Becoming a nurse practitioner (NP) means reaching one of the pinnacles of the nursing profession, and for many, completing a nurse practitioner program is a specific career goal. Nurse practitioners are highly regarded and well paid, with responsibilities that rival those of physicians. Their work can be rewarding and satisfying.
What Distinguishes a Nurse Practitioner
Nurse practitioners are a type of Advanced Practice Registered Nurse, or APRN. They pursue advanced education, typically earning a master’s or doctoral degree, and are qualified to provide support to a physician or group of doctors. In some states, NPs work under a doctor’s supervision, while in others, they work independently with patients.
Nurse practitioners undergo specialized clinical training to augment their academic studies. Some select a specialty, such as geriatrics, pediatrics, anesthesiology or obstetrics. Their training allows them to provide a higher level of care than RNs. In fact, NPs are qualified to:
- Diagnose diseases, illnesses and conditions
- Perform physical assessments
- Order and interpret medical tests
- Prescribe medications within limits
- Manage patient treatment
Nurse practitioners are extremely valuable, in part because they fill a void created by a shortage of physicians who specialize in primary care and internal medicine. It is a career with the potential for abundant job opportunities and advancement.
Advance Your Nursing Career With These 6 Steps
Becoming an NP takes dedication and time, with extensive educational and training requirements. However, reaching this level of nursing is possible through the following steps:
- Become a registered nurse: The first step to becoming an NP is to earn your RN credentials. You may accomplish this through a nursing program that awards a certificate, or an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, and then passing the national exam (NCLEX) and your state’s licensing exam. Today’s employers often prefer to hire nurses with a degree, and some employers are requiring bachelor’s degrees.
- Earn a bachelor’s degree: It is possible to become an RN without earning a four-year degree in nursing, but to move forward to graduate school and become a nurse practitioner, you’ll likely need to earn a bachelor’s degree. Some individuals enroll in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program directly after high school, while others work as an RN first, and then enroll in an RN to BSN program.
- Gain experience: This is an option taken by many nurses while they continue their education. While some will go straight into a master’s degree program, others feel it’s important to obtain clinical experience in a healthcare setting before entering graduate school. Working as a nurse also allows you to explore different areas of the profession, which can be helpful if choosing a specialty.
- Earn a graduate degree: Nurse practitioners are required to earn a graduate degree. Some programs require clinical nursing experience before acceptance, while others do not. Most require bachelor’s degrees, but some programs will accept RNs with an associate's degree. At minimum, you can expect to earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree before practicing as an NP.
- Obtain a state license and certification: All states require NPs to be licensed. You’ll need to understand the requirements of your state, preferably before you begin your advanced education. In addition, you’ll be required to pass a national certification exam.
- Pursue a specialization: Many NPs pursue an area of specialization, or work with a specific segment of the patient population. Depending on your interests, you may choose to work as a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP), an Oncology Nurse Practitioner (ONP), an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP) or one of several other career paths and specialties.
By following these six steps, you can move through the process of becoming a nurse practitioner, and be qualified to provide specialty care and services to patients in need.
Where to Obtain an Advanced Nursing Degree
Both bachelor’s and master's degree programs in nursing are available in a variety of formats. You may choose to attend a traditional brick-and-mortar campus or an online nursing program. The flexibility offered by online nursing programs is ideal for working nurses, because classes and lectures are available 24/7. You’ll be able to complete your degree according to your work and personal schedules, and from anywhere with an Internet connection.
Nurse Practitioner is a Rewarding Career
Becoming a nurse practitioner can be a personally satisfying career that many nurses aspire to. And national data reveals that it can be a rewarding career in terms of salary. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nurse practitioners were paid a median salary of $98,190 in May 2015.