How to Become a Nurse Practitioner​

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner (NP)

Becoming a nurse practitioner (NP) can significantly increase an RN’s career opportunities and earning potential. Nurse practitioners have many responsibilities similar to doctors and hold graduate or doctorate-level nursing degrees. How long it takes to become a nurse practitioner can vary, depending on your program, class schedule, and education level. If you’re interested in becoming an NP, you’ll want to understand the requirements and career options ahead of you. In this guide, we’ll explain how to become a nurse practitioner and earn NP certification and licensure.

NP Job Description: What does a nurse practitioner do?

Nurse practitioners are licensed healthcare professionals with advanced clinical training who provide primary and specialty care to patients. NP’s can specialize by patient population and/or clinical issues, such as a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) or Cardiology Nurse Practitioner. NPs provide a wide range of healthcare services, including: ordering tests, diagnosing and treating illnesses, prescribing medications, and more. Nurse practitioners place a holistic focus on the health and well-being of their patients and help lower medical expenses by educating patients on health and lifestyle choices.

Nurse Practitioner (NP) Certification

Earning a Nurse Practitioner (NP) certification is required to become a nurse practitioner. This step happens after completing your rigorous NP education. The national Nurse Practitioner (NP) certification is offered by an NP Certification Board, such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Association of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANP). Which certifying board you use depends on your specialization. In order to receive your NP certification, you must successfully pass a national NP board certification exam. 

[ RELATED: Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) Certification ]

NP Degree Requirement

To become a nurse practitioner, you’ll have to earn a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing in addition to your RN. The two most popular graduate degrees for nurse practitioners are an MSN and a DPN:

  • MSN – The most common degree for nurse practitioners is the Master’s of Science in Nursing, or MSN. Most MSN students also have an undergraduate BSN degree. MSN coursework covers advanced topics in the clinical practice of nursing. An MSN program typically takes two years to complete or less depending on the program.
  • DNP – A DNP, or Doctor of Nursing Practice, is a doctorate-level degree that focuses on nursing practice. In addition to coursework covered in an MSN program, a DNP program takes it a step further by preparing nurses for leadership positions. It can take two to four years to complete a DNP program. 

NP License Requirements

Licensing requirements for nurse practitioners vary by state, so it’s important to check your local requirements before getting started. In general, the requirements to earn Nurse Practitioner licensure include:

  • Completing an accredited NP program
  • Obtaining national NP certification 
  • Gaining experience in an NP specialty (if required)
  • Gathering documentation for state licensing
  • Submitting online application for state licensing and sending in documentation 

Once you have completed these steps and submitted your application, it will take anywhere from 4 to 12 weeks to process your NP license, depending on your state board of nursing.

Passing the NP Exam

Passing the NP exam in your specialty area is a huge achievement. Here are some quick tips to help you pass the NP exam:

  • NP Exam Tip #1

    Create a study plan specific to your NP certification exam. Invest in study resources and other types of review materials, such as books and flashcards, to enhance your test prep.

  • NP Exam Tip #2

    Take full-length practice tests to get familiar with the exam format and question types. Use the results of your NP exam practice tests to identify your areas of strength and weakness and adjust your study plan accordingly.

  • NP Exam Tip #3

    Create a study group in-person or online to strengthen your understanding of the material and receive support and motivation for studying.

Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) Certification

The family nurse practitioner certification is one of the specialty NP certifications you can earn. Family nurse practitioners provide primary and specialty healthcare services for patients of all ages, sometimes working with the same patients for years. In order to become a board-certified FNP, you must pass the FNP certification exam, thereby becoming FNP-BC (Family Nurse Practitioner-Board Certified) or FNP-C (Family Nurse Practitioner-Certified). You can earn the FNP credential from ANCC or AANP.

[ LEARN MORE: What is a Family Nurse Practitioner? ]

FNP Degree Requirement

Like all types of nurse practitioners, FNPs must earn a master’s degree in nursing or higher. Some graduate programs will offer a concentration specifically created for family nurse practitioners which takes between 1 and 3 years to complete. Otherwise, aspiring family nurse practitioners must complete an FNP post-graduate certificate program to qualify for FNP licensure.

FNP License Requirements

The FNP license requirements are almost identical to the NP license requirements discussed above but, ultimately, vary by state. To become a family nurse practitioner, you must complete all the NP license requirements listed above, with the additional steps of completing an FNP post-graduate certificate program and passing the FNP certification exam.

Passing the FNP Exam

According to the AANPCB Statistics, the pass rate for the FNP exam in 2022 was 74%, which is a 10% decrease from the previous year. Because of the lower pass rates, it’s more important than ever that you adequately prepare for the NP exam, as you have to wait 60 days to retest and can only test three times in 12 months. Once you have successfully passed the FNP exam, you are awarded FNP certification.

Career Options: NP vs FNP

There is no shortage of career options for NPs and FNPs. The major difference between an FNP and other NP specialties is that FNPs have more flexibility since they can treat patients of all ages. This provides FNPs a wider range of job opportunities than other NP specialties. Some common career options for FNPs include: 

  • Inpatient care
  • Nursing homes
  • Home health
  • Urgent care
  • Nurse educator
  • Private practice

Job Outlook: NP vs FNP

Nurse practitioners are in high demand, so both primary care NPs and FNPs have a positive job outlook. In fact, the nurse practitioner field is one of the fastest-growing professions in healthcare, with a 38% employment increase projected between 2022 and 2032, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. NPs and FNPs are filling a critical role in the U.S. healthcare system, providing a wide range of healthcare services during a time when there is a shortage of physicians and a growing need for specialized healthcare. Nurse practitioners have a low unemployment rate and report a high-level of job satisfaction, ranking #1 on U.S. News and World Report’s list of Best Healthcare Jobs.

How much does an NP make?

The 2023 salary range for nurse practitioners in the U.S. typically falls between $113,693 and $133,106, however there are many factors to consider. NP salaries depend on your specialty, location, experience, education, and more.

Average Nurse Practitioner Salary

According to Salary.com, the September 2023 average nurse practitioner salary is $122,523 in the U.S.