How Long Does It Take to Become a Nurse Practitioner?

How long it takes to become a nurse practitioner depends a great deal on what education and experience you already have when you decide to pursue this career.

If you are just getting started with your education, it can take at least six years to complete a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree program. However, that doesn’t mean you have to wait that long to find nursing work, start working with patients and earn a solid income as a nurse in the middle of the process. In fact, experience as a nurse, especially specialty experience, will go a long way toward helping you land a job as a nurse practitioner after your eventual graduation from a master’s degree program.

After you have earned a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), which usually takes about four years, you will be qualified for entry-level staff nursing jobs, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics. While you can work as a nurse with a lower level of education, such as a diploma, certificate or associate degree in nursing (ADN), the bachelor’s degree is the most commonly sought-after prerequisite for entrance into a master’s degree program.

You must complete a master’s degree program and earn a master of science in nursing (MSN) credential in order to work as a nurse practitioner, just like a doctor must earn a doctor of medicine (MD) credential to practice medicine. In fact, a nurse practitioner is now defined as a nurse with an advanced practice graduate degree in nursing. Earning an MSN takes two years on average, if you are attending school full time.

In the future, as nurse practitioners increasingly take on more and more medical responsibilities once thought of as only doctor’s work, the time it takes to become a nurse practitioner may increase. A doctoral degree in nursing practice (DNP) may be required if various nursing organizations reach a consensus on the matter. In 2004, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) took the position that the DNP be the qualification for nurse practitioners by 2015. However, the DNP credential is not yet a mandate, and there is still significant debate on whether this credential is necessary and could improve the quality of health care delivered by tomorrow’s nurse practitioners.