How to Become a Nurse Practitioner (NP) – All You Need to Know

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner (NP)

What’s next for you after becoming an RN? Are you considering advancing your career? 

Many RNs decide to bring their careers up a notch by engaging in advanced practice. One type of advanced practice for nurses is becoming a Nurse Practitioner (NP). 

This could be a great option for you and it will bring fulfilling rewards!

As a nurse practitioner, you gain more authority in your practice. Depending on what state you are in, you may even be able to practice without physician oversight. 

You can also choose your specialization – such as pediatrics, geriatrics, adult health, women’s health, emergency healthcare, etc. 

And what’s more? You can expect to get a big salary increase and more job opportunities to choose from! 

But before we delve into questions about salary and job opportunities, we FIRST have to talk about how to become a nurse practitioner (NP). 

But don’t worry, we’ll also answer the following important questions: 

  • What’s the difference between an NP and a CNS?
  • How much are NPs paid?
  • What states give the highest salaries to NPs?
  • Which states hire the most NPs?
  • Where do NPs usually work? 

We have a lot to talk about, so let’s start discussing these things one by one. 

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner (NP): 5 Simple Steps 

Here are the 5 steps to becoming an NP:

  1. Become a Registered Nurse (RN) and Gain Experience
  2. Complete a Master’s or Doctoral Degree 
  3. Take the National Certification Exam (Optional in Some States)
  4. Apply for Your NP License
  5. Keep Your RN and NP Licenses Active 

Step #1: Become a Registered Nurse (RN) and Gain Experience 

We’ve already mentioned that a nurse practitioner is an RN who decides to advance his or her career. 

So, the prerequisite to becoming an NP is to FIRST become an RN. 

We’ll discuss how to become an RN briefly, but if you want to read more on this topic, you can read this article.

Choose Your RN Program 

To become an RN, you have to graduate from an accredited RN program. 

You can choose to take an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). 

An ADN only takes two years to complete. 

However, since you are considering becoming an advanced-practice nurse, we recommend that you take a BSN program which takes four years to complete. 

This is usually what is required for you to take a master’s or doctorate. 

But if you choose to take an ADN, this is not the end of the road for you. 

Some schools offer ADN to BSN or ADN to MSN bridge programs.  

Get Your RN License 

Although graduating from your nursing program is already a big accomplishment, you can’t become a full-fledged RN without passing the national exams (NCLEX-RN). 

This exam evaluates if you meet the entry-level qualifications to safely practice as an RN.

Should you pass this exam, then your state’s regulatory board of nursing will issue you your RN license. This whole process is called licensure by examination. 

However, if you are already an RN but are thinking of practicing as a Nurse Practitioner in another state, then you will need to “transfer” your RN license to the state you are moving to. 

To do this, you will need to apply for an RN license from your new state through the licensure by endorsement process. 

But the good news is, you will not need to apply by endorsement anymore if you come from a state that is part of the nursing compact and are moving to another state that is also part of this compact.

The license from your previous state will usually be credited in your new state if both states are part of the nursing compact. 

Just make sure to double-check both states’ requirements and regulations. 

Gain Relevant Nursing Experience 

Another important requirement before you can enroll in an NP program is to gain work experience as an RN. 

Most schools require at least 1-2 years of work experience before you can enroll. 

This is to ensure that you already have a wide and solid grasp of the nursing profession before you seek to advance your practice. 

This is also a good time for you to personally reflect on what specialty you are most interested in and whether you want to pursue it or not. 

Step #2: Complete a Master’s or Doctoral Degree 

After gaining work experience and determining what specialty you are most interested in, it’s time to get the proper training to become an NP. 

The minimum educational requirement for NPs is a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), but you can also proceed to take a Doctorate in Nursing Practice (DNP) to further your expertise. 

The exact program and school you choose will depend on your specialty. 

Below is a list of possible NP specializations. The exact titles may differ per state, but these offer a broad range of possibilities. 

  • Acute care adult NP
  • Acute care pediatric NP
  • Adult NP
  • Family NP
  • Gerontological NP
  • Neonatal NP
  • Pediatric NP
  • Psychiatric/mental health NP
  • Women’s Health NP
  • Critical Care NP
  • Emergency NP
  • Oncology NP
  • Pediatric Critical Care NP
  • Perinatal NP
  • School NP

You need to choose your specialization upon enrollment because the entire program will be geared toward developing your specialty. 

You can also expect to gain a lot of clinical experience, aside from the didactic training. 

Just make sure that the program is accredited by national accrediting organizations and your state’s board of nursing. 

Step #3: Take the National Certification Exam (Optional in Some States)

At this point, you will have accomplished SO much already. 

But you still have one major hurdle before you can apply for your NP license… You need to take a National Certification Exam in your area of specialization. 

There are different national certifying bodies for each specialty area that evaluate whether you qualify to practice as an NP.

These are the different NP national certifying bodies:

  • American Nurses Credentialing Center
  • American Association of Critical Care Nurses Certification Corporation
  • Pediatric Nursing Certification Board 
  • American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Program
  • National Certification Corporation 

Check with your specific state which of these organizations it recognizes. 

It’s also important to note that although MOST states require national certification, some states make this step optional. 

California is one example where national certification is optional.

However, even if your state does not require it, it may still be beneficial for you to become nationally certified. 

This will increase your credentials and will make you on par with other NPs in other states. 

Step #4: Apply for Your NP License

Finally, you’ve reached the stage where you can apply for your NP license. 

You should check the requirements specified by your state’s board of nursing and send your application there. 

Each state will have some differences, but here are some of the common requirements you may have to submit:

  • A copy of your active RN license 
  • Transcript of Records from your accredited MSN or DNP school
  • Proof of clinical experience from an accredited provider
  • Certification from your national certifying body with the expiration date 

You will also be expected to pay an application fee. 

If you are applying for prescriptive authority so that you can prescribe medicines, then you will need to indicate it in your NP form or fill up a separate form. 

You may also be asked to prove that you gained a certain number of training hours in pharmacotherapeutics. 

Step #5: Keep Your RN and NP Licenses Active

And before you know it, you’ve reached the last step! 

In this stage, you are already licensed and working as an NP. You can derive the benefits of all your hard work!

But here, you will need to remember to keep your RN and NP licenses updated. 

Remember that the nursing field is ALWAYS advancing. 

This is why you cannot stay stagnant. You need to keep updating yourself and staying abreast of all the developments in your field. 

To ensure that you are updated and remain competent, most states require that you renew your licenses every two years. They specify requirements for renewal, usually involving a certain number of continuing education units. 

The continuing education requirements differ per state, so you can check out the details for your state here. You can also look at this article for further reference.  

Frequently Asked Questions about Becoming a Nurse Practitioner (NP)

We made it! We’ve discussed the five steps to becoming a Nurse Practitioner. 

But there may still be more questions in your mind which we hope to answer in this section. 

What’s the difference between an NP and a CNS?

People often wonder what’s the difference between Nurse Practitioners (NPs) and Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNSs). 

We understand why some may be a bit confused because these two jobs can overlap. 

NPs and CNSs are two types of Advanced Practice Registered Nurses. 

They can both assess, plan, and provide direct healthcare to patients. They also provide leadership and education in their settings. 

However, NPs tend to focus on the management of direct patient care, while CNSs tend to focus on administration, research, and program development.

How much are NPs paid?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the mean annual salary of NPs nationwide is $118,040. This is about $ 56.75 per hour. 

What states give the highest salaries to NPs? 

The top-paying states for nurse practitioners are California, New Jersey, New York, Washington, and Massachusetts, respectively. 

You can see the summary table below from the BLS, with the annual mean wage for each of these states. 

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

Which states hire the most NPs?

The states with the highest levels of NP employment are Texas, California, New York, Florida, and Tennessee, respectively. 

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

Where do NPs usually work?

The industries with the highest levels of NP employment are offices of physicians, general medical and surgical hospitals, outpatient care centers, offices of other health practitioners, and home health care services. 

The table below from the BLS shows the employment levels per industry, as well as the annual mean wage for NPs in each industry. 

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

Ready to become a Nurse Practitioner?

After reading all the information, we hope you have a better grasp of what it takes to become a nurse practitioner. 

We’ve summarized the process for you into 5 steps, and we’ve also answered questions about salaries, job opportunities, and the like. 

This can all seem overwhelming, right? But if you take it one step at a time and enjoy each step of the way, you will reach your goal sooner or later. 

So, what are you waiting for? 

Go ahead and take your first step. 

We wish you all the best! 

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