Nurse Practitioner

The current increase in demand for healthcare practitioners has put nurse practitioners in high demand. Nurse practitioners are registered nurses who have an advanced degree and advanced certification. They typically work with either a specific population such as the elderly, children, or adults, or they work in specialized care such as acute medicine, family practice, or mental health. 

Between 2020 and 2030, there is expected to be an astounding 52 percent increase in jobs for nurse practitioners, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2021). This makes it the second-fastest-growing occupation by percentage in the United States. This is largely due to the increasing demands for preventative care as well as an overall aging population. Nurse practitioners earn $114,510 per year on average (BLS May 2020).

Some states allow nurse practitioners to be able to work independently without having to be under the supervision of a physician. In those states, they have full practice privileges which include diagnosing and managing illnesses along with the ability to prescribe medications. Other states require nurse practitioners to be supervised by a licensed physician.  

Nurse practitioners have completed at least a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) and a master’s of science in nursing (MSN). A more advanced degree option is a doctor of nursing practice (DNP), which typically takes four years of study and prepares nurses for the challenges of working independently in the field. 

Continue reading to learn more about the career of a nurse practitioner. Below are profiles on top programs, a list of job duties, and an overview of licensing options and requirements.

Nurse Practitioner Specializations & Degree Types

Advanced degrees are required to become a nurse practitioner. While licensing requirements vary by state, at least a master’s of science in nursing (MSN) is required although a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) is quickly becoming the preferred standard by employers. With either the MSN or DNP degree there are numerous specializations students can pursue including:

  • Gerontology
  • Acute Care
  • Pediatric
  • Emergency
  • Family medicine
  • Neonatal
  • Psychiatric
  • Women’s health and gender-related

Admissions Requirements for Nurse Practitioner Programs

Aspiring MSN or DNP students are required to already be registered nurses (RN) and proof of licensure is required for admission. While there are programs that will accept applicants who have only completed an associate’s degree, most incoming students have already completed their bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). Programs may also require extensive application materials including resumes, statements of purpose, letters of recommendation, GRE scores, and more.

Nurse Practitioner Program Accreditation

The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission For Education In Nursing (ACEN) are the main national accrediting bodies for nursing programs. They oversee all bachelor and graduate nursing programs, including MSN and DNP programs. They are recognized by the US Department of Education.

On-Campus Nurse Practitioner Degree Programs

Vanderbilt University – School of Nursing 

Ranked number five in the nation by US News & World Report (2020), Vanderbilt’s outstanding program offers an MSN degree for nurses who hold a BSN, as well as a DNP degree for nurses with an MSN. Students pursuing an MSN can make a seamless transition to the DNP program if they wish to pursue that degree. Vanderbilt also offers an executive leadership DNP for nurses who hold a BSN and a non-nursing health-related master’s. For the past three years, the program has had a 100 percent employment rate for its graduates. 

Vanderbilt’s program is centered on evidence-based methodology and provides students with hands-on practice throughout their studies. Graduates not only know how to apply the knowledge they have gleaned but they are also critical thinkers who can work through complex health issues. Admission requirements include participating in an interview and submitting official transcripts, letters of recommendation, a nursing license, a resume, and a statement of purpose. 

  • Location: Nashville, TN
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $1,793 per credit

Columbia University – School of Nursing 

Students enrolled in the DNP program at the Columbia University School of Nursing will learn how to administer comprehensive care to both healthy patients and those with complex or chronic health issues. This three-year program comprises coursework and a clinical residency.

Specializations in this program include gerontology, family practice, nurse-midwifery, pediatrics, and psychiatric-mental health. Additionally, there are three subspecialties students can choose from: palliative care, oncology, and women’s health. Registered nurses with either a BSN or MSN can apply for admission to this program. Prospective students must already be licensed RNs (or be eligible to be licensed) in the state of New York. Prerequisite courses in statistics and health assessment are also required for admission. 

  • Location: New York, NY 
  • Duration: Three years 
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $66,156 total

University of Washington – School of Nursing 

Aspiring family nurse practitioners can complete the doctor of nursing practice degree at the University of Washington School of Nursing. This three-year program trains graduates to care for a wide variety of clients, including children and the elderly. This program is offered exclusively for full-time students and has an emphasis on patient and family-centered care.  

Graduates of this program who are interested in additional education can complete the post-DNP residency in veteran’s health through the VA Puget Sound Center of Education for Interprofessional Collaboration. This 12-month program trains nurse practitioners in leadership and scholarship within the Veterans Administration. 

  • Location: Seattle, WA 
  • Duration: Three years 
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $907 per credit hour 

The Catholic University of America – Conway School of Nursing

With full-time and part-time options, the on-campus family nurse practitioner program at The Catholic University of America Conway School of Nursing has options to fit any schedule. This program can be completed as a part of a master’s of nursing degree or as a certificate for nursing for those already holding an MSN. Graduates of this program work in hospitals, clinics, community health centers, and managed care organizations. 

Required coursework includes classes such as the well-child, pathophysiology, women’s health, and healthcare policy. The required 700 hours of clinical practice ensure that students have the necessary skills to find entry-level work as FNPs as well as meet the requirements for national certification. 

  • Location: Washington, DC 
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $1,165 per credit 

Rivier University 

Rivier University offers an outstanding on-campus master’s of nursing for family nurse practitioners. This program can take between three to five years to complete depending on the number of courses a student takes at a time. Graduates are prepared to provide high-quality primary care services to patients of all ages. 

During their studies at Rivier, MSN students will take classes in nursing theory, pathophysiology, quality healthcare improvements, health assessment, research design, and health policy. In total, students must complete at least 43 credit hours to graduate from the program. 

  • Location: Nashua, NH
  • Duration: Three to five years 
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
  • Tuition: $660 per credit for nursing courses and $1,030 for clinical courses

Online or Hybrid Nurse Practitioner Degree Programs

Duke University – School of Nursing

Developing leadership skills in outstanding nurses is at the core of the DNP program at the Duke University School of Nursing. Nurses in this program develop the skills necessary to analyze published data to advise on clinical practice and make decisions on how to revise care to improve patient outcomes. This outstanding program is ranked number two in the nation by US News & World Report (2020). 

Classes in this program are offered online, with four required on-campus sessions per year. In addition to traditional nursing courses, students take courses in leadership, health systems transformation, and scholarly writing. Students also complete a minimum of 400 clinical hours prior to graduation, depending on a student’s previous experience. These hours can be completed at a student’s place of employment.  

  • Location: Durham, NC
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $13,943 per semester

The Ohio State University – College of Nursing 

The Ohio State University College of Nursing offers a DNP family nurse practitioner (FNP) program for students who have already earned a BSN. This fully online program allows students to further their education without having to quit their jobs or move. Courses are taught by top-tier faculty who are nurse practitioners themselves. 

As part of the program, students complete clinical experiences. These immersions take place during the final year of the program all across the country. Frequently students complete the hours necessary to obtain licensure as a nurse practitioner while still in the program. 

  • Location: Columbus, OH
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $972.50 per credit 

Georgetown University – School of Nursing and Health Studies

The online master’s of science in nursing at Georgetown University School of Nursing and Health Studies consists of asynchronous coursework, live classes, and clinical intensives. There is a strong emphasis in this program on caring for the whole person, rather than just the symptoms or disease. Graduates of this program will have holistic care skills that address physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental health needs. 

This program can be completed in as little as 19 months of full-time study. Part-time study options are also available. All students must complete 44-semester credits of coursework in order to earn their degree. In addition, students must complete 650 hours of clinical experience. 

  • Location: Washington, DC 
  • Duration: 19 months 
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $2,278 per credit 

Texas A&M University – College of Nursing

Nurses who want to work as primary care providers can complete the online master’s of science in nursing at Texas A&M University’s College of Nursing. While most coursework can be completed online, there are some on-campus clinical experiences that require students to travel to campus. Students can arrange for the rest of their clinical practices to be completed at a facility near their home. 

The curriculum for this program meets the requirements for licensing as a nurse practitioner in all 50 states. In total, students must complete 48 credit hours in courses such as primary care for families, advanced pharmacology, and leadership and policy. 

  • Location: Bryan, TX
  • Duration: Six semesters 
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $12,818 per semester

University of Southern California – Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work

Students in the online master’s of science in nursing at the University of Southern California Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work will receive an education grounded in biomedical science and an understanding of societal influences on health. Graduates will be able to deliver primary healthcare services to adults, children, infants, and adolescents. 

Most coursework for this program is offered online. However, students will be required to travel to campus for two on-campus intensives, where they will participate in skill assessments and exams. 

  • Location: Los Angeles, CA
  • Duration: 21 months
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $1,995 per credit

How Long Does it Take to Become a Nurse Practitioner?

Including high school, it generally takes 11 years to become a nurse practitioner with the minimum work experience and education. However, if a nurse pursues a DNP degree, it can take 13 or more years to complete the necessary work experience and education.

How To Become a Nurse Practitioner – Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Graduate from High School or Complete a GED (Four Years)

Graduating from high school or obtaining a GED is the first step towards becoming a nurse practitioner. Students who wish to pursue this career should take courses in science, math, and health to prepare them for further studies. Advanced placement courses and tests are also helpful as they allow students to complete college credit while in high school.  

Step 2: Complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (Four Years)

A BSN is necessary to become a nurse practitioner. This four-year degree can be completed in four years or as a degree-completion program for those who already have an associate degree in nursing. As part of their studies, students gain hands-on nursing experience as well as meet the educational requirements to become an RN.  

Step 3: Become a Registered Nurse (Timelines Vary)

MSN and DNP programs typically require students to already be registered nurses (RNs). Requirements vary by state but generally include an associate or bachelor’s in nursing from an accredited program and a background check. Prospective RNs also sit for a test: the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). 

Step 4: Gain Work Experience (One Year Minimum)

Prior to enrolling in a graduate nursing program, students are advised to complete at least one year of work as registered nurses. This work experience is often required by graduate programs—especially those in acute care—and gives applicants a good feel for what working as a nurse is really like. 

Step 5: Complete a Graduate Degree in Nursing (Two to Four Years)

An advanced degree is required to become a nurse practitioner. Aspiring professionals may choose to complete a master of science in nursing (MSN) or a doctor of nursing practice (DNP). Either degree prepares them for work in the field, but a DNP is slowly becoming the industry standard, providing the necessary education and skills to work more independently than an MSN. 

Step 6: Obtain National Certification for Specializations (Timelines Vary)

Professionals may then choose to pursue certifications in nurse practitioner specialties such as: 

  • Pediatrics (acute or primary care)
  • Neonatal health
  • Adult-gerontology (acute or primary care)
  • Family health
  • Women’s health and gender-related care
  • Nurse-midwifery
  • Psychiatric-mental health

To qualify for certification, candidates must submit proof of qualifying education and clinical hours, as well as pass a comprehensive exam. Please see the certification section below for a full list of national certification boards for nurse practitioners.

Step 7: Obtain State Licensure (Timelines Varies)

Requirements for licensure vary by state as do the scope of practice laws. Requirements for licensure include proof of completing the required graduate courses, a valid RN license, and passing a national certification exam. 

Step 8: Maintain All Certifications and Local Licensure (Every One to Five Years).

The maintenance requirements vary by credential but licensed NPs generally need to complete a renewal application and show proof of continuing education requirements.

What Do Nurse Practitioners Do?

Nurse practitioners provide primary and specialty care to patients. The scope of practice varies from state to state but can include:

  • Obtaining patient medical histories
  • Ordering diagnostic tests
  • Performing patient exams
  • Diagnosing patients
  • Compiling treatment plans 
  • Coordinating with other care providers 
  • Interpreting medical results to inform treatment plans
  • Providing follow-up care
  • Prescribing medications (not all states)
  • Conducting research
  • Providing patient education on health, nutrition, and medications

Nurse Practitioner Certifications & Licensure

As part of the licensing requirements for nurse practitioners, states require national certifications, such as those issued by the following certification boards:

  • American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP)
  • American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
  • American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN)
  • National Certification Corporation (NCC)
  • Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB)
  • American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB)
  • Dermatology Nursing Certification Board (DNCB)
  • Nephrology Nursing Certification Commission (NNCC)
  • Orthopaedic Nurses Certification Board (ONCB)
  • Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC) 

Although the requirements vary by organization, each specialty NP certification is valid from one to five years and requires candidates to submit an application, proof of qualifying graduate education (MSN or DNP), proof of an RN license, and a passing score on a comprehensive exam.

In addition to national certification, nurse practitioners must be licensed to practice by their local state nursing board. Requirements vary by state but include passing a national exam, holding a current RN license, meeting education standards, and passing a background check. For example, in California, the requirements are:

  • Hold a current California RN 
  • Complete an approved nurse practitioner program
  • Hold a national nurse practitioner certification
  • Submit verification of clinical competency completed by a supervising nurse practitioner
  • Pay $500 application fee

How Much Do Nurse Practitioners Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2020), there were 211,280 nurse practitioners in the United States, who earned $114,510 per year on average. Here are the salary percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $82,960
  • 25th percentile: $94,890
  • 50th percentile (median): $111,680
  • 75th percentile: $130,240
  • 90th percentile: $156,160

Nurse Practitioner Career Alternatives

Here are some alternatives to a career as a nurse practitioner. 

Become an Occupational Therapist

Occupational therapists use everyday activities to help treat a  patient’s musculoskeletal issues from illness, disease, or injury. The primary focus of treatments is to help patients resume their everyday activities. Professionals in this field have earned a master’s degree in occupational therapy.  

  • Typical Education: Master’s of occupational therapy
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy, Inc. (NBCOT)

Become an EMT or Paramedic 

EMTs and paramedics are first responders who provide medical care. EMTs provide first aid and can assist with breathing treatments, while paramedics can provide more advanced care such as administering medications, opening airways, and delivering babies. 

  • Typical Education: Associate degree or higher
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT)

Become a Physical Therapist Assistant or PT Aide

While physical therapists can diagnose and treat patients, often, these treatments are carried out by physical therapist assistants or aides. Once a plan of care has been put in place, physical therapy assistants or aides can follow the treatment protocol, assisting patients in completing exercises and documenting progress. 

  • Typical Education: Associate degree
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT)
Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson


Kimmy is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about healthcare careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.

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