How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

portrait of Joelle Y. Jean, FNP-C, BSN, RN
Joelle Y. Jean, FNP-C, BSN, RN
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Joelle Y. Jean, FNP-C, BSN, RN, has been a nurse for more than 10 years and family nurse practitioner for over three years. She has a background in pediatric emergency room, labor and delivery, and primary care medicine. Her passion for the nursing p...
Updated on April 2, 2024
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Rebecca Munday
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Editor & Writer

Rebecca Munday joins our team after serving as editor-in-chief for The George-Anne Inkwell at Georgia Southern University. She's never met a type of writing she didn't enjoy, and is especially passionate about making healthcare understandable for all...
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portrait of Elizabeth M. Clarke, MSN, FNP, RN, MSSW
Elizabeth M. Clarke, MSN, FNP, RN, MSSW
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Elizabeth Clarke is a board-certified family nurse practitioner. Her experience spans emergency departments, cardiac units, pediatric urgent care, and occupational health settings. She earned her bachelor of science in nursing and master's in nursing...
Learn more about our editorial process is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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  • Becoming a nurse practitioner requires an active registered nursing license and an advanced practice nursing degree.
  • Many NPs are filling the gaps in primary care because of the U.S. physician shortage.

All nurse practitioners begin as registered nurses (RNs). RNs gain one or more years of experience caring for patients at the bedside or other nursing facilities. They may work with adults, children, or infants. They also can work on specialty floors like the intensive care unit.

Once gaining experience, some RNs earn an advanced nursing degree, like a master of science in nursing (MSN), get licensed, and become nurse practitioners.

Some non-nurse, second-degree students can apply to a direct-entry MSN program. These programs are full-time, accelerated programs that take about two years. After the first year of bachelor’s in nursing (BSN) registered nursing education, you must pass the NCLEX-RN to continue the program. You can pursue an RN and an APRN license at the end of the program.

Learn more about the steps to becoming an NP, what to know before becoming one, and frequently asked questions about the profession.

Popular Online MSN Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

What Do Nurse Practitioners Do?

NPs have many responsibilities. Although their training differs from that of doctors, NPs perform similar tasks and have a similar scope of practice to physicians.

NPs can:

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    Assess patients by taking a medical history and performing a physical exam.
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    Diagnose patients based on their signs and symptoms.
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    Treat patients according to their diagnosis.
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    Prescribe medications.
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    Educate their patients on preventative care.
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    Precept other nursing and nurse practitioner students.

According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), over 45% of full-time NPs hold hospital privileges. Others work in the community or rural health.

Some NPs choose to become entrepreneurs running their clinics and medispas. NPs can even serve as legal consultants for law firms, insurance companies, and hospitals.

Other alternative career paths for NPs include working as an adjunct faculty member, clinical instructor, and nurse scientist.

Different Types of Nurse Practitioners

There are different types of nurse practitioners. Nurses can choose to complete their master’s degrees and become board-certified in certain specialties, including:

  • Adult Nurse Practitioner- Certified (ANP-C)
  • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Certification (AGACNP-BC)
  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner- Certified (AGPCNP-BC)
  • Emergency Nurse Practitioner- Certified (ENP-C)
  • Family Nurse Practitioner- Certified (FNP-C)
  • Gerontologic Nurse Practitioner- Certified (GNP-C)
  • Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)

The AANP also reports that 88% of NPs are certified in primary care, and more than 70% of all NPs deliver primary care.

Nursing Not for You? Check Out These Related Careers.

Steps to Become a Nurse Practitioner

Prospective students can consider becoming NPs as soon as they gain experience as registered nurses. They continue their education by gaining real-world experiences and earning an MSN.

1. Earn a Bachelor's Degree in Nursing (BSN)

BSN programs take four years of full-time study, but if you already have a bachelor’s degree in another field, you can enter an accelerated nursing program as a second-degree student.

Once accepted into a nursing program, students will earn nursing course credits and complete clinical rotations to satisfy clinical hour requirements based on their state and program.

2. Pass the NCLEX-RN

All nursing students must take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). In Spring 2023, the NCLEX-RN exam changed. The exam now focuses more on nursing clinical judgment.

Many students practice for the exam by self-studying with practice questions or taking a prep course to help prepare for the exam. Once you pass the NCLEX-RN, nurses get their first job and begin working.

3. Gain RN Experience

New nurses are paired with experienced nurses for the first couple of weeks, or even months, as they learn how to eventually care for patients independently.

Nurses can gain experience in different specialty units, which include:

The beauty of nursing is that nurses can have the opportunity to change units and gain experience in different specialties.

Gaining nursing experience is the most important part of nursing. It allows nurses to develop critical thinking skills and apply theoretical scenarios to real-life work experiences. After a few years of experience, nurses feel confident in their knowledge and skills. Many will consider advancing their education and applying to earn an advanced degree, like becoming an NP.

4. Choose a Concentration in Advanced Practice Nursing

After gaining experience, many nurses continue their education and earn an advanced degree.

Advancing your career in nursing can earn you a better work/life balance, a higher salary, more independence, and leadership roles.

There are different concentrations in master’s programs nurses can choose from, including:

Nurse practitioner programs allow you to specialize further depending on the patient population in which you want to become board-certified.

According to the AANP, in 2020-2021, more than 36,000 new NPs completed their academic programs.

5. Apply to Nurse Practitioner Programs

Enrolling in an NP program is straightforward as long as you meet the school requirements. Specific requirements can vary; however, most schools require:

  • Filling out school applications
  • Transcript verification
  • Gathering recommendations
  • Paying an application fee

6. Earn an Advanced Degree

Once accepted into the program, an NP student will take required courses and fulfill clinical hours in different specialty areas. They will learn different skills needed to practice as NPs, including:

  • Assessing patients.
  • Identifying diseases and appropriate treatment plans.
  • Understanding pharmacology and how it affects the body.
  • Diagnosing patients appropriately.

NPs can prescribe medication and obtain a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) certification to prescribe narcotics and controlled substances when appropriate.

NP students typically return to school part-time, taking nearly 3-4 years to complete a master’s degree. Certain master’s programs, like RN-to-NP programs, are a full-time obligation, and those students cannot work while pursuing this degree.

7. NP Licensure and Board Certification

NP license and state's board certification requirements will vary by state. Once nurses complete an accredited NP program, earn board certification through an NP professional organization, and pass their certification exam, they can obtain an NP license in their state. If an NP wants to practice in another state, they must apply to that state.

8. Find Employment as an NP

Finding employment as an NP may take time and effort. Some NPs will continue to work in the units they were nurses and practice as an NP. Other NPs may pursue other departments or leave the hospital altogether.

NPs can find employment through word of mouth, connecting with clinical sites where they did their clinicals, or applying through a job site.

What to Know Before Becoming a Nurse Practitioner

Becoming an NP is one of the fastest-growing occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The future of NPs is promising. Many are filling the gap in primary care because of a physician shortage.

There are a few things to consider before obtaining an NP degree. Knowing why you are getting the degree is important. Many NPs complete a program and return to nursing because they are still determining what they want to do with their newly obtained license.


Before applying to a program, ensure the program is accredited. Accreditation is important to an institution because it confirms that the program meets quality standards. If you attend an unaccredited nursing program or if your program loses its accreditation, the consequences can cause a huge financial and emotional burden. You may not be able to finish your NP program, credits may not count, and you may not be able to sit for the NP boards.

NP programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).

Board Certification vs. State Licensure

NP state licensure and NP board certifications differ. As an NP, you must have an RN license from your state, and it must be active to practice as an NP. NPs received their license from their state.

Board certification relates to the additional education the RN received by obtaining an NP degree focusing on a certain specialty, like family practice. Professional organizations like The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB) and The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) regulate specialized board certifications like the NP certification.

NPs need both board certification and state licensure to practice.


In addition to knowing your why, nurses should consider the cost of becoming an NP before pursuing the advanced degree. The average graduate tuition and fees was $20,513 for the 2021-22 school year, according to National Council Education Statistics.

Yet, how much students pay depends on whether they attend an in-state or out-of-state school. Students have the option of attending online, hybrid, or in-person. Students can either go full-time or part-time.

Many hospitals will offer tuition reimbursement, and in exchange, NPs will have to work at the facility for a certain amount of years. There is also financial aid available, such as grants and scholarships.


According to the AANP, the median base salary for full-time NPs was $113,000 in 2021. NPs can make more or less depending on where they work, how often, and how they negotiate their contracts.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Nurse Practitioner

What is the process of becoming an NP?

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Becoming an NP requires first obtaining a nursing license, working for a few years, applying to an MSN program, earning an MSN, getting licensed and board certified, and finding a job.

Some non-nursing students may apply to a master's direct entry program for non-nurses. These programs take 2-2.5 years. The first year is a BSN education, and students must pass the NCLEX-RN at the end of their first year to continue in the program. After they graduate, students earn both an RN and an APRN license.

What is the timeline for becoming an NP?

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The timeline for becoming an NP depends on when in their nursing career the student decides to start. It can take 3-4 years to complete, depending on whether you attend full-time or part-time.

Why become an NP and not a doctor?

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Many nurses decide to become an NP and not go to medical school to become doctors because the route is shorter and less costly. Many NPs also love being nurses and want to further their education.

Depending on the state, NPs can practice independently after completing several clinical hours and being supervised by a medical doctor.

How long should you be an RN before becoming an NP?

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You should be an RN for at least a year or more before becoming an NP. Gaining real-life patient experiences is the best preparation before pursuing an NP license.

What does a typical day of an NP look like?

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A typical day of an NP varies based on where they work, and which specialty they work in. However, a general overview includes seeing and assessing patients, completing administrative tasks like documenting patients, updating charts, completing medication reconciliation on patients, and consulting other healthcare providers. NPs also make follow-up phone calls, perform procedures, and educate patients on preventative care and coordinating care.

Page last reviewed on January 11, 2024 is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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