How to Become a Nurse Practitioner in 6 Steps

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The first step in how to become a nurse practitioner is earning a BSN. Next, you’ll need to pass the NCLEX and get licensed, gain experience as an RN, and enroll in a program to earn your MSN or DNP. Lastly, earn your specialty certifications and find the right position.

nurses with clipboards

Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) prepares you to enter a healthcare career as a confident nurse. The skills you will learn during Pacific Lutheran University’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program are an excellent foundation for your career as a registered nurse. The ABSN will serve as the first stepping-stone on the path to your future career as a nurse practitioner.

6 Steps to Becoming a Nurse Practitioner

Nurse practitioners, also referred to as NPs, begin as registered nurses to gain clinical experience. Prospective NPs then apply to enroll in master's or doctoral studies, after which they can become certified as a nurse practitioner. Program graduates who wish to become advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) in their state must pass a national certification exam in their field.

If you are wondering how long it takes to become a nurse practitioner, it can take up to eight years. However, the ABSN program can help reduce this time significantly.

The specifics of NP education can vary depending on program options and concentration areas; however, most applicants need to finish the following steps.

PLU nursing students working in skills lab

1. Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree

The first step to becoming an NP is to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. While a traditional ground BSN program can take four years or more to complete, the accelerated BSN program at PLU can help you earn your nursing degree in as few as 16 months. We offer high-quality education and a faster timeline with a comprehensive program that combines online coursework with in-person labs and clinical placements, all so you can count on a high-quality education on a faster timeline.

On the path to becoming an NP, you will need professional nursing experience in a clinical setting. Therefore, rather than spending four years in a traditional BSN program, an ABSN at an accelerated pace can help support your goal of becoming an NP sooner.

woman sitting at desk with laptop

Need help choosing a bachelor program that is right for you? Check out our list of 8 things to look for in a nursing school.

2. Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam and Get Licensed

After graduating from the ABSN program, you will need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to obtain licensure and practice as a nurse. The exam is composed of up to 145 questions. It reviews common procedures, scenarios, patient care best practices and more.

During your time in the ABSN program, you’ll prepare to sit confidently for the exam. You can also access practice exams and other study resources to make sure you are ready.

3. Gain Experience as a Nurse

Before you can become an NP, you will need to work a few years as an RN. This time will give you the experience necessary to understand the day-to-day demands of nursing.

Additionally, many graduate programs expect one to two years of clinical experience before they will admit an applicant. Use this time as an RN to discover which specialty appeals to your interests and abilities in a healthcare facility.

4. Enroll in a Nursing Graduate Program

PLU ABSN students wearing masks and studying

Once you have gained experience as a nurse, your next step is to earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. An MSN is the minimum educational requirement for NPs, although some nurses go on further to gain a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree.

While both degrees have their advantages, DNPs can benefit from higher earning potential and increased career opportunities.

Earning an MSN can take up to two years, while a DNP can take anywhere from three to six years. Choosing which degree to earn will largely be based on your future goals and how soon you want to practice as an NP.

5. Get Your Specialty Certification

After graduating from your NP program, you will need to secure a passing score on a national board certification test in your specialty. These can range from critical care, family, pediatrics or women's health, among others. Remember, some licensure requirements may differ by state, so be sure to review the requirements for the location you want to work.

Nurse looking down at clipboard

Wondering how long nursing school is? Learn more about your nursing school timeline.

6. Find a Great Fit

Next, you need to start researching job positions and locations to find the perfect fit for you and your specialty.

NPs can work in a variety of settings, including:

  • Hospitals
  • Private practices
  • Clinics
  • Emergency rooms
  • Veterans’ affairs
  • Urgent care
  • Universities and colleges

While searching for a job, bear in mind that NPs can rotate among several specialties with the prospect of receiving a work offer through the many hospitals that offer paid fellowship programs. These scholarships are a fantastic way for recent graduates to enter employment as an NP.

What Does a Nurse Practitioner Do?

NPs are trained to diagnose and treat patients of all kinds. Their day can include any or all the following:

  • Recording patients’ medical histories
  • Maintaining medical records
  • Ordering lab tests or diagnostic procedures
  • Examining patients
  • Developing treatment plans
  • Recording symptoms
  • Gathering medical samples

NPs evaluate patients, order tests, make diagnoses and create treatment plans. They also prescribe medications and collaborate in patient care.

A nurse practitioner's range of practice might differ from state to state and even from hospital to hospital.

nursing student holding a syringe

NPs frequently offer acute care, urgent care and primary care services to a wide range of patients. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 46% growth rate for NP positions from 2021 to 2031 and reports a median annual salary of $120,680 as of May 2021.

Take the First Step Today

Now you know how to become a nurse practitioner, it is time to get in touch with PLU about leveraging your previous education to earn a BSN in as few as 16 months. Contact a PLU Admissions Representative. They can help you to understand your specific journey in how to be a nurse practitioner.