How Can I Become a Nurse Practitioner?

Nurse practitioners must be prepared on many levels to perform their everyday responsibilities, largely because of the additional medical duties they are qualified to perform alongside their more traditional nursing duties. The medical demands of the job therefore require a much more thorough education and training for a nurse practitioner than for the average staff nurse.

Undergraduate Education

The first step in becoming a nurse practitioner is completing a bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN). These bachelor’s degree programs typically last about four years unless the student has already earned a bachelor’s degree in another field or has a diploma or an associate degree in nursing. In these cases, accelerated BSN programs can shorten the time it takes to get a bachelor’s degree to two years or less. BSN programs provide a student with a well-rounded education that includes the liberal arts, but is capped off with courses in anatomy & physiology, pathology, chemistry, psychology, microbiology, nutrition and, of course, principles of nursing. All programs should provide students with supervised clinical experience in hospitals or other health care settings during this phase of their preparation.

Licensing

Whether the student gains national licensure as a registered nurse (RN) before or after they complete their BSN, they must get it at some point in order to legally practice nursing in the United States, according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is true in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The national examination that must be passed is called the NCLEX exam, which stands for National Council Licensure Examination. Passing this exam qualifies a person for entry-level nursing jobs.

Gain Some Nursing Experience

Many people pause at this point in their education to gain some vital nursing experience as an RN. While practically all entry-level nurse practitioner jobs require at least a master’s degree, your beginner’s RN experience will help you decide on a specialization once you decide to continue on to your master’s degree. Also, some graduate programs require and strongly consider nursing experience when they look at accepting nurses into an advanced practice program at the graduate level.

Graduate Education and Specialization

A master’s degree program in nursing usually lasts about two years and is absolutely essential to being qualified for a job as a nurse practitioner. This is the point in a nursing student’s education where he or she must choose an area of health care in which to specialize, such as acute care, adult practice, family practice, women’s health, geriatrics, pediatrics, neonatology and mental health. Some nurse practitioner jobs may require additional certification in certain specialty areas.