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 2018 and 2028, there is expected to be a 28 percent increase in jobs for nurse practitioners, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This is largely due to the increasing demands for preventative care as well as an overall aging population. Nurse practitioners earn $110,030 per year on average.

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 an MD.

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 a registered nurse (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 their 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: $1,642 per credit-hour

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: $64,230 total

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: $13,417 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: $75,855 total

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. 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 a registered nurse. 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.

How Much Do Nurse Practitioners Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019), there were 179,650 nurse practitioners in the United States, who earned $110,030 per year on average. Here are the salary percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $78,300
  • 25th percentile: $90,760
  • 50th percentile (median): $107,030
  • 75th percentile: $125,440
  • 90th percentile: $150,320
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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