How to Become a Nurse Practitioner in 6 Steps

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The first step to becoming a nurse practitioner is earning a BSN. Next, you’ll need to pass the NCLEX and get licensed, gain experience as an RN, and enroll in a program to earn your MSN or DNP. Then you can earn your specialty certifications and find the right position.

Nurse practitioner talking with patient

The College of Mount Saint Vincent prepares you to enter the healthcare field as a confident nurse. The skills you’ll learn throughout the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program will build an excellent foundation for your career as a registered nurse and can even serve as the first stepping-stone on your path to advancing your career and becoming a nurse practitioner down the line.

Steps to Becoming a Nurse Practitioner

Nurse practitioners, also referred to as NPs, begin as registered nurses to gain clinical experience. Prospective NPs then apply to enroll in master's or doctoral studies, after which they can become certified as a nurse practitioner.

Program graduates who wish to become advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) in their state must pass a national certification exam in their field.

The specifics of NP education can vary depending on program options and concentration areas; however most applicants need to finish the following steps:

1. Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree

Nursing students practicing on a manikin

The first step toward becoming an NP is earning your BSN. While a traditional ground BSN program can take four years or more to complete, the Accelerated BSN program at CMSV can help you earn your nursing degree in as few as 16 months. We offer a comprehensive program that combines onsite coursework with in-person labs and clinicals, all so you can count on a high-quality education on a faster timeline.

On the path to becoming an NP, you’ll need to spend time in a clinical setting and get professional nursing experience. Therefore, rather than spending four years in a traditional BSN program, earning your BSN at an accelerated pace can help to support your goal of becoming an NP sooner.

2. Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam and Get Licensed

Upon graduation from the CMSV ABSN program, you’ll need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to obtain licensure and practice as a nurse. The exam is made up of up to 145 questions and reviews common procedures, scenarios, patient care best practices, and more.

During your time in the ABSN program, you’ll prepare to sit confidently for the exam. You can also access practice exams and other study resources to make sure you’re ready.

3. Gain Experience as a Nurse

Before you can become an NP, you’ll need to log a few years as an RN. This time will give you the experience you need to understand the day to day demands of being a nurse. Additionally, many graduate programs expect one to two years of clinical experience before they’ll consider admitting an applicant. Use this time as an RN to learn which specialty might interest you and where you shine in a healthcare facility.

close up of nurse's hands in purple gloves

4. Enroll in a Nursing Graduate Program

Once you’ve gained experience as a nurse, your next step will be to earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. An MSN is the minimum educational requirement to become an NP, although some nurses go on further to gain a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree.

While both of these degrees have their advantages, DNPs can generally attain higher earning potential and increased job opportunities.

Earning an MSN can take up to two years, and earning a DNP can take anywhere from three to six years. Choosing which degree to earn will largely be based on your future goals and how soon you want to practice as an NP.

5. Get Your Specialty Certification

After graduating from your NP program, you’ll need to secure a passing score on a national board certification test in your specialty field. These can range from critical care, family, pediatrics, or women's health, among others. Remember, some licensure requirements may differ by state, so be sure to review the requirements for the location where you want to work.

6. Find a Great Fit

Next, you’ll want to start researching job positions and locations to find the perfect fit for you and your specialty.

NPs can work in a variety of settings, including:

  • Hospitals
  • Private practices
  • Clinics
  • Emergency rooms
  • Veterans affairs
  • Urgent care
  • Universities and colleges

As you’re looking for a job, bear in mind that NPs can rotate among several specialties with the prospect of receiving a work offer through the many hospitals that offer paid fellowship programs. These scholarships are a fantastic method for recent graduates to enter the NP employment market.

Nursing student in purple gloves and mask

What Does a Nurse Practitioner Do?

NPs are trained to be able to diagnose and treat patients of all kinds. Their day can include any or all of the following:

  • Recording a patient's medical history
  • Maintaining medical records
  • Ordering lab tests or diagnostic procedures
  • Examining patients
  • Developing treatment plans
  • Recording symptoms
  • Gathering medical samples

Generally speaking, NPs are educated to evaluate patients, order tests, make diagnoses, and create treatment plans. They are also trained to prescribe medications and collaborate in patient care.

A nurse practitioner's range of practice might differ from state to state and even from hospital to hospital.

NPs frequently offer acute care, urgent care, and primary care services to a wide range of patients. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 46% growth rate for NP positions from 2021 to 2031 and reports a median annual salary of $120,680 as of May 2021.

Take the First Step Today

Now that you know how to forge your path toward a great career as a nurse practitioner, it’s time to get in touch with us at Mount Saint Vincent about leveraging your previous education to earn a BSN in as few as 16 months. Contact our admissions team at the College of Mount Saint Vincent ABSN program today.