How to Become a Nurse Practitioner | USAHS (2024)

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner | USAHS (1)Becoming a nurse practitioner is a popular and exciting career choice. Nurse practitioners deliver primary and emergency care to patients, diagnose and treat illnesses, and prescribe medication. In 23 states, NPs have full practice authority, meaning they can practice independently without the supervision of a physician.

The path to becoming a nurse practitioner may look a little different for everyone, but in general, there are specific academic and licensure credentials you must obtain. From your bachelor’s through your graduate degree, you can expect to be in school for at least seven years. After you earn your graduate degree, you must also pass a national certification exam. This blog post outlines the responsibilities of nurse practitioners, discusses how to become a nurse practitioner, and provides a brief overview of the current job landscape and opportunities.

What Is a Nurse Practitioner?

Nurse practitioners (NPs) are licensed clinicians who provide comprehensive care to patients. The best nurse practitioners are understanding and compassionate people who enjoy solving complex problems and helping others.

Nurse practitioners focus on preventative and holistic care, as well as treating acute and chronic conditions. Responsibilities vary depending on their area of practice. For example, a neonatal nurse practitioner works with neonatologists to treat newborns and infants, whereas a family psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner works with patients of all ages who need mental health treatment.

In general, responsibilities of nurse practitioners may include:

  • Providing primary and emergency care to patients
  • Performing physical exams and recording patient medical histories
  • Ordering and conducting diagnostic tests
  • Developing appropriate patient treatment plans
  • Prescribing and administering medications and treatments
  • Evaluating the patient’s response to treatment plans and making adjustments as necessary
  • Providing mental health counseling
  • Educating patients on healthy lifestyle choices and how to prevent injury and disease

Nurse Practitioner vs. Registered Nurse: What’s the Difference?

Becoming licensed as a registered nurse (RN) is one step in becoming a nurse practitioner (see How to Become a Nurse Practitioner). If you continue with graduate education to become a nurse practitioner, you will have more responsibilities and autonomy than registered nurses. Nurse practitioners need to earn either a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing, whereas registered nurses only need an associate degree or bachelor’s degree.

Unlike a nurse practitioner, a registered nurse is not permitted to diagnose patients or develop treatment plans. Typical responsibilities of a registered nurse include monitoring patients, maintaining patient records, ordering diagnostic tests, and assisting physicians with patient care.

The work environment for the two professionals also tends to differ. Nurse practitioners usually work more standard hours in private practice or community clinic settings. Registered nurses, however, typically work a variety of shifts, including night shifts, in hospitals or surgical clinics.

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner | USAHS (2)To become a nurse practitioner, you will need advanced training in nursing. This means earning a master’s or doctoral degree, as well as the certifications and licensures required for your area of advanced nursing practice. To succeed in your nursing program, you will need to hone your study techniques and time management skills. Although graduate nursing school is challenging, many students feel their effort is well worth the satisfaction of knowing they will make a difference in the lives of others. Below, we outline the steps to becoming a nurse practitioner.

1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing

The first step to becoming a nurse practitioner is to earn a bachelor’s degree. A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is recommended, given that some graduate-level programs, such as the nurse practitioner program offered by the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences, require an undergraduate degree in nursing rather than in a related field such as public health. The core curriculum of a BSN program includes courses in anatomy, pharmacology, mental health, pathophysiology, statistics, and more.

The BSN degree also requires that students complete clinical training hours—typically, three clinical learning hours for every one hour of classroom instruction. Depending on your background and personal situation, you can take various paths to accomplish this:

  • Direct-entry BSN: Designed for students who hold a high school diploma and have not previously completed a bachelor’s degree program or nursing education. A full-time BSN program typically takes 4 years to complete.
  • Licensed practical nurse (LPN) to BSN: Designed for students who are licensed practical nurses, which requires about a year of collegiate nursing education. The length of a full-time LPN-to-BSN program is typically 2–3 years, depending on the school and transferable credits.
  • RN to BSN: Designed for registered nurses who have completed an associate degree in the field. Full-time RN-to-BSN programs typically take 1–2 years to complete, depending on the school and transferable credits.
  • Accelerated BSN (ABSN): A second degree program for students who already have a bachelor’s degree in a different field. The length of a full-time ABSN program is typically 12–19 months, depending on the school and transferable credits.

Get Your RN License

In order to practice nursing and/or enter a graduate nursing program, you must first obtain your licensure as an RN by applying to the appropriate nursing regulatory body and successfully completing the NCLEX-RN examination, as well as meeting any other requirements of the state in which you intend to practice. To sit for the exam, you must have completed an associate degree in nursing, a hospital-based diploma program, or your BSN.

Gain Valuable Work Experience

Before applying to graduate school, it’s a good idea to practice in the field for a while. Clinical practice can give you valuable information about whether becoming an advanced practice registered nurse is the right path for you to pursue—and if it is, what interests you most about the work. It can also help you decide down the road what level of degree and area of specialization is best for you.

Some universities require applicants to have clinical experience before entering their graduate nursing program or beginning clinical experiences, so it’s important to look into each school’s requirements before applying. Additionally, some nursing programs, including ours here at USAHS, hold a white coat ceremony for nurse graduates to commemorate the milestone.

2. Earn a Graduate Degree

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner | USAHS (3)The next step to becoming a nurse practitioner is to earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) with a family nurse practitioner (FNP) role specialty.

Along with the FNP specialty, students in MSN and DNP programs can choose from other role specialties, depending on the university’s offerings. Popular specialties include nurse educator, nurse executive, adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner (AGPCNP), adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner (AGACNP), pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP), and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP).

  • Master of Science in Nursing: An MSN is an advanced nursing practice degree that opens doors to prestigious positions in the field. An MSN-FNP is a sufficient qualification for becoming a nurse practitioner. A full-time MSN program with an FNP role specialty typically takes 2-3 years to complete.
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice: A DNP-FNP provides more coursework on leadership and research for aspiring nurse practitioners who want to hold a clinical nurse leader position or other nursing leadership roles. A full-time program typically takes 3–4 years, depending on specialty, with the FNP specialty typically taking about 4 years.

3. Become a Certified Nurse Practitioner (CNP)

Be sure to review information on licensure and regulatory requirements in your state. The AANP is a good resource.

To become licensed to practice as a nurse practitioner, you will need to take a national certification exam. You can take this exam through any of five national certification boards, including the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), the National Certification Corporation (NCC), or the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Each organization’s exam is different, so you should research the focus and format of each one and consider your personal career goals and testing preferences when deciding which exam to take.

Nurse Practitioner Job Opportunities and Outlook

U.S. News & World Report ranks the nurse practitioner profession as #4 in its 2020 Best Healthcare Jobs list, highlighting the projected employment growth for this career.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual pay for nurse practitioners was $107,030 in 2018. Employment of nurse practitioners is projected to grow 28.2 percent from 2018 to 2028, with an estimated 53,300 jobs added during that period. The BLS ranks this as the ninth fastest-growing profession.

An advanced registered nurse practitioner works in a variety of settings, the most common being physicians’ offices. They also work in general medical and surgical hospitals, outpatient care centers, clinics, and offices of other health care practitioners.

Additional Tips and Resources for Nurse Practitioners

There are a number of activities you can participate in that will contribute to your professional development. Visit the additional resources below to learn more about the path to becoming a nurse practitioner.

Ways to Grow Professionally

  • Volunteer to treat patients in underserved communities. This is a great way to grow your skills, learn from professionals across disciplines, and make a real difference.
  • Attend events and conferences to expand your knowledge and network with your peers.
  • Find a mentor you can learn from and who inspires you to grow as a professional.

Useful Resources

The following organizations can help you learn more about becoming a nurse practitioner:

The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) offers Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), and Post-Graduate Nursing Certificates designed for working nurses. Our degrees are offered online, with optional on-campus immersions* and an annual interprofessional trip abroad. Role specialties include Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), Nurse Educator,** and Nurse Executive. The MSN has several options to accelerate your time to degree completion. Complete coursework when and where you want—and earn your advanced practice nursing degree while keeping your work and life in balance.

*The FNP role specialty includes two required hands-on clinical intensives as part of the curriculum.

**The Nurse Educator role specialty is not available for the DNP program.


American Association of Nurse Practitioners. “What’s a Nurse Practitioner (NP)?” Accessed January 20, 2021. Accessed: January 26, 2022

Nurse Journal. “How to Become a Nurse Practitioner.” Last reviewed November 30, 2021. Accessed: January 26, 2022

Nurse Journal. “Nurse Practioner Career Overview.” Last reviewed November 30, 2021. Accessed: January 26, 2022 “How to Become a Nurse Practioner (NP).” September 20, 2021. Accessed: January 26, 2022

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner | USAHS (2024)


How do you answer why do you want to be a nurse practitioner? ›

Example: “I chose to pursue a career as a nurse practitioner because I am invested in the care and treatment of those whom I can serve. During my education, I found that nursing was of particular interest to me, so I chose to continue to earn my nurse practitioner license.

Is NP school harder than nursing school? ›

Some people may find that mastering the initial concepts in Nursing school is much harder than building upon those concepts in Nurse practitioner school. On the other hand, some students find that nurse practitioner school and its advanced concepts are harder to grasp and apply in practice.

What makes you a good candidate for nurse practitioner school? ›

Your past clinical experience is important, but the role of the NP requires a very high level of autonomy and responsibility that goes beyond bedside nursing. Admissions committees are looking for examples of your leadership experience, something that indicates you have pushed yourself beyond your comfort zone.

What are the most important things you need to learn to be a successful nurse practitioner? ›

The most successful nurse practitioners are highly creative in their ideas, problem-solving abilities, and communication. They seek innovative methods and solutions in their patient care, and they are early adopters of new technologies.

How do I ace my NP interview? ›

How can you prepare for a job interview as a nurse practitioner?
  1. Research the site and the people you're going to meet.
  2. Don't underestimate the power of a first impression.
  3. Remember to ask some questions yourself.
  4. Update and review your resume.
  5. Keep your application in mind.
  6. Check the job description again before going in.
21 Oct 2020

Is becoming an NP worth it? ›

Being a nurse practitioner is worth it because most NPs are highly satisfied with their career and job. In fact, U.S. News and World Report ranks nurse practitioners as the best health care job in 2022! So, if you are planning to go to school to become an NP, you can expect a pleasurable and engaging career.

What is the easiest NP to be? ›

  1. Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner. ...
  2. Pediatric Nurse Practitioner. ...
  3. Family Nurse Practitioner. ...
  4. Occupational Health Nurse Practitioners (OHNP) ...
  5. Aesthetic Nurse Practitioner.

What is the hardest nurse practitioner? ›

  • Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. ...
  • Emergency Nurse Practitioner. ...
  • Armed Forces NP. ...
  • Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner. ...
  • Correctional Nurse Practitioner. ...
  • Substance Abuse Nurse Practitioner. ...
  • Critical Care Nurse Practitioner. ...
  • Neonatal Nurse Practitioner.

Who makes more money a RN or NP? ›

NPs tend to earn more than RNs, mostly because their positions require a higher level of education, additional clinical hours and certifications, and often work in private settings.

What kind of skills does a nurse practitioner need? ›

10 Essential Nurse Practitioner Skills
  • Assessment and Diagnosis. ...
  • Formulation of Treatment Plans. ...
  • Patient Education. ...
  • Interpretation and Translation of Research into Practice. ...
  • Generation of Knowledge from Practice Experience. ...
  • Use and Development of Technology and Information Systems.
1 Jun 2022

What strengths do you need to be a nurse practitioner? ›

Here are 5 essential skills every nurse practitioner needs to succeed:
  • Strong communication skills. ...
  • Great leadership skills. ...
  • Analytical skills. ...
  • Exhibit patience under stress. ...
  • Core competencies. ...
  • Take the first step.

What are 3 responsibilities of a nurse practitioner? ›

Ordering, performing and interpreting diagnostic tests such as lab work and x-rays. Diagnosing and treating acute and chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, infections and injuries. Prescribing medications and other treatments. Managing patients' overall care.

What are your weaknesses as a nurse practitioner? ›

Reflect on your weaknesses

Spending too much time on paperwork. Paying too much attention to detail. Attempting to complete too many tasks at once. A lack of clinical experience, which may apply to recent graduates or new nurses.

What is the primary goal of a nurse practitioner? ›

Summary: The role of nurse practitioner is to provide acute and primary care to patients across the healthcare continuum, from assessing, diagnosing and treating illnesses to educating communities on disease prevention.

What makes a nurse practitioner unique? ›

Nurse practitioners use an approach that is nursing-based, focusing on the patient and his/her environment as a whole. Nurse practitioners not only diagnosis problems and treat those problems, but we incorporate that treatment and that response into their family, their culture, their daily lives and their community.

What is the passing rate of the NP exam? ›

Which FNP certification exam should I take?
American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP)
Questions: 175 – 200Questions: 150
Length: Approximately 4 hoursLength: 3 hours
2021 Pass Rate: 87%2021 Pass Rate: 84%
12 Jun 2022

What are the 10 most common interview questions and answers nursing? ›

Common nursing interview questions
  • Do you work well with other nurses, doctors and staff? ...
  • How would you handle a difficult patient? ...
  • How do you handle workplace stress? ...
  • What do you do if your replacement does not arrive? ...
  • How would you handle a disagreement with a doctor? ...
  • Describe how you manage a busy workload.

What is a passing score on the nurse practitioner exam? ›

Total raw scores are converted to a scaled score ranging from 200 to 800 points using statistical procedures equivalent for all administrations of the examination. A minimum passing scaled score of 500 must be obtained to pass the examination.

Why do nurse practitioners quit? ›

Overall, more than 60% of NPs reported feeling burned out, with 30% saying that they were both burned out and depressed. A majority of NPs (62%) also report experiencing burnout for at least a year, with 20% saying they have experienced burnout for more than two years now.

Which NP gets paid the most? ›

Neonatal NPs earn the most money and can expect continuing salary increases and a promising job outlook. Neonatal NPs who work in neonatal intensive care units or pursue relevant certifications can boost their earning potential. NPs who hold a doctorate in nursing can pursue lucrative leadership positions.

What type of NP pays the most? ›

Pediatric primary care is among the highest-paid NP specialties. You can expect an average annual salary of $113,387, which translates to $54.51 per hour.

Is there anything higher than a NP? ›

The Doctor of Nursing Practice is a terminal nursing degree, meaning that it is the highest possible practice-based degree in nursing.

Is NP just as good as Doctor? ›

A nurse practitioner will give the same quality of care as a general physician. Most nurse practitioners spend many years working as registered nurses. In their capacity as nurses, they take care of patients, performing tasks like administering medication and monitoring patients.

Which is harder PA or nurse practitioner? ›

NPs typically choose a specialty area and need to complete 500 instructional hours and between 500-700 clinical hours (1,000 for DNPs). PAs receive generalist training and typically complete about 1,000 instructional hours and more than 2,000 clinical hours.

What is the lowest paid nurse practitioner? ›

According to BLS data, NPs can expect a general salary range of $79,470 for the lowest 10% and up to $163,350 for the highest 10%. Within this range, however, several factors influence NP salary levels, such as certifications, education level, years of experience or experience type, and practice setting.

What can a doctor do that a nurse practitioner Cannot? ›

A primary difference between physicians and NPs is the fact that all doctors can prescribe medication to patients as a part of their duties. Nurse practitioners also prescribe medicine, but in some states they must be directly overseen by a doctor or physician in order to do so.

What is the best state to be a nurse practitioner? ›

  1. New York. Nurse practitioners in the Empire State earn an average of $126,440 a year. ...
  2. Arizona. Arizona is among the states where nurse practitioners enjoy full practice authority. ...
  3. Maryland. ...
  4. Washington. ...
  5. Oregon. ...
  6. 6. California. ...
  7. Colorado. ...
  8. New Jersey.

What type of nurse is most in demand? ›

Registered nurse (RN)

BSN-prepared nurses are the most sought-after RNs in the job market and can advance to leadership and management roles more quickly than the ASN nurse.

What is the highest nurse position? ›

Chief Nursing Officer (CNO): The CNO, sometimes referred to as the chief nursing executive (CNE), is at the top of the pyramid. This position usually works under the CEO of the hospital or agency and has administrative and supervisory roles.

Is it stressful being a nurse practitioner? ›

As a nurse practitioner, you may find yourself in many stressful situations. This stress can come from the environment you work in, such as a critical care unit, or it may come from the reality that you are responsible for a patient's treatment plan.

How can a new nurse practitioner succeed? ›

5 Tips for the New Nurse Practitioner
  1. Don't just take a job for the high salary. ...
  2. Become active in your professional organizations. ...
  3. There is the Good with the Not so Good. ...
  4. Time is valuable. ...
  5. Work-life balance is more valuable than gold.
13 Nov 2020

What do nurse practitioners do daily? ›

What do Nurse Practitioners do on a Daily Basis? The primary role of nurse practitioners is to monitor patient health, provide medical care, and serve as a primary care provider.

What are the 4 roles nurse practitioners can have? ›

NPs are responsible to the public and adaptable to the dynamic changes in health care. As leaders in health care, NPs combine the roles of provider, mentor, educator, researcher, advocate and administrator.

How much does a nurse practitioner make? ›

Family nurse practitioner average salary by state
StatePer hourPer year
22 more rows

What is your strength best answer? ›

When answering, mention what your top strengths are, provide examples on how you've used them in the past, and finally, describe the results you've gotten. Be super specific with your answers. Don't just say “I'm good at X” - really dive deep and give the interviewer a comprehensive answer.

Why should we hire you answer best? ›

Show that you have skills and experience to do the job and deliver great results. You never know what other candidates offer to the company. But you know you: emphasize your key skills, strengths, talents, work experience, and professional achievements that are fundamental to getting great things done on this position.

What challenges do nurse practitioners face? ›

  • Emotional work. ...
  • Varying hours. ...
  • Working with people. ...
  • Power imbalance and hierarchy. ...
  • Not being able to help everyone. ...
  • Restrictive practice settings. ...
  • Being challenged too little or not enough. ...
  • Charting, charting, and more charting.

What do nurse practitioners wear? ›

Dress clothes with a lab coat

Similar to how many doctors choose to wear dress clothes to work, nurse practitioners may choose to wear dress or business attire while seeing and treating patients.

Why did you choose nurse practitioner? ›

Nurse practitioners focus on disease management as well as health promotion and prevention. They're also more open to holistic health and offering more education. These aspects offer a very different approach from a medical doctor, making nurse practitioners effective partners in healthcare, too.

Why do people like being a nurse practitioner? ›

Providing ample time to sit and talk with patients, answer questions and thoroughly explain conditions and treatment options make NPs a popular choice for many people. Nurse practitioners are happy to have close provider-patient relationships and take satisfaction in teaching those in their care.

How do I write a statement of purpose for nurse practitioner school? ›

Follow the Five-Paragraph Essay Format
  1. First paragraph: Make an immediate impact in your introduction.
  2. Second paragraph: Explain what attracted you to the program and field.
  3. Third paragraph: Compare your short- and long-term goals with the program goals.
  4. Fourth paragraph: Share your skills, experiences, and characteristics.

Why did you choose this nursing specialty? ›

Examples of the Best Answers

I wanted to do something in my career that is challenging, interesting, and makes a difference in people's lives daily. In the nursing profession, you deal with many aspects of patient care, and I enjoy the variety in the routine.

What does being a nurse practitioner mean to you? ›

Certified Nurse Practitioners (CNPs) are Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) who have advanced training to diagnose illnesses and prescribe medication in areas such as primary care, acute care, geriatrics, and women's health.

How do I make my statement of purpose stand out? ›

  1. Your motivation/vision is clearly mentioned.
  2. Your accomplishments should be in adherence to your vision.
  3. Display an open to learning Do not exhibit a know-it-all attitude.
  4. Make sure that you understand the importance of research.
20 Apr 2018

What is most challenging as a nurse practitioner? ›

If you have an NP role where your work hours are changing, long, at night, or otherwise somewhat inconvenient, this can take a toll on your personal life. One of the biggest challenges of being a nurse practitioner is work-life balance, and a changing schedule or working overtime can impede this.

What is the easiest type of nurse practitioner? ›

  1. Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner. ...
  2. Pediatric Nurse Practitioner. ...
  3. Family Nurse Practitioner. ...
  4. Occupational Health Nurse Practitioners (OHNP) ...
  5. Aesthetic Nurse Practitioner.

What is the hardest nurse practitioner specialty? ›

  • Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. ...
  • Emergency Nurse Practitioner. ...
  • Armed Forces NP. ...
  • Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner. ...
  • Correctional Nurse Practitioner. ...
  • Substance Abuse Nurse Practitioner. ...
  • Critical Care Nurse Practitioner. ...
  • Neonatal Nurse Practitioner.

What do you see yourself in 5 years? ›

Tips for Answering 'Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years? '
  • Show how your professional goals and the job you're applying for align.
  • Focus on the skills you want to learn and get better at.
  • Don't get too specific with job titles or time frames.
  • Never say “I want your job,” “I don't know” or “Not here!”
8 Jul 2022

What inspired me to become a nurse? ›

What inspired you to become a nurse? I've always loved helping and taking care of people. Everyone deserves someone that has patience and takes time to go that extra mile for them especially when they require medical care, I wanted to be that nurse.

What are 10 roles of a nurse? ›

Nurses care for injuries, administer medications, conduct frequent medical examinations, record detailed medical histories, monitor heart rate and blood pressure, perform diagnostic tests, operate medical equipment, draw blood, and admit/discharge patients according to physician orders.

Who is above a nurse practitioner? ›

The highest level of clinical nursing is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), which is a nurse-midwife, nurse practitioner, certified registered nurse anesthetist, or clinical nurse specialist.

What kind of personality do you need to be a nurse practitioner? ›

Nurse Practitioner Personality Traits
  • Compassionate. Patients want a healthcare provider who listens to their concerns, shows empathy for their pain and suffering, and works diligently to find a solution to their problems. ...
  • Good communicator. ...
  • Detail-oriented. ...
  • Confident. ...
  • References.

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