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How to Become a
Nurse Practitioner (NP)

Reach greater career heights as an NP

No matter who you are, what education you’ve earned, or where you’re working today, your career as a nurse practitioner is possible.

U.S. News and World report ranks nurse practitioner as the #1 best healthcare job and #2 best job overall in 2023, due to its high marks in terms of salary, job market, and future growth. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of nurse practitioners is expected to rise 45% from 2022-2032, which represents the fastest projected growth rate for any job in the United States.*

Walk this growing career path to advance your skills in nursing practice, compete for a higher salary, and take your career to the next level.

Nurse Practitioner Discussing Treatment Options with Adult Patient

Requirements: what you need to know before you begin

There are many different pathways to becoming a nurse practitioner with several different entry points depending on where you are in your career right now. To practice as a nurse practitioner, you must earn:

  • A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
  • Board certification
  • Licensure in your state of practice

We’ll teach you what you need to do to meet these requirements.

Important: you cannot become a nurse practitioner without first earning an MSN degree. You will need to fully commit to a graduate-level education to become a nurse practitioner.

Whether you have never taken a nursing class, or you have already earned an MSN and currently work as an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN), there is an NP pathway for you. We exist to help you discover your best path and find enduring career success as a nurse practitioner.

1. Become a Registered Nurse (RN)

You must first become an RN before becoming a nurse practitioner. If you are currently a registered nurse, go ahead and skip down to #2.

While becoming a registered nurse is not a prerequisite to qualify for enrollment into some entry level nurse practitioner programs (which typically require a non-nursing bachelor’s degree with any major), the first part of those programs is essentially becoming an RN. You’ll begin by earning the undergraduate education needed to sit for the NCLEX and become an RN—then begin the graduate component of the program preparing you to become an NP.

If you are not yet a registered nurse, you have two undergraduate degree options to become eligible for the NCLEX and prepare to work as an RN:

How long it takes to become an RN can vary widely based on a number of factors, including your prior education, GPA, and your chosen degree path.

If you are a practical nurse looking to go from LPN to NP, you can take advantage of our BSN bridge option for LPNs. You can potentially take significantly less time to earn a BSN and eventually progress to a nurse practitioner program.

Why it’s worth earning experience as an RN

There’s a good argument for developing a few years of experience as an RN before working towards becoming an NP. You’ll learn the fundamentals of nursing through both your undergraduate study and direct clinical experience on the job, becoming more familiar with how healthcare practitioners work together to deliver patient care. You’ll discover your strengths and weaknesses and develop a clearer understanding of what career path is right for you.

As a registered nurse, you will also have the benefit of working in the healthcare environment and continue earning while you learn. You may find your calling outside of the NP specialty you’re considering now.

Percent of total occupational employment in industry, May 2022i

IndustryRegistered NursesNurse Practitioners
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals56.1%22.5%
Offices of Physicians6.8%47.6%
Home Health Care Services5.7%2.9%
Outpatient Care Centers5.0%9.2%
Nursing Care Facilities (Skilled Nursing Facilities)4.1%0.0%
Employment Services3.9%1.3%
Federal Executive Branch (OES Designation)2.9%0.0%
Specialty (except Psychiatric and Substance Abuse) Hospitals2.1%0.8%
Elementary and Secondary Schools2.0%0.3%
Local Government, excluding schools and hospitals (OES Designation)1.3%1.2%

i. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2022). Occupational employment and wage statistics, May 2022: All data. United States Department of Labor. https://www.bls.gov/oes/tables.htm. This table includes a selection of the top industries for each occupation. That’s why there are only 10 industries listed and percentages do not add to 100%.

Examples of how to interpret this data:

  • 56.1% of all Registered Nurses are employed in General Medical and Surgical Hospitals
  • 47.6% of all Nurse Practitioners are employed in Offices of Physicians

Going from RN to NP generally represents a transition from working in a hospital or bedside role to becoming a more autonomous primary care provider. While some NPs can specialize in acute and emergency care and work in an inpatient or hospital environment, NPs are typically more involved in outpatient care on a more conventional first shift schedule.

If you are more interested in developing your knowledge and skills in bedside nursing, the RN pathway may be a better start. The barriers to entry are lower, and you can always pursue becoming a nurse practitioner in the future.

How RNs can become an NP

With a BSN

 

Current RNs who hold a BSN can take a BSN to MSN or BSN to DNP pathway to earn the degree needed to become an NP.

If you are a current RN and hold a BSN, you may be eligible for an online MSN program (BSN to MSN), which you can typically complete in 2 years or less. Going from BSN to DNP takes closer to 3 years - 32 months on average for our NP pathways.

Without a BSN

It’s possible to become a nurse practitioner without first earning a BSN.

If you are a current RN with an ASN/ADN, you may be eligible to enroll in an Accelerated RN to MSN program, in which you are not required to “stop” to earn a BSN.

2. Choose an NP specialty

Once you’ve become an experienced RN and are ready to advance to nurse practitioner, you’ll need to choose a specialty to pursue. Specialties vary by patient population and type of care.

We currently offer programs preparing students for these NP specialties:

Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)

Deliver primary patient care across the lifespan, including children under the age of 13. Serve a vital role in health prevention, promotion, and disease management.

How to Become an FNP

Family nurse practitioner smiling with patient during appointment

Psychiatric Mental Health NP (PMHNP)

Make your impact by promoting mental health awareness and education. Specialize in psychiatry and mental health to support your patient’s holistic health goals.

How to Become a PMHNP

Adult Gerontology NP (AGNP)

Focus your care in the adult and geriatric patient populations, delivering comprehensive primary care or critical, acute, and emergency care.

How to Become an AGNP

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP)

As a PNP you can focus your care on the pediatric patient population, including newborns, infants, toddlers, adolescents, and young adults.

How to Become a PNP

Women's Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP)

Specialize in women's health and focus your practice on a patient population with unique healthcare needs across the lifespan.

How to Become a WHNP

While it’s important to take the time to choose the specialty that’s right for you, your choice now is not permanent for the rest of your career. These represent first steps towards positioning you for many different types of NP jobs within each specialty.

You can potentially go in a new direction in the future. Many post master’s certificate nursing programs are designed for nurse practitioners who want to transition from one specialty into another, such as going from FNP to PMHNP, or FNP to AGPCNP. These programs typically don’t take as long to complete as a traditional MSN program.

You may also find that as a nurse practitioner you would like to pursue a certificate in academia to further support others becoming a nurse practitioner.

According to the 2022 American Associate of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) National Nurse Practitioner Workforce Survey, the significant majority of nurse practitioners are certified as Family Nurse Practitioners (FNP):

CertificationPercent of NPs
Family70.3%
Adult-Gerontology Primary Care8.9%
Psychiatric/Mental Health6.5%
Adult-Gerontology Acute Care6.1%
Adult5.7%
Acute Care2.9%
Pediatrics-Primary Care2.4%
Women's Health2.2%
Gerontology0.9%
Pediatrics-Acute Care0.6%
Neonatal0.5%

3. Enroll in an educational program

Once you’ve chosen your specialty, it’s time to choose from available nurse practitioner programs concentrating in that specialty. Look for an accredited school with an established track record of success in helping students pass exams and boards expediently.

All of our program options for nurse practitioners are CCNE accredited1, designed to offer many different potential entry points into an NP career path:

Family Nurse Practitioner FNP with Child Patient

Family Nurse Practitioner

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner PMHNP Smiling with Adult Patient

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

Acute Care Nurse Practitioner in Busy Hospital

Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner

Adult Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner with Elderly Patient

Adult Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner

PNP Pediatric nurse practitioner smiling with baby patient

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

Women's health nurse practitioner smiling while speaking with female patient

Women's Health Nurse Practitioner

4. Complete clinicals

Preparation to practice as an NP goes beyond the classroom. Practical, hands-on clinical training and experience prepares you best for success in your first nurse practitioner job.

Typically, eligibility for certification exams require at least 500 faculty-supervised clinical hours as part of your nurse practitioner program.i

We believe the best prep for an advanced practice role is real, prescriptive learning through every day experience. That’s why we heavily emphasize clinicals in the development of our programs.

i. Our NP program options range from 540-585 total clinical hours.

This isn’t just shadowing

In clinicals you will do much more than shadowing or observing your preceptor.

You will be an active participant working closely with your preceptor to assess and treat patients.

The clinical component of the program brings everything together to prepare you to practice on your own as a nurse practitioner—and succeed right from the beginning in your first full-time job.

We pledge your clinical placement

No matter the NP specialty you choose, clinicals are vitally important to your education and career success. Choose a nursing school dedicated to your success in securing clinicals.

Enroll in any of our nurse practitioner program options and we pledge your clinical placement through following our Clinical Guidance Process.

While we encourage you to find your own preceptor and clinical sites, we provide extensive support through our Clinical Guidance Process should you find difficulty.i  With Herzing, you are never on your own.

i. Subject to terms and conditions outlined in the enrollment documents.

MSN Placement Pledge Badge

Classes Start July 8th

Waived Enrollment Fee

5. Become certified

We strongly recommend getting certified after graduating with your master’s degree. You’ll be in the best position to find a great job and continue to advance your career. Some states and organizations require certification to practice.

Enroll in one of our accredited nurse practitioner program options1 and you’ll meet the eligibility requirements to sit for American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), or National Certification Corporation certification exams to become a Board Certified NP. The exam you’ll take depends on the specialty you choose, including:

  • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Certification (AGACNP-BC)
  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Certification (AGPCNP-BC)
  • Family Nurse Practitioner Certification (FNP-BC)
  • Pediatric Nurse Practitioner - Primary Care (CPNP-PC)
  • Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (Across the Lifespan) Certification (PMHNP-BC)
  • Women's Health Care Nurse Practitioner (WHNP-BC)

6. Obtain licensure in your state

Note the difference between being licensed and certified: becoming certified shows employers you are capable of practicing as an NP, while licensure determines if you are legally allowed to practice in your state of residence.

Each state has their own requirements for licensure as an advanced practice nurse. You will need to find the requirements as well as the current process for licensure, which can be found on your state’s board of nursing website.

Keep in mind employers may require board certification before hiring a nurse practitioner even if practicing without certification is legally permissible in your state.

Frequently Asked Questions

There are two types of general NPs: Adult Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioners (AGPCNPs) and Family Nurse Practitioners (FNP). Both NPs provide ongoing health counseling, prevention and management for their patients.

The primary difference is the patient population they care for: FNPs practice across the lifespan in family practice, including pediatric, adult, and geriatric care. AGNPs work only with adolescent, adult, and geriatric patients.

If you are open to working with children you may choose the FNP path, while those who prefer to work with adults only may choose the AGNP path.

Nurse practitioner represents an advanced practice role in nursing—it’s not an easy job, and our goal is to prepare you best for success! We strive to keep coursework manageable, but provide you with the knowledge, skills, and valuable clinical experiences to succeed as a nurse practitioner.

Our goal is to help you balance the challenge of an NP curriculum with everything else in your life, including your work, family and friends. You can take courses at the right pace for you, so you can get the most out of going back to school and be ready to practice as a nurse practitioner.

It can take roughly 3-5 years to go from non-nurse to NP through our program options but it depends on what education you’ve already earned and how quickly you want to progress.

Primary factors influencing nurse practitioner pay are experience, where you work, degree level, and the state in which you practice. Your specialty, and the demand for those services in your area, can also potentially impact how much you can make.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the highest paid nurse practitioners work in Community Food and Housing, and Emergency and Other Relief Services industry, indicating nurse practitioners working in emergency care may demand the highest salaries on average. However, specialty is just one of many factors influencing pay, and it’s still possible to make a competitive salary in primary care, acute care, family practice, mental health or any other NP focus.

The highest degree you've earned can also make an impact. Earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) may increase your salary potential as a nurse practitioner. Medscape’s 2021 APRN Compensation Report states nurse practitioners with a doctorate make about 5% more than those with a master’s degree.1

The BLS reports nurse practitioners across all specialties earn an average annual salary of $128,490 per year ($61.78 per hour).* No matter the specialty, nurse practitioner represents a potentially lucrative career path with an average salary well above the national average across all occupations.

1. Hurt, A. (2021, December 3). Average income for advanced practice nurses continued to increase during pandemic: Survey. Medscape. https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/964081

Yes! It’s a career path with excellent pay, a very positive employment outlook, and full of potential to make a real impact in your community helping people heal.

7. Find your first NP job

After earning an education, getting certified, and becoming licensed in your state, you’ve taken every step needed to qualify for jobs as a nurse practitioner.

The road to becoming a nurse practitioner navigates many challenges and obstacles. Nurse practitioner school demands fierce commitment, discipline, and a desire for learning.

On the other side you can discover an engaging, rewarding career helping people become healthier, happier, and better prepared to find their own path.

We exist to help you get there.

Explore Herzing University’s nurse practitioner program options

CTA Bg

1. The master’s degree program in nursing and post-graduate APRN certificate program at Herzing University Madison are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (http://www.ccneaccreditation.org). Herzing University is approved to offer programs in an online learning modality through association with the main campus in Madison, Wisconsin.


* Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics 2023 / Occupational Outlook Handbook 2022. BLS estimates do not represent entry-level wages and/or salaries. Multiple factors, including prior experience, age, geography market in which you want to work and degree field, will affect career outcomes and earnings. Herzing neither represents that its graduates will earn the average salaries calculated by BLS for a particular job nor guarantees that graduation from its program will result in a job, promotion, salary increase or other career growth.

Classes Start July 8th

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