Do I Need a Degree? How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

hot to become a nurse practitioner

Working as a nurse practitioner is an exciting career path that presents a wide variety of opportunities for providing excellent patient care. Yes, you’ll need a degree to become a nurse practitioner–but there are several ways to get there (and plenty of room to continue with your education after you begin practicing). If you’re wondering how to become a nurse practitioner, we’ll tell you everything you need to know.

As healthcare sees an increased emphasis on preventive care and a greater demand for services by an aging population, the need for healthcare providers has increased significantly. Nurse practitioners have emerged as an alternative to doctors, providing similar care with an emphasis on prevention.

In this article, we’ll cover several important pieces of information you’ll want to consider if you’re thinking about becoming a nurse practitioner, including:

  • What degree you’ll need to get to become a nurse practitioner
  • How long you might expect to be in school before you start your career
  • Common course programming
  • The type of experience you’ll need to be licensed
  • Salary information
  • Career growth expectations

By the end of this article, you could be prepared to pursue a nurse practitioner career with knowledge and confidence. Let’s get started!

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

While nurse practitioners need an advanced degree to practice, there are several paths you might take to becoming a licensed NP.

Here, we’ll dig into the education and experience requirements to become a nurse practitioner.

What degree do you need to be a nurse practitioner?

Nurse practitioners typically need to earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree in an advanced practice nursing field.

You’ll need to start with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, or BSN, degree program. This program prepares you to become a licensed registered nurse—one of the requirements to work as a nurse practitioner. If you already have a bachelor’s degree in another field, you could enter an accelerated BSN program and typically complete it in 2 years. You may be required to complete certain science prerequisites before entering the program. If you have an associate degree in nursing, you might be eligible for an RN-BSN program.

After earning your BSN, you’ll need to take the NCLEX exam. Passing this test is a requirement for becoming a registered nurse.

Some nurses choose to continue their education by earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or Ph.D.

Courses for a nurse practitioner degree

Before entering an MSN program, you will choose a specific area of focus. Possible areas include:

  • Adult-gerontology acute care
  • Family
  • Neonatal
  • Pediatric
  • Psychiatric
  • Women’s health

Regardless of focus area, MSN programs typically require basic coursework in areas such as pathophysiology, pharmacology, and diagnosis. They also include clinical rotations and possibly a capstone or thesis.

Beyond that, the curriculum may depend on your area of focus. For example, psychiatric NP programs could include courses in mental health therapies, while women’s health NP programs coursework in reproductive health care.

How long does it take to become a nurse practitioner?

Typically, it takes at least six years to move through the process of becoming a nurse practitioner. Accelerated programs could help you get there a bit faster. After you complete your graduate program, you’ll need to pass the National NP Certification Board Exam and then apply for licensure in your state.

how to become a nurse practitioner

What Is a Nurse Practitioner?

Nurse practitioners are a type of advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). They provide many of the same services to patients as medical doctors. As a nurse practitioner, you’ll be able to prescribe medication, order diagnostic tests, collaborate with other care providers, promote positive health behaviors, and more.

What does a nurse practitioner do on the job?

Day-to-day life as a nurse practitioner might vary greatly depending on their specialty area. In many settings, nurse practitioners provide individualized care to their patients. This might involve:

  • Recording a patient’s medical history
  • Performing physical exams
  • Ordering tests
  • Diagnosing illness
  • Developing a treatment plan for patients
  • Working with doctors or other healthcare professionals
  • Conducting research

They might also talk with their patients about their health-related behaviors, with a focus on managing current illnesses and prevention.

Can a nurse practitioner prescribe medication?

Yes, a nurse practitioner is allowed to prescribe medication to their patients. In some states, however, they must work under the supervision of a physician to prescribe medication. In addition, their prescriptive authority for narcotic drugs varies from state to state.

How much do nurse practitioners make?

As of May 2022, the median annual salary for nurse practitioners was $121,610.1 There are several factors that might influence how much you’ll make as a nurse practitioner, including the industry you work in and your geographical location.

The top-paying industries for nurse practitioners in 2022 were:2

IndustryAnnual Mean Wage
Home Health Care Services$148,960
Vocational Rehabilitation Services$139,640
Business, Professional, Labor, Political, and Similar Organizations$137,310
Grantmaking and Giving Services$137,300
Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Hospitals$134,540

The following states paid the highest salaries for nurse practitioners.2

New Jersey$143,250
  • Earn your degree from a university with a “Whole Human Education” approach that focuses on assisting you in all aspects of your education: academic, emotional, career, financial, and family.
  • Choose from 75+ programs: Whether you’re starting fresh or seeking advancement, our career-focused programs are designed to help you make an impact in your chosen field.
  • National University is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

Employment Opportunities for Prospective Nurse Practitioners

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), career openings for nurse practitioners are likely to skyrocket over the next few years. The need for nurse practitioners is expected to increase by 45% between 2022 to 20323—the fastest rate of all occupations listed by the BLS. As with salary, employment varies by industry and state.

The industries employing the greatest numbers of nurse practitioners are:2

Offices of Physicians122,830
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals58,080
Outpatient Care Centers23,760
Offices of Other Health Practitioners10,950
Home Health Care Services7,460

The following states employ the greatest number of nurse practitioners:2

New York17,670


If you’re considering a career as a nurse practitioner, you’re embarking on an exciting journey that could allow you to make a difference in the lives of your patients. While the path to becoming a nurse practitioner could be longer than paths to other careers, the satisfaction of making an impact on your community might be well worth it.

Explore invaluable content for insights and knowledge:



Sponsored Result

Study anywhere. Study any time.

Join the millions earning their degrees online!

32.6% of graduate students were enrolled exclusively in online courses in 2019*.