How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

Nurse Practitioners are highly trained medical personnel who are responsible for diagnosing and treating acute, chronic and episodic illnesses, independently or as part of a complete healthcare team. These highly-qualified professionals have a bright job outlook and earn lucrative salaries, as per the latest data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

If you want to learn about how to become a nurse practitioner in the US, the following guide contains all the information regarding education, experience and licensing requirements.

What is a Nurse Practitioner?

A nurse practitioner (NP) is an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) who holds at least a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. These medical professionals have a lot more authority than Registered Nurses (RNs) and have similar responsibilities to that of a physician. They usually have advanced training in a nursing specialty area such as family nurse practice, neonatal, adult-gerontology, psychiatric and women’s health.

What Does a Nurse Practitioner Do?

The duties of a nurse practitioner are vast and varied. These professionals serve as primary and specialty care providers and deliver advanced nursing services to patients and their families. They also focus on health promotion and disease prevention by educating communities and discussing potential ways of incorporating health strategies into a patient’s lifestyle. They may order, carry out and interpret diagnostic tests such as X-Rays and lab work. The job duties of a nurse practitioner would vary according to their specialization. For instance, NPs can work in fields like pediatric health, psychiatric and mental health.

Where Does a Nurse Practitioner Work?

Any institute or organization that provides healthcare services can hire nurse practitioners. This would include hospitals, hospice services, doctor’s offices and schools. Nurse practitioners can also find work in outpatient care centers, community centers and emergency and relief services. Some NPs choose to work privately as well, either independently or as part of private group practices.

The work of a nurse practitioner is very demanding, both emotionally and mentally. Some nurses may spend most of their day on their feet and can be vulnerable to back injuries because of lifting and adjusting patients. The job is also highly demanding because nurse practitioners make critical decisions that could mean life or death for their patients.

Nurse practitioners may also be exposed to infectious diseases as they work in medical facilities. Therefore, strict guidelines must be followed in order to guard against diseases and other dangers such as patient outbursts or accidental needle sticks.

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner?

There are several steps to become a nurse practitioner that must be followed in order to be eligible to practice. Let’s take a look at these steps.

Step 1: Become a Registered Nurse

The first step in becoming a nurse practitioner is getting a registered nurse (RN) credential. There are several academic paths that lead to becoming a registered nurse. For instance, aspiring nurses can go for an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Some students may choose to first become a licensed practical nurse (LPN) on the path to becoming a registered nurse.

Step 2: Get a Bachelor’s Degree

Getting a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is usually the prerequisite for graduate studies, which are mandatory for nurse practitioner roles. A bachelor’s degree is 4-years long and contains clinical and theoretical aspects of study. Students will be expected to complete coursework in communication, healthcare leadership, management, community health and quantitative skills.

Nurses with an RN credential can also go for an RN-to-BSN “bridge” program, which could take more or less time than the standard four years, depending on whether students continue working while enrolled in the educational program.

Step 3: Get Experience

Before moving on to a graduate degree, aspiring nurses are advised to gain some relevant experience. Even though this is not a requirement for most graduate degrees, it is highly recommended. Having worked on the frontlines of the healthcare industry as a registered nurse can help students develop a real-world understanding of the challenges faced in the medical field. While working, individuals can learn a variety of skills, such as addressing different kinds of patient problems, working effectively and efficiently, communicating with different departments and working with a team of medical professionals in a clinical setting.

Step 4: Get a Graduate Degree

To become a nurse practitioner, the minimum level of education required is a graduate degree. Most graduate schools expect students to have a few years of experience before being accepted into the relevant program. Others might allow students to get medical experience while enrolled in the program.

In addition to a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, students can also become nurse practitioners by getting a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. The curriculum for both degree levels would cover subject areas like medical ethics, anatomy and diagnosis among other subjects.

Step 5: Get Licensed and Certified

Nurse practitioners are required to be licensed in all states across the US. Each state has its own specific licensing requirements, however, the most common ones are a master’s degree in nursing and a valid RN license. In addition to that, students will also be required to pass a national certification exam.

Students can go for certification through various organizations, depending on the chosen specialty area. National associations that certify nurses include the Pediatric Certification Board, the American Nurses Credentialing Center and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. In order to be eligible for certification, aspiring nurses are expected to have at least an RN license, a nursing degree from an accredited institute and a certain number of supervised clinical hours.

Step 6: Further Specialization

Some nursing professionals may choose to go for additional certifications and specialization, such as Acute Care Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (ACNP), Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AG ACNP) or a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP) credential.

Step 7: Nurse Practitioner Specialties

Nurse practitioners in the US can go for a variety of specializations. In order to be certified in a specific area of medicine, students will have to complete additional coursework and pass a certifying exam. Potential credentials for nurse practitioners include Family Nurse Practitioner, Aesthetic Nurse Practitioner, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, Orthopedic Nurse Practitioner, Oncology Nurse Practitioner, Neonatal Nurse Practitioner, Emergency Nurse Practitioner and Acute Care Nurse Practitioner.

How Much Does a Nurse Practitioner Earn?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Practitioners made an annual median income of $111,680 in May 2020. The top paying industry for this occupation was Community Food and Housing, and Emergency and Other Relief Services, which paid an annual mean income of $143,480 in May 2020. This was followed by Religious Organizations that paid an annual mean income of $131,710, Residential Intellectual and Developmental Disability, Mental Health and Substance Abuse Facilities, which paid an annual mean income of $130,830, Social Advocacy Organizations, which paid $127,970 and Outpatient Care Centers that paid an annual mean income of $123,850 in May 2020.

In addition to variation by industry, the salary potential for nurse practitioners also varied according to location. The top paying state for nurse practitioners was California that paid an annual mean wage of $145,970, followed by New Jersey, which paid an annual mean wage of $130,890, Washington, which paid an annual mean wage of $126,480, New York, which paid an annual mean wage of $126,440 and Massachusetts, which paid an annual mean income of $126,050.

What is the Job Outlook for Nurse Practitioners?

The job outlook for nurse practitioners is quite bright. As per the latest statistics from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the expected job growth for the joint category of Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives and Nurse Practitioners was 45%, which is significantly higher than the 4% average growth for all occupations. This high growth rate will be a result of various factors fueling the demand for trained medical personnel in the US. For instance, medical staff will be required to take care of the aging population and of those with chronic illnesses such as diabetes or asthma.

Job potential for nurse practitioners will vary from industry to industry. For instance, as identified by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the industry with the highest level of employment for nurse practitioners was Offices of Physicians, with an employment figure of 101,220. This was followed by General Medical and Surgical Hospitals, with an employment figure of 49,920, Outpatient Care Centers, with an employment of 18,920, Colleges, Universities and Professional Schools, with an employment figure of 6,970 nurse practitioners and Offices of Other Health Practitioners, with an employment figure of 6,170.

In addition to industry, the employment potential for nurse practitioners also varied according to location. The state with the highest level of employment for nurse practitioners was California, with an employment figure of 15,100, followed by New York, with an employment figure of 14,850, Texas, with an employment figure of 14,680, Florida, with an employment figure of 13,010 and Ohio, with an employment figure of 9,430.

Please note that all the occupational categories listed above, along with all the salary and employment data has been extracted from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics for May 2020.