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How to become a Nurse practitioner

Part One What is a Nurse Practitioner (NP)?

A Nurse Practitioner (NP) is an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) who has completed the required nurse practitioner schooling: either a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). They can serve as either a primary or specialty care provider. 

The main difference between being an RN vs NP is that nurse practitioners have more authority and have similar responsibilities to those of a doctor. They can serve as primary care or specialty care providers and typically focus their care on a specific population, such as families, children, or the elderly. As clinicians, they focus on health promotion and disease prevention in their patients. 

This guide will explain how to become a nurse practitioner, what they do, how much you can make, and more.

NP Salary

$121,610 per year

(BLS)

Degree Requirements

MSN or DNP Degree

How Long to Become

6-7 years

 

Part Two How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

If you're looking to become a nurse practitioner, you'll need to complete the following steps.

1. Become a Registered Nurse

The first step to becoming a nurse practitioner is becoming a registered nurse. You'll do this by enrolling in either an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor's Degree in Nursing (BSN) program. 

2. Get Your Bachelor's Degree

If you don’t already hold a BSN, you may want to enroll in and earn your Bachelor’s in Nursing Science degree. Nurses who have their ADN can enroll in accelerated RN-BSN programs, many of which can be completed online. However, it is possible to go straight from your ADN to an MSN degree if you want to skip the step of earning your Bachelor's degree. (More on that in step four.)

3. Gain Nursing Experience

Some nurses may choose to skip this step and go right into enrolling in a graduate program, while others choose to get a few years of experience under their belt before continuing their education. 

4. Enroll in a Nurse Practitioner Program

There are a lot of different options for nurse practitioner programs depending on where you are starting out and what your requirements are.

5. Earn Your Advanced Practice Nursing Licensure in Practical Nursing

The specifics for NP licensure are set by the individual states, which means that you will have to search the requirements to become an NP in the state that you plan to work in. There is also talk of a national model for NP licensure, but currently, it does vary from state to state. 

6. Get Your First Nurse Practitioner Job

Congratulations! You've made it, and now you're ready to find your first job as a nurse practitioner. You can work with a nurse recruiter or check out nursing job boards to help find the right position for you. 

nurse practitioner

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Part Three Nurse Practitioner Schooling

As we mentioned, there's not just one way to become an NP. Nurse practitioners have several different schooling options depending on where they're starting out and what degree they want to obtain. 

Nurse Practitioner Degrees

In order to become a nurse practitioner, you need to complete at least one of these 2 degree options:

Deciding between an MSN vs DNP? MSNs might be better for nurses who are looking to specialize clinically, while a DNP may be the better choice if you're looking to get into a  leadership position. Those are not hard and fast rules, however; ultimately, the decision depends on the type of education you want. 

There has also been talk of changing the requirements for Advanced Practice Registered Nurses from an MSN to a DNP, so that is a consideration as well if you are planning your education advancement further into the future. For instance, if you won’t be enrolling in your graduate education for a few years, you should be aware that the requirements may change by then. 

Part Four What Do Nurse Practitioners Do?

Before becoming one, you should understand what nurse practitioners do on an average day. NPs are healthcare providers who can prescribe medication, examine patients, order diagnostic tests, diagnose illnesses, and provide treatment, much like physicians do.

Their experience as working nurses gives them a unique approach to patient care, while their advanced studies qualify them to take on additional duties that are usually left to physicians.

In fact, as reported by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), it’s estimated that NPs can provide 80-90 percent of the care that primary care physicians offer.

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Nurse Practitioner Scope of Practice

NP scope of practice has three levels: full, reduced, and restricted practice authority. Nurse practitioners have full practice authority in 25 states, meaning that they do not have to work under the supervision of a doctor.

In the remaining states, NPs still have more authority than RNs, but they need a medical doctor to sign off on certain patient care decisions.

Nurse Practitioner Scope of Practice by State

Map of nurse practitioner NP scope of practice by state

Part Five Nurse Practitioner Specialties

In addition to being a general nurse practitioner, NPs can also specialize in a specific population. They will often attend a nursing program that allows them to specialize in this area and obtain clinical competency. If they choose a specialization, they'll also need to become certified in the specific specialty area.

Here are some of the popular nurse practitioner specialties, but you can check out our article on the complete list of nurse practitioner specialties for more details. 

  1. Family Nurse Practitioner
  2. Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
  3. Aesthetic Nurse Practitioner
  4. Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
  5. Emergency Nurse Practitioner
  6. Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner
  7. Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
  8. Neonatal Nurse Practitioner
  9. Women's Health Nurse Practitioner
  10. Orthopedic Nurse Practitioner
  11. Oncology Nurse Practitioner

Family Nurse Practitioner

Family nurse practitioners or Family Practice Nurse Practitioners (FNPs) provide primary health care services for individuals and families throughout their lifespans. They often act as a primary care provider for their patients, and this can be especially rewarding for those who enjoy developing long-term relationships and getting to know people over time.

Acute Care Nurse Practitioner

Acute Care Nurse Practitioners (ACNPs) are advanced practice registered nurses that provide care to patients in acute care and/or hospital settings. Acute Care NPs see patients when they are sick, admitted to the hospital, or after a surgical procedure and/or trauma. Their focus is solely on caring for the adult population with complex diseases.

Aesthetic Nurse Practitioner

Aesthetic Nurse Practitioners specialize in cosmetic medical procedures that improve their patient's appearance. They examine and evaluate patients, counsel them on a variety of procedures, perform those procedures, and care for them as they recover. 

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

Pediatric Nurse Practitioners are Advanced Practice Registered Nurses whose sole focus lies in treating children from infancy through the time they become adults. They see patients on a one-on-one basis, offering care ranging from well check-ups and immunizations to diagnosing illnesses and treating chronic and acute conditions. 

Emergency Nurse Practitioner

Emergency Nurse Practitioners assess, diagnose and manage injuries and illnesses that need urgent care. They are able to work with or without supervision, determining which patients need the most immediate care, making decisions about treatment, monitoring patient conditions, and providing education and consultation.

Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner

Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioners specialize in the care of adults from adolescence all the way up to geriatric care. They work with patients and their caregivers to manage chronic conditions, diseases, and other health conditions.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners or Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (PMHNPs) specialize in the mental health needs of adults, children, families, groups, and/or communities. They help individuals cope with different psychiatric disorders and illnesses and can also help people with substance abuse disorders. 

Neonatal Nurse Practitioner

Neonatal Nurse Practitioners care for premature and sick newborns, including diagnosing them, providing treatment plans, and prescribing medication. They can also assist in delivering patients in certain settings. 

Women's Health Nurse Practitioner

A Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP) specializes in the comprehensive care of women throughout their lives. They focus on reproductive, obstetric, and gynecological health and usually work in a primary care office setting, rather than a hospital or delivery room.

Orthopedic Nurse Practitioner

An Orthopedic Nurse Practitioner focuses on the care and treatment of patients suffering from musculoskeletal problems. These can include disease and/or injuries of the bones, muscles, joints, and supporting connective tissue. 

Oncology Nurse Practitioner

An  Oncology Nurse Practitioner provides comprehensive care to patients who have been diagnosed with cancer. They collaborate with other healthcare providers, including physicians, to develop treatment plans for cancer patients. 

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Part Six Nurse Practitioner Salary

Nurse practitioners earn a median average annual salary of $121,610 in the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2022, which places their income at more than double the average annual salary for all other occupations.

Nurse Practitioners make, on average, around $39,000 more than Registered Nurses each year. And compared to an LPN’s annual wages of $54,620, becoming an NP will more than DOUBLE your earnings.

The average nurse practitioner salary will vary by many factors, including location, experience, and specialty. Certain specializations earn more than others, so be sure to check our article on the highest-paying nurse practitioner specialties to find the ones with the highest earning potential. 

Nurse Practitioner Salaries by Specialty

General Nurse Practitioner $121,610
Family Nurse Practitioner $105,898
Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner $90,102
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner $107,309
Pediatric Nurse Practitioner $121,659
Acute Care Nurse Practitioner $110,076
Women's Health Nurse Practitioner $91,454
Orthopedic Nurse Practitioner $100,035
Emergency Nurse Practitioner $113,840
Neonatal Nurse Practitioner $124,756

Nurse Practitioner Salary by State

There's a lot of variation in nurse practitioner salaries by state. The highest-paying states are California, New Jersey, and New York, meanwhile, the lowest are Tennessee, Alabama, and South Carolina.

Nurse Practitioner Salary by State

State Annual Mean Salary
Alabama $106,610
Alaska $116,390
Arizona $121,410
Arkansas $107,110
California $158,130
Colorado $116,440
Connecticut $131,490
Delaware $120,570
District of Columbia $131,270
Florida $110,310
Georgia $115,440
Hawaii $128,310
Idaho $117,720
Illinois $122,310
Indiana $121,730
Iowa $128,180
Kansas $111,670
Kentucky $109,290
Louisiana $118,210
Maine $118,300
Maryland $119,650
Massachusetts $138,700
Michigan $113,780
Minnesota $128,160
Mississippi $117,260
Missouri $113,180
Montana $119,960
Nebraska $118,970
Nevada $136,230
New Hampshire $125,780
New Jersey $143,250
New Mexico $129,560
New York -
North Carolina $114,450
North Dakota $113,940
Ohio $117,440
Oklahoma $121,740
Oregon $136,250
Pennsylvania $120,550
Rhode Island $125,250
South Carolina $109,130
South Dakota $115,610
Tennessee $99,330
Texas $124,660
Utah $115,610
Vermont $116,610
Virginia $116,980
Washington $135,590
West Virginia $106,790
Wisconsin $121,210
Wyoming $115,230

Source: BLS, Data extracted September 19, 2023

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Part Seven Nurse Practitioner Career Outlook

Nursing is already a stable, in-demand career. But becoming a Nurse Practitioner can give you even more job security.

The BLS predicts that nurse practitioner jobs will increase by 38% from 2022 to 2032, which is much faster than most other careers.

The need for primary care is also expected to rise over the next five years because of the aging population. NPs will help meet this increasing demand, especially in underserved areas.

Part Eight Continuing Education for Nurse Practitioners 

Even though they are functioning in an APRN role, Nurse Practitioners must maintain their RN certification.  In order for an individual to renew their RN license, they will need to fill out an application, complete a specific number of CEU hours, and pay a nominal fee. Each state has specific requirements and it is important to check with the board of nursing prior to applying for license renewal.

CEU hours for your NP certification will vary based on the specialty area. Generally, NPs must have a minimum of 75 contact hours of continuing education in the specialty area. The length of time a license is valid without recertification and CEUs does vary as well. 

Part Nine Nurse Practitioner FAQs

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