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How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

By Ajoke Aminu

Published:

Have you thought of taking your nursing career to the next level? Knowing how to become a nurse practitioner is the perfect step towards nudging your career in the right direction, and it all boils down to the nurse practitioner education requirements. Naturally, this upgrade also comes with different responsibilities and a higher paycheck, so lucky for you, answers to questions like “What does a nurse practitioner do?” or “How much does a nurse practitioner make?” are packed in this article, including more!

Career Summary

How much does a Nurse Practitioner make?

Nurse Practitioner Salary

With just a few obligations away from becoming an actual doctor, nurse practitioners must have a very advanced degree of understanding and education of the medical profession. This is why they’re mostly paid higher than regular registered nurses. According to Glassdoor, a nurse practitioner’s salary breakdown goes thus:

  • Entry: US$105K
  • Median: US$128K
  • Senior: US$158K

The salary of a nurse practitioner is significantly higher than the average annual salary across the US, which is reported to be $59,428.

What does a Nurse Practitioner do?

Nurse practitioners (NPs) play a crucial role in healthcare, blending nursing and advanced medical practices. With specialized education, they assess, diagnose, and treat a wide range of medical conditions. They often emphasize preventive care, patient education, and may have specific areas of expertise, such as family medicine, pediatrics, or women’s health. Their autonomy allows them to independently manage patient care, order diagnostic tests, and prescribe medications.

Nurse Practitioner Career Progression

  • Entry-Level Nurse Practitioner: Newly graduated NP gaining initial clinical experience under supervision.
  • Junior Nurse Practitioner: Developing clinical expertise and specializing in a healthcare area.
  • Senior Nurse Practitioner: Handling complex cases independently with accumulated experience.
  • Lead Nurse Practitioner: Assuming a leadership role, mentoring junior NPs, and contributing to care planning.
  • Nurse Practitioner Specialist: Achieving advanced certification, serving as an expert in a specific field.
  • Nurse Practitioner Manager: Managing a team of NPs, coordinating patient care, and overseeing operations.
  • Director of Advanced Practice: Providing strategic direction, policies, and oversight for the advanced practice team.
  • Chief Nurse Practitioner Officer (CNPO): Holding the highest leadership position, shaping policies and standards for advanced practice nursing within the organization.
Nurse Practitioner Career Progression

Best Parts of Working as a Nurse Practitioner

  • Enjoy independence in critical patient care decisions.
  • Explore various specialties and settings for a dynamic career.
  • Provide comprehensive, patient-centered care addressing all needs.
  • Stay current with medical advancements, fostering intellectual engagement.
  • Experience satisfaction in making a substantial difference in patients’ lives.

Worse Parts of Working as a Nurse Practitioner

  • Navigate challenges tied to critical or end-of-life situations.
  • Manage a workload including administrative tasks and regulatory compliance.
  • Struggle with balancing emotional involvement in patient care.
  • Experience potential strain due to demanding schedules and emergency responsibilities.

Useful Skills to Develop as a Nurse Practitioner

  • Resilience to manage high-stress situations and maintain focus during emergencies.
  • Analytical skills for assessing patient conditions.
  • Empathy for establishing trusting relationships.
  • Strong communication skills to convey complex medical information clearly.
  • Ability to diagnose and treat various medical conditions effectively.

Popular Nurse Practitioner Specialties

  • Family Medicine
  • Acute Care Nursing
  • Pediatric Nursing
  • Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing
  • Women’s Health Nursing
  • Gerontology Nursing

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

Embarking on the journey to becoming a nurse practitioner means you’re stepping into the world of healthcare with purpose, like you really know what you want and you’re going for it. You’ll need to soak up the knowledge and skills needed to connect with and care for your patients. 

It’s not just about textbooks and exams; it’s about becoming someone who blends expertise with a genuine understanding of what it means to care for others in their health journey. If you’re thinking about taking this path, let’s walk through the steps that lead to becoming a nurse practitioner.

Nurse Practitioner Education Requirements

The first step to becoming a nurse practitioner entails going to school to study and earn a proper nursing degree. Without understanding the nurse practitioner education requirements, you won’t be able to move further into achieving your goal.

Aside from serving as stepping stones in your evolution as a healthcare professional, each nursing degree you can get holds a unique key to unlocking your full potential in healthcare. Let’s explore these degrees, understanding their roles and significance in shaping your path to becoming a nurse practitioner.

  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN): The BSN is a foundational four-year undergraduate program providing a comprehensive education in nursing. It covers general education, core nursing courses, and clinical experiences. Earning a BSN enhances career opportunities, particularly in specialized areas like oncology nursing.
  • Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN): An ADN is a two-year program offering a more streamlined nursing route. While ADN holders can apply for nursing roles, obtaining higher degrees like BSN and MSN is often necessary for career advancement.
  • Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Degree: The MSN is a graduate-level degree pursued after completing a BSN. It provides advanced education and training, allowing registered nurses (RNs) to specialize in areas like Nurse Practitioner (NP), Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS), and more. MSN holders often enjoy expanded career options and are among the highest-paid medical professionals.

These degrees provide a stair-step progression, with each level building on the knowledge and skills gained in the previous one. The BSN lays the groundwork, the ADN offers a more accelerated entry, and the MSN serves as the gateway to advanced practice roles like nurse practitioner. The choice of degree depends on individual career goals, circumstances, and the desired level of specialization in nursing.

Why Is It Important to Get a Nursing Degree Before Becoming a Nurse Practitioner?

Earning a nursing degree is fundamental to the journey of becoming a Nurse Practitioner (NP) for the following reasons:

  • Foundational Knowledge: A nursing degree provides a solid foundation of knowledge in various aspects of healthcare. It covers essential topics such as anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and nursing principles. This foundational understanding is crucial for any healthcare professional, including NPs.
  • Clinical Competence: Nursing programs include hands-on clinical experiences, allowing aspiring NPs to apply theoretical knowledge in real-world healthcare settings. This practical exposure is invaluable, fostering clinical competence and the ability to navigate diverse patient scenarios.
  • Patient-Centered Care: Nursing education emphasizes patient-centered care, instilling the importance of treating individuals holistically. This approach aligns seamlessly with the NP role, where a deep understanding of patients’ physical, emotional, and social well-being is essential for effective care.
  • Critical Thinking Skills: Nursing degrees cultivate critical thinking skills, honing the ability to assess, analyze, and make informed decisions in dynamic healthcare environments. These skills are paramount for NPs who often encounter complex medical situations and must determine appropriate courses of action.
  • Professional Ethics and Communication: Nursing education emphasizes ethical standards and effective communication with patients, families, and the healthcare team. As NPs, these skills become instrumental in building trust with patients, facilitating collaborative care, and navigating sensitive conversations.
  • Path to Advanced Practice: The progression from a nursing degree to advanced degrees like a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is a natural evolution. These advanced degrees equip NPs with the specialized knowledge and skills needed for advanced practice roles, including nurse practitioner.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Degree in Nursing?

The duration to obtain a nursing degree varies based on several factors, including the type of degree pursued and individual circumstances.

Here’s a comprehensive overview:

  • Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN): Typically takes about two years to complete.
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN): Generally spans four years for a standard program.
  • Accelerated BSN Programs: Accelerated programs designed for individuals with non-nursing degrees can be completed in a condensed time frame, often ranging from 12 to 18 months.
  • Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Programs: Approximately two years following completion of a BSN.
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Programs: Generally adds another two to four years beyond the MSN.

DNP is the highest level of nursing education. Some individuals may pursue a DNP directly after a BSN, bypassing the MSN.

Factors That Will Influence Duration:

  • Full-Time vs. Part-Time: The choice between full-time and part-time study can impact the overall duration.
  • Online vs. On-Campus: Online programs offer flexibility but may have varied completion timelines compared to the fixed completion time on being on-campus in a university.

Other Considerations:

In summary, the time to complete a nursing degree depends on the type of degree pursued, individual choices, and career goals. The range can vary from two years for an ADN to several years for advanced degrees like an MSN or DNP.

How Much Does it Cost to Become a Nurse Practitioner? 

If you hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and are considering pursuing a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree at a nurse practitioner school, the tuition costs can range from $81,810 to $185,280. Alternatively, if you have your sights set on directly pursuing a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) after obtaining your BSN, the price tag for a BSN to DNP program can vary from $26,490 to $254,260. For those who have already completed their MSN and plan to pursue a DNP, the tuition can range from $17,660 to $169,510. These figures provide an estimate of the potential costs associated with pursuing advanced nursing degrees.

Can I Become a Nurse Practitioner through Online Education?

Yes, you can become a nurse practitioner (NP) through online education. Online programs provide flexibility for individuals who may be working or have other commitments.

Here’s a comprehensive overview of the process:

  • Research and Choose Accredited Programs: Ensure the online program is accredited by a recognized accrediting body. Accreditation ensures that the program meets specific educational standards.
  • Educational Prerequisites: Complete the necessary educational prerequisites. This typically involves having a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or an equivalent degree.
  • Choose a Specialization: Decide on the NP specialization you wish to pursue. NPs can specialize in areas such as Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), Adult-Gerontology NP, Pediatric NP, etc.
  • Admission Requirements: Meet the admission requirements of the chosen online NP program. These requirements may include a current nursing license, letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose.
  • Online Coursework: Engage in online coursework, which covers advanced nursing topics specific to the chosen NP specialization. Online courses may include lectures, assignments, discussion forums, and virtual simulations.
  • Clinical Rotations: Complete clinical rotations, a crucial component of NP education. Programs often collaborate with healthcare facilities to arrange clinical experiences, allowing students to apply theoretical knowledge in real-world settings.
  • Preceptorship: Some online NP programs require students to secure a preceptor for clinical experiences. A preceptor is an experienced NP or physician who guides and supervises the student during clinical rotations.
  • Capstone Project: Many programs culminate in a capstone project or thesis, allowing students to demonstrate their mastery of NP competencies.
  • Preparation for Certification Exam: Prepare for the national certification exam specific to your NP specialization. Passing this exam is often required to obtain licensure as an NP.
  • Obtain State Licensure: After passing the certification exam, apply for state licensure. NP licensure requirements vary by state, so ensure compliance with your state’s regulations.
  • Continued Professional Development: Stay informed about changes in the healthcare landscape and engage in continued professional development to maintain and renew your NP certification.

What are Some Web Resources to Learn Skills to Become a Nurse Practitioner?

To acquire skills and stay updated on knowledge relevant to becoming a Nurse Practitioner (NP), you can explore various web resources.

Here are some valuable online platforms:

  • American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP): AANP offers a range of resources, including webinars, conferences, and educational materials to support NPs in their professional development.
  • Medscape Nurses: Medscape provides a dedicated section for nurses with articles, news, and continuing education opportunities covering a broad spectrum of healthcare topics.
  • Nurse.org: Nurse.org offers articles, guides, and forums that cover various nursing career aspects, including information relevant to aspiring Nurse Practitioners.
  • RegisteredNursing.org: This platform offers resources for nursing students and professionals, including guides and articles that may be relevant for Nurse Practitioners.
  • Nurse Practitioner Healthcare Foundation (NPHF): NPHF provides resources and educational opportunities for NPs, focusing on promoting excellence in healthcare.
  • PubMed: PubMed provides access to a vast database of medical literature. Searching for articles related to Nurse Practitioner practice can help you stay informed about the latest research and guidelines.

Nurse Practitioner Exam Questions Practice Test 

Test your knowledge and prepare effectively for the NP certification exam with this comprehensive practice resource tailored specifically for aspiring nurse practitioners.

Learn More

Practical Experience — Obtain Real-World Exposure 

Aspiring Nurse Practitioners find their truest education in the pulse of real-world exposure. This is where they can navigate the complexities of healthcare. While getting hands-on experience, they’ll be able to hone the diverse skills needed to make a meaningful impact in patient care. One of the quickest ways to gain practical experience is by taking up internship opportunities.

What are Internship Opportunities for a Nurse Practitioner?

When exploring internship opportunities, it’s essential to consider personal interests, career goals, and the specific population or healthcare area you aim to specialize in as a Nurse Practitioner. Additionally, networking with healthcare professionals, faculty members, and local healthcare organizations can help uncover internship possibilities.

Internship opportunities for Nurse Practitioners (NPs) can provide valuable hands-on experience and enhance clinical skills.

Here are some common internship opportunities for NPs:

  • Primary Care Clinics: Work in primary care settings, such as family medicine or internal medicine clinics, to gain experience in managing a variety of health conditions and providing preventive care.
  • Specialty Clinics: Internships in specialty clinics, such as cardiology, gastroenterology, or dermatology, allow NPs to focus on a specific area of healthcare and develop specialized expertise.
  • Hospitals: Internships within hospitals, particularly in departments like emergency medicine, critical care, or surgical services, offer exposure to a diverse range of patients and medical situations.
  • Community Health Centers: Interning at community health centers provides experience in delivering healthcare to underserved populations, emphasizing preventive care and health education.
  • Pediatric Clinics: Working in pediatric clinics or practices allows NPs to specialize in child health, managing well-child visits, vaccinations, and common pediatric illnesses.
  • Women’s Health Clinics: Internships in women’s health clinics focus on reproductive health, prenatal care, family planning, and addressing gynecological concerns.
  • Mental Health Facilities: Interning in mental health settings, including psychiatric hospitals or outpatient mental health clinics, provides experience in managing mental health conditions and collaborating with mental health professionals.
  • Geriatric Care Facilities: Internships in geriatric care settings, such as nursing homes or assisted living facilities, allow NPs to work with older adults, managing chronic conditions and promoting healthy aging. 
  • School Health Clinics: Interning in school health clinics involves providing healthcare services to students, addressing common health issues, and promoting overall well-being.
  • Rural Health Clinics: Working in rural health clinics allows NPs to experience healthcare delivery in underserved rural areas, often involving a broad scope of practice.
  • Urgent Care Centers: Internships in urgent care centers provide exposure to acute care settings, where NPs manage a variety of urgent medical issues and minor emergencies.
  • Research Internships: Engaging in research internships within academic or healthcare institutions allows NPs to contribute to research projects, stay updated on evidence-based practices, and potentially publish findings.

What Skills Will I Learn as a Nurse Practitioner?

As a Nurse Practitioner (NP), you’ll acquire a diverse set of skills encompassing clinical, interpersonal, and leadership abilities.

We’ll break it down so you can understand better:

  • Assessment Skills: Conduct comprehensive health assessments, including physical examinations, medical history reviews, and diagnostic test interpretations.
  • Diagnostic Skills: Develop the ability to make accurate medical diagnoses based on clinical findings and diagnostic test results.
  • Prescriptive Authority: Acquire the knowledge and skills to prescribe medications, interpret prescription guidelines, and manage medication regimens.
  • Treatment Planning: Formulate and implement effective treatment plans, integrating pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions.
  • Procedural Skills: Learn and perform various clinical procedures, such as suturing, wound care, and minor surgical procedures within your scope of practice.
  • Chronic Disease Management: Manage and coordinate care for patients with chronic illnesses, emphasizing preventive measures and lifestyle interventions.
  • Patient-Centered Care: Develop a patient-centered approach, considering the physical, emotional, and social aspects of healthcare.
  • Communication Skills: Enhance communication skills to effectively convey medical information, collaborate with healthcare teams, and engage in patient education.
  • Cultural Competence: Cultivate cultural competence to provide respectful and inclusive care that considers diverse patient backgrounds and beliefs.
  • Empathy and Compassion: Foster empathy and compassion to establish meaningful connections with patients, demonstrating understanding and support.
  • Collaborative Practice: Collaborate with other healthcare professionals, fostering interdisciplinary teamwork for comprehensive patient care.
  • Clinical Leadership: Assume leadership roles within clinical settings, coordinating patient care, and contributing to the development of healthcare policies.
  • Clinical Reasoning: Sharpen clinical reasoning skills to analyze complex patient situations and make informed decisions.
  • Problem-Solving: Cultivate effective problem-solving skills to address challenges in patient care and healthcare delivery.
  • Continuing Education:  Engage in lifelong learning and continuing education to stay updated on evolving medical practices and advancements.
  • Ethical Practice: Uphold ethical standards in healthcare, maintaining integrity, confidentiality, and a commitment to patient welfare.

What’s the Work-Life Balance of a Nurse Practitioner?

The work-life balance of a nurse practitioner (NP) can vary depending on several factors, including their work setting, specialization, personal preferences, and employer expectations. Generally, NPs may have a relatively good work-life balance compared to other healthcare professions due to their ability to set flexible schedules in some settings. However, it can still be demanding at times, particularly in certain specialties or environments.

Here are some factors that can influence your work-life balance as a nurse practitioner:

  • Work Setting: NPs can work in various settings such as hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, schools, or private practices. Each setting may offer different schedules and demands. For example, working in a hospital may involve shift work, including nights, weekends, and holidays, while a clinic or private practice might offer more regular hours.
  • Specialization: The specialization of an NP can impact their work hours and stress levels. Some specialties might demand more irregular hours or be more emotionally taxing, affecting work-life balance differently.
  • Patient Load and Responsibilities: The workload and patient volume can also affect work-life balance. Heavy patient loads or high-stress environments may lead to longer hours and more stress.

While the nature of the job may involve some unpredictable elements, many nurse practitioners find ways to manage their schedules effectively, allowing for a satisfactory work-life balance.

What’s the Career Outlook for Nurse Practitioners?

The prospects for nurse practitioners are highly promising, with a broad range of job opportunities spanning urban and rural settings. The nurse practitioner field is witnessing a remarkable surge in employment prospects. As per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners projects an impressive 38% growth rate by 2032, translating to a demand for 123,600 new positions within this timeframe.

Nurse Practitioner Popular Career Specialties

What are the Job Opportunities of a Nurse Practitioner?

Nurse practitioners have diverse job opportunities across various healthcare settings.

Some common career paths and job opportunities include:

  • Primary Care: Providing comprehensive healthcare services as primary care NPs, offering preventive care, health assessments, and managing chronic conditions.
  • Specialty Practice: Specializing in areas such as cardiology, dermatology, gastroenterology, or other medical specialties, offering specialized care within a specific field.
  • Acute Care: Working in hospital settings, managing the acute healthcare needs of patients, including those in emergency departments or critical care units.
  • Pediatric Care: Focusing on child health by working in pediatric clinics, hospitals, or specialty practices, providing care for infants, children, and adolescents.
  • Women’s Health: Specializing in women’s health, offering services related to gynecology, family planning, prenatal care, and other aspects of women’s healthcare.
  • Mental Health: Working in psychiatric settings, providing mental health assessments, diagnoses, and treatment plans for individuals with mental health conditions.
  • Geriatric Care: Specializing in caring for older adults, working in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, or providing home-based geriatric care.
  • Oncology Nursing: Collaborating with oncology teams to provide care for cancer patients, participating in diagnosis, treatment planning, and supportive care.
  • Urgent Care: Working in urgent care settings, addressing immediate healthcare needs, minor emergencies, and providing timely medical assistance.
  • Occupational Health: Focusing on workplace health, collaborating with employers to ensure employee well-being, manage occupational injuries, and promote a healthy work environment.
  • Educator/Researcher: Engaging in teaching future healthcare professionals or contributing to nursing research, advancing the knowledge and practice of nursing.
  • Telehealth: Providing virtual healthcare services, offering consultations, follow-ups, and medical advice through telehealth platforms.
  • Entrepreneurship: Establishing an independent practice, clinic, or consulting service, taking on a business role in healthcare.
  • Global Health: Contributing to global health initiatives by working in international healthcare settings, participating in medical missions, or collaborating with global health organizations.
  • Policy and Advocacy: Getting involved in healthcare policy and advocacy, influencing healthcare regulations, and advocating for patient-centered care.

What Type of Companies Hire a Nurse Practitioner?

Nurse practitioners are sought after by a variety of companies and organizations within the healthcare industry.

They find employment across a diverse range of entities, including:

  • Hospitals and Healthcare Systems
  • Private Medical Practices
  • Nursing Homes and Long-Term Care Facilities
  • Community Health Clinics 
  • Home Healthcare Agencies
  • Schools and Universities
  • Occupational Health Companies
  • Government Health Agencies 
  • Correctional Facilities
  • Research Institutions 
  • Insurance Companies
  • Corporate Health and Wellness Programs 

Should I Become a Nurse Practitioner?

As earlier established at the beginning of this article, becoming a nurse practitioner must be accompanied by a fresh determination and a long-stretched passion for the intricacies of the job. One important thing to note is that the career of a nurse practitioner is like an ongoing adventure, so think of it that way. Be ready to keep learning and adapting because healthcare is always changing. Being open to new things will help you handle challenges better and make you a successful nurse practitioner.


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Ajoke Aminu

About the Author

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