in accelerated RN-to-BSN programs to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) more quickly.

3. Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam

To obtain licensure, earn a passing score on the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN).

4. Gain RN Experience

Before admission, most graduate programs usually require 1-2 years of clinical experience. RNs utilize this time to explore specialties that help decide future NP focus.

5. Enroll in a Graduate Program

For RNs with Bachelor of Science in Nursing degrees, pursuing a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is a common route to becoming an NP. RNs without bachelor’s degrees can opt for RN-to-MSN programs or look for ADN-to-MSN programs (Associate Degree in Nursing to Master’s).

Pursuing a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) can provide more advanced training and preparation, offering the highest level of clinical nursing education.

6. Earn Specialty Certification and NP Licensure

While individual states set some specifics for NP licensure, all states require NPs to be licensed as Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs). All states require passing a national board certification examination for NP licensure in the specific specialty area.

Candidates must register for board certification exams in the specialty area related to their degree and intended scope of practice.

7. Find Employment

NPs can work in a hospital outpatient unit, inpatient unit, private physician practice, or urgent care clinic.

NPs also work in corporate clinics, community health centers, rural health clinics, federally qualified health centers, and emergency rooms.

Many hospitals also offer Paid fellowship programs, allowing them to enter the NP job market.

Nurse Practitioner Schooling

The time taken to become a nurse practitioner depends on nursing education background, specialization, work experience, type of graduate degree, and career goals. (See Also: different kinds of nurses).

BSN Degree

ADN and BSN holders qualify for the NCLEX-RN exam to obtain RN licensure. However, some NP schools offering MSN or DNP programs require BSNs.

MSN Degree

NPs are required to have a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree or higher.

Doctor of Nursing Practice

A DNP offers expertise, enhanced professional marketability, and salary potential.

Choosing a Specialization

Graduate nursing students focus on specialization areas for a future career. It also determines their clinical rotations, coursework, and board certification.

NPs at the MSN level pursue concentrations like family practice, acute care, mental health, pain management, nursing education, and women’s health.

DNPs generally specialize in psychiatric nursing, pediatric endocrinology, nurse anesthesia, midwifery, and clinical research.

Nurse Practitioner Credentials

NPs are required to earn and maintain state licensure and national board certification.

Applicants for board certification must pass an exam that assesses their knowledge and skills in their chosen specialty area. State nursing boards require national certification for NP licensure.


When thinking of becoming a nurse practitioner, it is essential to remember that advanced training in nursing can take NP careers a step ahead.

The journey to NP begins as a registered nurse (RN) moves on to a master’s and sometimes a doctoral degree.

Prospecting NPs must consider the type of specialty, organization, and setting that most interest them. Get ready to pursue your dreams!

See Also

Laboratory Technician Scholarships

Grants for Nursing School

Medical Billing and Coding Salary

Nurse Practitioner Salary in the US

Current Version
June 8, 2021
Written By
Victoria Abigail Friedland
April 22, 2024
Updated By
Tim Bevelacqua, MN, RN

Follow us