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Becoming a Nurse practitioner

How do I know if becoming a nurse practitioner is right for me?

The first step to becoming a Nurse practitioner is deciding to become a nurse. It's a good idea to research the profession and decide if it's a good fit. Talk to nurses, volunteer at medical centers, or speak to educators at a local training center. Once you've gained some familiarity with the field, consider the time investment it will take to become a nurse practitioner. While the rewards of being a highly qualified and fairly independent practitioner are high, so is the investment in time and energy that go with it.

What kind of education do I need to become a nurse practitioner?

A nurse practitioner is a registered nurse with a master of science or other graduate degree that includes education and clinical training in a specialty population. This RN then applies for National Board certification from one of several national certification agencies and takes the required examination.

Step one is the education. Some individuals decide to make their way into the profession in small steps that will allow them to work in the field while they're making their way to the next level. An aspiring NP could decide to start with an LPN/LVN certification, which is the fastest to earn, and then study to be an RN while they're working and earning an income. RNs might have either associates' or bachelors' degrees, and may decide to work while they pursue their masters' degree. This is a practical approach to an education that may help to minimize student loan debt while providing a valuable experience in the course of completing coursework. This arrangement; however, typically lengthens the process, as it's difficult to both work and carry a full-time load of classes. For this reason, some students decide to enroll in full time classes, dedicating themselves to their coursework and clinical practical experiences to complete their degrees in the shortest amount of time.

The degree necessary to become a nurse practitioner is a Master of Science in Nursing, or Doctorate of Nursing from an accredited school. Nurse practitioner schools in the United States are accredited by one of two organizations: the National League for Nursing Accreditation Commission (NLNAC) and the Commission for Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). In addition, because nursing is a licensed profession in all fifty states, each state's board of nursing must also approve programs.

For full time enrollees, the length of time it takes to become a nurse practitioner is four to seven years. Someone who is considering becoming a nurse practitioner and who already has a baccalaureate degree in another field can register in an accelerated program that confers a master's degree in three years. These programs are very intense and are typically scheduled year-round without summer or holiday breaks. These programs pack into three years the same amount of instruction that a traditional program would cover in six years.

What other requirements are there to become a nurse practitioner?

Once coursework has been completed and a student has received his or her master's degree, they must apply for an RN license in his or her state of residence, if they do not already hold one. This will require passing the National Clinical License Examination (or, NCLEX), completing all application documents, paying all fees and meeting other state specific requirements (background checks, filing fingerprints with the state, etc.)

The organization that principally certifies nurse practitioners in the United States is the American Nurses Credentialing Center, although there are other agencies that may certify a candidate in clinical specialty areas. This organization coordinates national testing for NP candidates in the various population specialties. The ANCC establishes eligibility requirements for all their certification areas. This typically includes:

  • A Master of Science or Doctorate in Nursing from an accredited university
  • A valid RN license
  • 500 faculty supervised clinical hours
  • Coursework specific to the specialty area

Once proof of eligibility has been submitted, a candidate can apply to sit for the national certification examination in his or her specialty area.

Once this examination has been passed and the certification has been issued, a candidate files a second licensing application with his or her state to apply for a nurse practitioner license.

It is important to note that "board approved" and "accredited" do not mean the same thing. Board approved refers to a state's board of nursing; most states require that the learning institution applicants attend be state approved. Accredited means that a nursing program meets the requirements established by one of the national accrediting agencies. While all states require nurse practitioner programs to meet their standards in order for applicants to be licensed, the ANCC (as well as most other specialty certification agencies) require that the program also be accredited by a national certifying agency. Make sure to research programs before enrolling to ensure that both sets of requirements will be met so that the licensing and certification processes go smoothly.

Steps to becoming a nurse practitioner:

  1. Explore the various educational and professional paths to becoming an NP, and decide which is best for you. This may mean pursing an associate's degree first to become an LPN/LVN or RN. Then participating in a RN to BSN bridge program and ultimately working to earn a master of science in nursing to become a nurse practitioner. For the most academically ambitions, this may mean committing to six consecutive years of schooling and clinical training to achieve NP status without first becoming an LPN/LVN.
  2. Once you've decided on the rout you wish to take to enter the profession, research programs to be sure those you are considering meet both state and national certifying agency requirements.
  3. Study for and successfully complete the National Clinical License Examination (NCLEX-RN) in order to be certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
  4. Pursue that dream job and enjoy a successful career as a nurse practitioner among the best educated, most highly skilled and elite of all allied health professions.


Nurse Practitioner Schools