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Nurse Practitioner: How Long Does it Take to Become One?

Majors Overview January 23, 2013

An advanced practice registered nurses (RNs) can complete a master degree with a nurse practitioner concentration to become a nurse practitioner. A licensed doctor supervises the work of a nurse practitioner that involves prescribing medications, providing medical treatment, performing minor surgical procedures, ordering or performing diagnostic tests, making assessments and diagnoses and performing examinations relevant to nurse practitioners’ field of concentration. The amount of time it takes to become a nurse practitioner depends on whether or not the prospective nurse practitioner holds an undergraduate degree. There are fast-track programs offered by schools for non-nurses with an undergraduate degree; those who select these courses are required to complete a master degree in a nurse practitioner specialty within three years. Nurses with a graduate degree in a discipline other than a nurse practitioner concentration are only required to complete a post-graduate certificate program, which they can accomplish in two to nine months. New students would need five to seven years to become nurse practitioners. In this article, we will look at different requirements that need to be fulfilled from a prospective nurse practitioner to follow a successful career path.

Nurse Practitioner Requirements

The most common requirement is to hold a post-graduate certificate or a master degree in a nurse practitioner area of concentration alongside a bachelor degree in nursing. A nurse practitioner would be required to fulfill licensure norms in all of the states and certification from one of several authorities that certify nurse practitioners in accordance with their specialty. Aspiring nurse practitioners are required to have one to two years of experience in the field along with basic computer skills including the ability to perform automated medical records, data entry and word processing. The technical skills needed for the job include the ability to use specialized medical equipment such as nebulizers, oxygen analyzers, EKG units, cardiac monitoring devices, and IV infusion pumps, according to the nurse practitioner’s specialty (sources: CareerBuilder September 2012 job listings; state nursing boards; nurse practitioner certification boards).

The following is a step-by-step guide that should be followed by anyone planning a career in this field.

Stage One: Earning an Undergraduate Degree in Nursing

Completing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree (BSN) is the primary step that aspiring registered nurses must take. This is a four-year program. Coursework includes subject areas such as nursing (throughout every life stage), pathophysiology basics, pharmacology basics, patient health assessment, physiology and anatomy. A prospective registered nurse who already has an undergraduate degree in some other major do not need to satisfy this stage requirement, but they can choose a fast-track route to a graduate degree.

Stage Two: Satisfying State Licensure Norms

All nurses are required to satisfy state licensure norms before they are allowed to practice. In a majority of states, candidates are required to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) that the National Council of State Boards of Nursing administers. Some other state nursing board requirements may also have to be satisfied to keep state licensure valid. The state can decide how quickly this requirement needs to be completed; the applicant may or may not be required by the state to take the test again. However, the whole process takes no more than a few months.

Stage Three: Choose and Gain Experience in That Specialty

Before they can start a graduate course, an aspiring nurse practitioner must choose his/her area of concentration. Several graduate degree nurse practitioner programs require or encourage students to have a minimum of one to two years experience working as a RN in their chosen area of concentration. Anesthesia, mental health, acute care, midwifery, women’s health, gerontology, pediatrics, and family practice are among the various nurse practitioner specialties they can select from. Depending on the area of concentration, such experience is usually earned in various clinical settings.

Stage Four: Completing an Accredited Nurse Practitioner Master Degree Program

There are several schools that offer graduate programs for aspiring nurse practitioners. Nurses who already hold a master degree in another nursing concentration can choose to pursue a nurse practitioners’ graduate certificate program. The program could span five to twelve months with the duration determined by the area of concentration. Registered nurses (RNs) that hold a bachelor degree will need one to three years to complete the master degree program. As previously stated, non-nursing degree holders can enroll into a fast-track BSN-to-master degree course, such program is a combination of class-work and clinical experience during the first year that results in an undergraduate degree in nursing. The master degree nurse practitioner specialty program succeeds the program and spans a one-to-three year duration.

Stage Five: Certification

After completing an accredited nurse practitioner master degree program, the students qualify to take the nurse practitioner certification exam relating to their practice specialty. Applicants are required by a majority of credential agencies to hold a valid registered nurse license. They are also required to have a minimum number of hours of nursing practice experience and to pass the examination. The required number of hours of experience varies according to the concentration area and generally ranges from seven hundred fifty to fourteen hundred hours, over a period of six to twelve months. Obtaining Certification will improve the career prospects of a nurse practitioner.

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