How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

A nurse practitioner’s duties align more with that of a doctor than a registered nurse. A nurse practitioner provides primary care to patients and is considered the highest specialty position a nurse can achieve. Nurse practitioners specialize in individual areas of practice and work in hospitals, private practices, clinics and other types of healthcare settings. In many instances, patients seeking out primary care will see a nurse practitioner instead of a doctor. And on many occasions, patients do not even realize that there is even a difference in those distinctions.

A nurse practitioner provides patient care, which includes diagnosing conditions and prescribing treatments and medication. Nurse practitioners will design treatment plans, order diagnostic tests and they also have the capability of referring patients to specialists. A trip to the Emergency Room often comes with seeing a nurse practitioner, who will diagnose a condition and then direct patients towards the next steps of treatment.

Nurse practitioners work on their own and are not under the supervision of a doctor. Nurse practitioners are licensed and able to work with autonomy. There are differences in the educational path taken on by doctors and nurse practitioners, although their job duties are essentially the same in many instances. Those two distinctions are considered different sciences, but align when it comes to providing patient care. Nurse practitioners go beyond the duties of an ordinary nurse and expand their roles and responsibilities.

Salary/Job Prospects

The average salary for a nurse practitioner checks in at $104,610 annually, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, there is a much higher earning potential that exceeds that national average. Top-end nurse practitioners earn an average salary in excess of $140,000 per year. Nurse practitioners who are able to set up work in private practice can even see their yearly income soar to greater heights.

The state of New York currently has the highest number of nurse practitioners, with a little more than 13,000. That is followed by California, which comes in a close second with 12,760 nurse practitioners. California has the highest average salary for nurse practitioners at $124,330 per year. The next four highest paying states on average are Alaska, Massachusetts, Hawaii and New Jersey respectively.

A recent publication by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners indicated that the job outlook for nurse practitioners is very strong and that is expected to accelerate in the future. The continual shortage of physicians has caused an increased demand for nurse practitioners. Furthermore, the scope of practice for NPs has been on a constant rise. Patients are no longer signifying much of a preference between nurse practitioners and physician assistants, thus enabling NPs to be in very high demand in health care facilities throughout the United States.

Several states are also considering granting full practice authority for nurse practitioners, meaning they could open up their own practice without having to be affiliated with a medical doctor. If this were to occur, the earning potential could skyrocket because nurse practitioners would be able to run their own practice.

Nurse Practitioner Education

The first step to becoming a nurse practitioner typically begins with the process of becoming a registered nurse. This can be attained with an associate’s degree and the completion of a nursing school program. Not all nurses need to have a bachelor’s degree, although it is necessary to work as a nurse practitioner. Therefore, that becomes the second step in this educational process as a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) will prepare students for an ongoing educational path to becoming a nurse practitioner. Some nurse practitioners looking to take a direct path will earn a BSN and then immediately move on to advanced education.

Following a completion of a BSN, nurses will begin master’s work that will award them a Nurse Practitioner (NP) Degree. This training lasts anywhere from two to four years. In addition to classroom work, there is an extensive amount of clinical training. However, gaining admission to an NP program generally requires some experience as a nurse. It is not common for applicants without any experience to gain admission. As a result, most applicants who are accepted are able to show work experience as a registered nurse.

Nurse practitioners will also choose a specialty area of practice as that could include becoming a Family NP, Neonatal NP, Geriatric NP, in addition to many other areas of practice. Nurse practitioners choose an area of practice, similar to the way a doctor would. In order to practice as a nurse practitioner, a passing score must be earned on a certification exam issued by each state. An example of some of those exams are ones offered by either the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) or American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Certain specialty areas may require a passing score on another specific certification exam.

Nurse Practitioner Licensing

A nurse practitioner must first obtain a nursing licensing during the process of becoming an NP. Then, a state license must be obtained, as each state sets its own precedent for the licensing of nurse practitioners. A state licensing exam is issued and the constructs of those exams are determined by each individual state. There is no nationwide standardized test that nurse practitioners must pass in order to begin practicing. However, no license will be issued without having completed all the required educational steps.

Licenses must be renewed and most states require that be done in three-year increments. Most NP licenses are valid as long as individuals do not suffer some type of reprimand because of their practicing actions. States will license nurse practitioners in specialty areas, which typically include Acute Care, Adult Health, Family Care, Perinatology, Psychiatry, Community Health, Family Health, School Health, Gerontology, Holistic Care, Obstetrics/Gynecology College Health, Neonatology, Oncology, Pediatrics, Women’s Health and Palliative Care.


American Association of Nurse Practitioners

This association is open to nurse practitioners, offering a multitude of resources that are helpful to nurses at all levels.

American Nurses Credentialing Center

This website provides an abundance of information on nurse credentialing throughout the United States.

National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties

This organization was created to promote the best practices in the nurse practitioner profession and has been in existence since 1974.

National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners

This association provides resources and is centered on nurse practitioners who treat ch