How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

Nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who work with people of all ages, from newborns to the elderly. Nurse practitioners are typically responsible for providing primary care to patients and even have the medical authority to prescribe medications in some states. They work independently or as part of a healthcare team, focusing on health promotion and disease prevention. If you would like to take your nursing career to the next level, read more about how to become a nurse practitioner below.

Education Requirements for Becoming a Nurse Practitioner


If you want to become a nurse practitioner, you must have your RN license, earn either a master’s degree or doctoral degree in nursing, pass a national certification exam, and obtain your state license. There is an initiative in place that will require all nursing schools to convert their advanced practice master’s degree programs to doctoral degrees by the year 2015, which will effectively require all aspiring nurse practitioners to earn a doctoral degree in the future.

Master’s Degree Prerequisites

In order to qualify for admission to nursing programs at the master’s level, you must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution and your registered nursing license. If you are currently a registered nurse (RN) with an associate’s degree in nursing, it may be possible for you to pursue an RN-to-MSN (Master of Science in Nursing) bridge program to earn your master’s degree in nursing. If you earned a bachelor’s degree in another healthcare field besides nursing, there are master’s programs that will provide you with training to help you obtain your RN license before you pursue your master’s degree studies.

Doctoral Degree Prerequisites

If you would like to pursue a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree, you may be required to first earn your master’s degree. However, there are also doctoral programs that allow you to enroll after having only earned your bachelor’s degree.

Curriculum for Nurse Practitioner Programs


Master’s and doctoral programs in nursing provide graduate-level academic preparation, as well as advanced clinical skills. Specialties that you can focus on include acute care, family health, pediatric, gerontology, and mental health, among others.

Course Requirements

Courses that students might be required to take include:

  • Pathophysiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Parent-child nursing
  • Psychiatric/mental health nursing
  • Community health nursing
  • Leadership for advanced practice nursing
  • Nursing theory
  • Nursing research
  • Dynamics of family health care

Future nurse practitioners are also required to complete clinical experiences in different healthcare settings in order to gain hands-on experience.

Program Length

A master’s degree in nursing generally takes two years of full-time study or three to five years of part-time study to complete. Doctoral degree will typically take two to three years beyond the master’s degree. Clinical master’s and doctoral programs often do not require a thesis.

Certification and Licensing

After completing your master’s degree in nursing, you must obtain national board certification in your desired specialty, as well as your state license. Licensing requirements will vary by state. Certification is available through professional organizations, such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center and the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board, among others.

Nurse Practitioners Career Overview


Meeting the majority of a patient’s healthcare needs, the nurse practitioner role was created in response to a nationwide shortage of doctors in the mid-1960s. They provide cost-effective, individualized care to patients, their families, and their communities.


Nurse practitioners take a comprehensive approach to healthcare and are prepared to provide preventive and acute healthcare services. Job duties of a nurse practitioner might include the following:

  • Perform diagnostic tests and physical exams
  • Diagnose and treat acute injuries and illnesses
  • Prescribe medication
  • Manage high blood pressure, diabetes, and other chronic conditions
  • Provide immunizations
  • Perform procedures
  • Educate patients regarding healthy lifestyle choices

Work Environment

Nurse practitioners work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, managed care organizations, clinics, community health centers, college campuses, and independent practices. In some states, nurse practitioners can practice independently, while in other states, they have to work under the supervision of a doctor in order to have prescriptive practice privileges.

Employment Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the employment of nurse practitioners is projected to grow 34% from 2012 to 2022. APRNs will be in high demand in the coming years with the increased demand for healthcare services as the baby boomer population ages, and also, as more individuals become insured. Additionally, APRNs are expected to become more widely accepted as primary healthcare providers.


In 2013, nurse practitioners earned a median annual wage of $92,670. The bottom 10% earned $66,960, and the top 10% earned $126,250. The top paying states were Alaska, California, Oregon, Hawaii, and Massachusetts.

Explore Nurse Practitioner Degree Programs

With a growing emphasis on preventive care and public health, career opportunities for nurse practitioners will likely continue to grow. If you are passionate about helping people improve their health and wellness through preventive care, learn how to become a nurse practitioner today.