A nurse practitioner is an advanced practice registered nurse that has acquired either their Masters of Science in Nursing or Doctor of Nursing Practice degree.
Nurse practitioners specialize in a particular area of healthcare and can use their training and expertise to diagnose, treat, prescribe medication and act as a primary care provider for their patients.
Because nurse practitioners have a wide range of healthcare responsibilities it takes many years of training and education in order to obtain certification and practice as a nurse practitioner.
The length of time it takes to become a nurse practitioner can vary from 7 – 10 (faster if you take a bridge/fast-track program) for most individuals depending on the nursing specialty, program requirements and the effort put into acquiring certification as a nurse practitioner.
For individuals who are already registered nurses and have obtained their BSN it may only take 2 – 4 years of additional education and training to acquire their nurse practitioner certification.
Those who do not have prior nursing experience/training can become nurse practitioners by following these six steps:
The path to becoming a nurse practitioner
The following steps will provide you with a brief overview of the path an individual must go through in order to become a nurse practitioner.
Step #1) Earn a BSN
The first step towards becoming a nurse practitioner is to earn a BSN or bachelors of science in nursing degree.
The average amount of time it takes to earn this degree is around 4 years, however those who participate in a fast-track/accelerated nursing program may complete their degree in about 3 years.
In order to enter the nursing program students must first acquire their GED or High School Diploma, successfully pass the nursing prerequisites of the college/university they joined and gain acceptance into the nursing program.
If you are a certified registered nurse and you’ve already obtained your BSN you can skip to step #3.
Step #2) Obtain RN certification
One of the primary purposes of the nursing program (besides educating nursing on how to be effective in the field) is to prepare students to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses or NCLEX-RN certification exam, which is required in order to obtain their nursing license and become a certified registered nurse.
Depending on the state the certification program is taken in some of the qualifications and licensing processes may vary.
Once the certification is passed and the license is proceed registered nurses are now legally certified for work.
Step #3) Gain work experience
Depending on the school and area of specialty a potential nurse practitioner is interested in studying he/she may be required to first gain some work experience before being able to apply for the nurse practitioner program.
Some schools may prefer/require potential candidates to gain 1 – 2 years of work experience within a chosen field they are interested in specializing in.
Nurse practitioners can specialize in a wide variety of areas such as mental health, neonatal care, women’s health, pediatrics, gynaecology, obstetrics and numerous other areas of healthcare.
Tip: Some programs may allow registered nurses to jump directly into the nurse practitioner program through a fast-track/bridge program.
Step #4) Choose a nurse practitioner program and obtain a MSN or DNP
Once a registered nurse has chosen his/her field of specialty and acquired the education/training necessary to enter the nurse practitioner program they will spend another 2 – 4 years earning their Masers of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree.
The minimum level of education a certified nurse practitioner is able to have is a MSN degree, which generally takes 2 – 3 years to complete.
Nurses who go on to earn the DNP may be able to open their own clinics, apply for the highest level management positions within the nursing field, go on to become professors and provide high level legal counsel to judges and attorneys.
Step #5) Obtain certification as a nurse practitioner
Upon completion of the nurse practitioner program candidates may then be able to apply for certification in order to become a certified nurse practitioner.
Depending on the state and certification process potential nurse practitioners may be required to gain 6 – 12 months of work experience before they can apply for their certification.
Tip: Registered nurses that have not obtained a BSN degree but have acquired their ASN/ADN degree may be able to go into a bridge program in order to become a nurse practitioner. While this can help fast track the path to becoming a nurse practitioner those who enter the program may not be able to earn their BSN through the program if they decide they no longer want to become a nurse practitioner.
Walking the long road
Nurse practitioners spend years training and educating themselves in order to provide the highest quality of care within the nursing field.
At first glance many individuals may think of a nurse practitioner simply as a registered nurse with additional training, however the education and training these healthcare professionals receive is a significant jump from the general nursing field.
As stated earlier nurse practitioners can perform many medical tasks beyond the scope of a traditional nursing position.
Practitioners can diagnose and treat a wide range of conditions, prescribe medications, perform x rays, create therapy treatments for their patients, open clinics and act as a primary healthcare provider.
Furthermore the specialized training and education nurse practitioners receive provides them with a comprehensive understanding and level of expertise within their chosen field.
The path to become a nurse practitioner is a long and difficult one, however it is also extremely rewarding for both the patients and the practitioner that cares for them.