There are 6 basic steps to pursuing a career as a Nurse Practitioner[i]:
Pursue a Career as a Registered Nurse (RN):
Ultimately, you can jumpstart your career as an RN by earning an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN), a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN), or a vocational certificate in nursing. However, if you’re committed to pursuing a career as a Nurse Practitioner, it might make sense to begin by earning a BSN since may need one in order to apply to a graduate program. No matter what degree or certificate you choose to earn, you should continue doing so from an accredited institution. You may need to pass a standardized national examination and obtain state certification to practice[ii].
Earn a bachelor’s degree:
Prior to applying for graduate school in nursing, you need to earn a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) or another approved degree from an accredited institution. Once you’ve earned your BSN or similar degree, you’ll need to pass your national examination and obtain state and/or national certification to pursue a career as a Registered Nurse[iii]. If you already have an ADN or certificate in nursing and are working as an RN, you might be eligible to complete a shorter program that gives you credit for prior nursing experience (these are typically called RN-BSN “bridge” programs and take two to three years to complete).
Prior to applying for graduate school, consider taking time to gain experience in the field of nursing. Gaining experience in the field prior to engaging in advanced studies could help you identify an area of interest for concentrated study and prepare you for challenging clinical practicum that is inevitably a part of the graduate-school experience. Plus, some places of employment offer tuition assistance for nurses to complete their graduate work. Gaining employment prior to going to graduate school could potentially make school more affordable.
Earn a graduate degree:
Jumpstarting a career as a Nurse Practitioner begins the moment you attend your first graduate-level class. The majority of Nurse Practitioners in the field of nursing have a master’s degree (MSN), and they concentrate in one or more areas[ii]. Some examples of concentration include family, pediatric, neonatal, acute, oncological, psychiatric, and geriatric nursing. Pursuing a career as a Nurse Practitioner may require two to three years of fulltime study, and some programs have scheduling options for nurses who wish to continue working while they pursue their degree. Additionally, not all NP programs require students to have BSNs—some accept students with degrees and experience in closely related fields.
Pursue state and/or national license and certification:
All Nurse Practitioners must earn certification from the state in which they want to practice. In most cases, the licensing agency requires the NP applicant to have an MSN in nursing and to have passed a national certification examination. In addition, applicants must have earned an MSN from an accredited institution recognized by the licensing agency[ii].
Pursue further concentration and training:
As mentioned above, when nurses pursue careers as Nurse Practitioners, they often concentrate in a particular area through their graduate-level studies. Even after graduate school, however, Nurse Practitioners continue to focus their concentrations and educate themselves by earning continuing education credits throughout their careers. They might gain more concentrated, in-depth education in a particular area, or they might broaden their knowledge by studying components of nursing concentrations related to their own initial concentration.