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How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

Majors Overview January 25, 2013

The healthcare industry relies on advanced practice registered nurses for the provision of health care services similar to those provided by a physician. Such nurses are called nurse practitioners. Nurse practitioners can opt for specialization in geriatric, pediatric or family nursing.  Commonly, they perform diagnosis and treatment of injuries and illnesses, prescribe medications and educate patients. Their duties also involve ordering diagnostic tests and analyzing the results. Licensure is mandatory for all nurses through the passage of the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) informs us that a professional association’s certification and a graduate degree and state licensure are also mandatory requirements for these professionals.

Common Requirements

Degree Level

Master or Doctorate Degree in Nursing Required

Area of Concentration


Certification and Licensure

Nurse practitioner licensing and certification is required


Minimum of one year of experience as a nurse practitioner (NP)

Key Skills

Oral communication, decision making, problem solving and written skills

Computer Skills

Medscribbler Enterprise, GE Healthcare Centricity EMR, eClinicalWorks software

Other Requirements

Current basic life support (BLS) certification

The following is a step-by-step guide that should be followed by students who plans to pursue this career field.

Stage One: Earning a Bachelor Degree in Nursing

Prospective nurse practitioners should take their first educational step by completing an associate or bachelor degree program in nursing that would serve to prepare them for entry-level jobs in a clinic and serve to satisfy state licensure norms as a registered nurse (RN). An associate degree normally takes two years to complete, and the student is often allowed to use the credits earned in an undergraduate degree completion course. Nurse practitioners who want to earn a bachelor degree have several choices offered by schools; they include full four-year courses, accelerated courses for those who possess an associate degree, completion courses that can be completed by licensed registered nurse and online choices for those who have sufficient experience and education. Students who aspire to become nurse practitioners will have to complete an undergraduate degree, so they can pursue the required master degree program. Common coursework in undergraduate nursing program includes community health, pediatric nursing, anatomy and physiology, and pharmacology. Students are also given supervised hands on experience in a clinical environment. Taking communications classes will benefit prospective nurse practitioners who needs both exceptional speaking and writing skills in a job that requires them to explain procedures in a concise way to patients as well as patients’ families. Enrolling in an accelerated program will enable quicker completion of the program by students who have possession of a non-nursing undergraduate degree.

Stage Two: Becoming a Registered Nurse

All states demand a practicing nurse to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). States may also ask for satisfaction of additional registration and licensing norms; these could include fingerprinting and background checks. Candidates seeking a master degree program or want to satisfy advanced nursing licensure norms would need to possess a RN license.

Stage Three: Completing a Master Degree Program in Nursing

Registered nurses who hold an undergraduate degree seeking to become nurse practitioners must earn a graduate or doctoral degree in nursing. There are several nurse practitioners with specialization in a focus area of medicine such as family medicine or pediatrics during their master degree. These courses typically last for two to three years and require students to complete lectures and seminars and participate in a clinical residency program. Common coursework includes advanced pharmacology, pathophysiology and healthcare management.

Stage Four: Satisfying Advanced Practice Nursing Licensure

Most states require advanced practice nurse to meet additional licensure norms. Advanced practice nurses can perform any of these four roles: clinical nurse specialist, nurse midwife, nurse anesthetist or nurse practitioner. Individual states regulate licensing and the requirements could vary from state to state. However, there are general requirements for all nurse practitioners to hold a registered nurse license and a graduate degree in one of the four advanced practice areas of concentration. Professional experience and additional exams are mandated by some states. Many states require renewal of a license via maintenance of a national certification or through continuing education classes.

Stage Five: Specialize Via Certification

Graduates can qualify by successfully completing a master degree and satisfying licensure norms to take a certification examination specific to their career. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) are among the organizations that award national certification that state nursing boards commonly recognize. Certification usually results from passing an exam, and most organizations call for maintenance of the credentials via continuing education. Available specialty examinations nurse practitioners can select from pediatrics, gerontology, mental health, school nursing, family care, diabetes management and acute care. Preparation for the examination can be completed by obtaining the proper materials required for study pertaining to the focus area of practice. Taking any available practice tests will improve student chances of success in the examination.

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