How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

Becoming a Nurse Practitioner

By expanding on traditional nursing skills and knowledge, a nurse practitioner is able to provide many of the services that, in the past, have been the exclusive province of physicians. You can learn how to become a nurse practitioner by reading through the resources and information that follow.

What Does a Nurse Practitioner Do?

A nurse practitioner (NP) is a registered nurse (RN) with graduate education at either the master's degree or doctoral degree level. This advanced education involves developing clinical skills that focus on assessment (history and physical examination, diagnostic testing) and diagnosis of health problems. In addition, NPs provide a treatment plan that includes a range of nursing and medical interventions. These may include writing prescriptions, making referrals and providing patient education. While nurse practitioners have typically been associated with primary care, more NPs are now working in acute care and rehabilitation. Primary care nurse practitioners are certified most often in fields associated with specific patient populations. These include:

  • Pediatrics
  • Family
  • Adult
  • Women's health
  • Geriatric care

Acute care nurse practitioners may practice in specialties such as dermatology or neurology, among others.

Nurse Practitioner Specializations

With the exception of hospital-based acute and neonatal care, most NP positions are ambulatory, meaning you work in an outpatient setting. These settings can be quite varied, involving pediatric or family practice and may even include house calls in rural areas.

It's important to note that just as with RN specialization, NP careers are also specialized in fields such as:

  • Family Medicine
  • Pediatrics
  • Adult Medicine and Geriatrics
  • Women's Health
  • Neonatal Care
  • Acute (ER) Care
  • Occupational Health
  • Certified Midwifery
  • Certified RN Anesthetists

After completing your NP training, you'll be eligible to sit for a nationally recognized examination in your specialty and become certified. The two largest certifying boards are the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). The AANP Certification Program offers national certification examinations for those wanting to work as certified adult, gerontology or family nurse practitioners. You'll also need to become certified in the state where you plan to work.

Steps to Becoming a Nurse Practitioner

Though the steps may depend on your area of specialization, this is the general path that most nurse practitioners follow.

  1. Take math and science classes. In high school, an interest in math and science gets a nursing candidate off to a good start, while a high grade point average can be an even stronger advantage.
  2. Get a high school diploma. Earning your high school diploma or GED equivalent and passing the SAT or ACT exams are the a standard requirements to enter college.
  3. Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). This is the standard requirement to become licensed to practice as a registered nurse. RNs with an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or diploma in nursing need to complete an RN to BSN program, but graduates of four-year collegiate nursing schools are ready to apply to graduate schools of nursing.
  4. Get work experience in nursing. This is typically recommended to do before pursuing graduate school. Though this is not required for acceptance into a graduate program, experience in the field can help you candidacy and prepare you for the coursework that follows.
  5. Earn your master's degree in nursing. If you're a registered nurse, earning your master's degree is typically the next step to moving into more advanced practice. You may hone in on a specialized part of health care, or do a general ed program to become a general nurse practitioner.
  6. Pass the nurse practitioner certification exam. Once you graduate with a master's degree in nursing, you can sit for the nurse practitioner certification exam. Certification exams are offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) as well as the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) and the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB).
  7. Get an NP license in your state. After passing the exam, nurse practitioners must apply for an NP license in addition to their RN license from the state in which they intend to practice.

How Do I Become a GREAT Nurse Practitioner?

Here are the skills you will need to take your career as a nurse practitioner to the next level, and give your patients the best care possible.

  • Have Technical and People Skills: As is true in many professions that involve caring for people, a great nurse practitioner is a person who is able to combine in-depth knowledge and clinical skills with a genuine concern for the well being of the individual and family being cared for.
  • Stay Updated on Your Knowledge: It is important to keep up with health trends and practice recommendations, as the medical field is constantly changing.
  • Be a Good Team Member: Great nurse practitioners work collaboratively with other health professionals. This, too, is one of the strengths that most nurses bring to the advanced practice role since RNs often have experience in coordination of patient care.

Resources for Nurse Practitioners


  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Nurse Practitioners, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291171.htm
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