Are you a registered nurse who wants to upgrade your license?
Are you planning to specialize and become an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)?
Well, we think that’s a great idea!
As an APRN, you will get to work in your specific field of interest and have more responsibility, authority, and autonomy.
In some states, you won’t even need to work under the supervision of a physician.
Not to mention that specialized nursing skills are in great demand and the salary grade is high!
There are 4 kinds of APRNs that you can choose to become:
- Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetic (CRNA) – a nurse who specializes in anesthetics and anesthetic-related care
- Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) – a nurse who specializes in gynecology in all the different stages of gestation
- Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) – a nurse who is involved in management, research, or policy development, and often specializes in population, type of disease, setting, type of health problem, or type of care
- Certified Nurse Practitioner (CNP) – a nurse who manages the overall care of the patient, prescribes tests and medications, interprets results, comes up with treatment options, and also specializes in population, type of disease, setting, type of health problem, or type of care
The road to becoming any one of these may be long and tiring, but it can also be very rewarding.
Your dream is big, but it’s not impossible.
And we’re here to help you on the way by making sure you have a clear and simple guide on how to become an APRN!
We’ll break down the process for you into simple steps, and we’ll answer frequently asked questions, such as:
- Is becoming an APRN worth all the effort?
- What are the highest-paid APRNs?
- How many years does it take to become an APRN?
- Should I pursue national certification even if my state does not require it?
If you’re ready, let’s delve in deeper!
How to Become an APRN – 5 Simple Steps
Here are the 5 steps to becoming an APRN:
- Become a Registered Nurse (RN) and Gain Experience
- Complete a Master’s or Doctoral Degree
- Take the National Certification Exam (CNE) – Optional in Some States
- Apply for Your APRN License
- Keep Your APRN License Active
Step #1: Become a Registered Nurse (RN) and Gain Experience
This is the first step for all aspiring APRNs. You cannot become an APRN without becoming an RN first.
You can read our detailed article on how to become an RN here, but let’s discuss a few important things.
Choose Your RN Program
There are 2 types of educational programs you can choose from to become an RN – Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).
Although both can qualify you to take the NCLEX, we suggest that you take the BSN if you want to go into advanced practice.
This is because the BSN program is more comprehensive and rigorous. It takes 4 years to complete compared to 2 years of an ADN.
A BSN will give you a more solid foundation as you proceed to become an APRN, and is often the minimum requirement for a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree.
However, taking an ADN is not the end of the road for you. If you are an ADN-RN, you can take an RN-to-MSN bridge program to compensate for your missing subjects.
Get Your RN License
After you graduate, the next step is to apply for your RN license. You send your application to your state’s Board of Nursing.
Although the process of application may differ per state, there are generally two ways to qualify for your RN license – by examination or by endorsement.
All new graduates have to qualify for their license by taking the national examination (NCLEX).
But if you are already an RN in another state, you can apply for your license in the state you are moving to by endorsement.
Some states are also part of a Nursing Compact, which allows RNs to have a multi-state license. They can work as an RN in another compact state without having to apply by endorsement.
Once you have your RN license, it’s time to gain some experience.
Most master’s or doctoral programs require at least 1 year of work experience before you can enroll.
Although this may seem like an unnecessary requirement, it’s very important.
Taking your master’s or doctoral degree is not a light commitment. It will require years of study and can be quite expensive.
The one year (or more) of work experience will help you determine if this is the path you want to take.
It’s also a good time to see what field you want to specialize in.
If you already know where you wanna go, then gain as much relevant experience in that specific area.
Step #2: Complete a Master’s or Doctoral Degree
After working a year or more as an RN, it’s time for you to enroll in a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program.
This is the minimum educational requirement for all APRNs and takes about 2-3 years to complete.
But, you can also proceed to enroll in a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program.
This can take about 3-4 years to complete and can increase your credentials even more.
The MSN course you take depends on the type of APRN you want to become – a nurse anesthetist (CRNA), nurse midwife (CNM), nurse practitioner (CNP), or nurse specialist (CNS).
Whether you are taking a master’s or a doctorate, make sure your program is accredited by your state and by your national certifying organization (if you plan to get a national certificate).
Take note that your MSN will also include many hours of clinical work or experience.
Step #3: Take the National Certification Exam (CNE) – Optional in Some States
After graduating with your MSN or DNP, you need to take the national certification exam.
The national exams will differ for each type of APRN, and may also differ for each sub-specialization.
For example, a Nurse Practitioner who specializes in Family Nursing can take the National Family Nurse Practitioner exam through the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. They may also take the pediatrics exam through the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board.
Nurse Anesthetists, on the other hand, need to take their CRNA exam through the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetics.
But, it is important to note that some states DO NOT require you to become nationally certified.
Some states, such as California and New York, allow you to be state-certified, as long as you pass their requirements.
This is not true for Nurse Anesthetists, however. ALL aspiring Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) need to take the CNE, even those in California and New York.
These are just the exceptions, though. Most states require you to be nationally certified to practice as an APRN.
Here are the national certifying bodies for the different types of APRNs:
- Nurse Anesthetists
- National Board of Certification and Recertification of Nurse Anesthetists
- Nurse Midwives
- American Midwifery Certification Board
- Nurse Practitioners
- The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB)
- The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
- American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN)
- The Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB)
- National Certification Corporation (NCC)
- Nurse Specialists
- American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN)
- American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
Step #4: Apply for Your APRN License
Once you have completed the national exams or the requirements for licensure in your specific state, it’s time to apply for your APRN license.
You need to send in your application through your state’s board of registered nursing.
Although the process may differ for each state, some of the documents you may be requested to submit together with your application form are your:
- Transcript of Records from your accredited MSN or DNP school
- Proof of clinical experience from an accredited provider
- Certification from the national association/organization that certified you
You will also be expected to pay an application fee.
Remember that the roles and scope of practice for APRNs also differ per state.
Some states give full autonomy to their APRNs and allow them to have independent practice. Some also allow them to prescribe or furnish medications, tests, or other treatments.
Step #5: Keep Your APRN License Active
Just like your RN license, you need to keep your APRN license active.
This is to ensure that you are informed of the latest developments in your practice, and remain to be qualified.
To renew your license, check the requirements of your state. You may be required to renew biannually, together with your RN license.
If you are nationally certified, you will also need to keep your national certificate active.
You may be required to take a certain number of continuing education units or a certain number of direct clinical practice hours. You may even need to take the exam every four years (for CRNAs).
Make sure to check with your specific national certifying body.
Frequently Asked Questions about Becoming an APRN
So, we’ve already covered how to become an APRN in just 5 steps. We hope that clarifies a lot of things for you!
But, you may still have some lingering questions about becoming an APRN… We’ll try to answer a few of them now.
Is becoming an APRN worth all the effort?
This depends on your own goals in life. Working as an RN is already very rewarding.
However, if you want to specialize and have more autonomy, then becoming an APRN could be worthwhile for you.
The job outlook for APRNs is also expected to grow by 40% from 2021-2031.
What are the highest-paid APRNs?
In general, the highest-paid APRNs are Nurse Anesthetists.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners is as follows:
- Nurse anesthetists $195,610
- Nurse practitioners 120,680
- Nurse midwives 112,830
How many years does it take to become an APRN?
This depends on which RN course you took, how many years of clinical experience you gained, your specialization, whether you take an MSN or DNP, and the pace at which you study.
To give a general idea, you can break it down to:
- Completing your BSN: 4 years
- Taking the NCLEX and gaining clinical experience: 1-2 years
- Take an MSN: 2-3 years
- Take a DNP (optional): 3-4 years
Should I pursue national certification even if my state does not require it?
Yes. We suggest that you get a national certification even if your state does not require you to do so.
This is because most of the other states require you to be nationally certified to get your license. You may want to be seen as on par with the APRNs in other states.
Also, if ever you plan to move to another state, having a national certificate will make it easier for you to get an APRN license in the state you are moving to.
It may also be easier for you to find jobs as a nationally certified APRN.
And there you have it! We’ve covered everything you need to know about how to become an APRN.
We’ve seen that the process differs based on your specialization and the state you are from, but there are also a few major steps that are common for all.
We’ve also given some information about the value, the salary, and the timeframe of becoming an APRN.
We hope you found this guide helpful and wish you all the best as you embark on your APRN journey.
If you have any further questions, leave us a comment!