How Long Does IT Take to Become a Nurse Practitioner?

Learn how long it takes to become a nurse practitioner. Research the time it takes to fulfill the education and experience requirements for starting a career as a nurse practitioner.

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Do I Want to Be a Nurse Practitioner?

Nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses (RNs) who have obtained a master's degree in a nurse practitioner specialty. They perform examinations relevant to their specialty, make assessments and diagnoses, order or perform diagnostic tests, perform minor surgical procedures, provide medical treatment and prescribe medications under the supervision of a licensed doctor. These professionals may spend many hours standing and might be required to lift or move patients who need assistance.

Job Requirements

Fast-track programs exist for non-nurses who already have a bachelor's degree; these programs allow them to complete the requirements for a master's degree as a nurse practitioner in about three years. Nurses with a master's degree in a different nursing discipline can complete a post-graduate certificate program in 2-9 months. New students will require 5-7 years to become nurse practitioners. All nurses must be licensed, and certifications may be available in areas of specialization.

The following table describes the general requirements to become a nurse practitioner:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Master's degree or post-graduate certificate***
Degree Field(s) Bachelor's degree in nursing, master's degree or certificate in a nurse practitioner specialty***
Licensure All states license RNs and nurse practitioners**
Certification Several credentialing authorities certify nurse practitioners according to their specialty***
Experience 1-2 years***
Computer Skills Basic word processing, data entry and automated medical records*
Technical Skills Specialized medical equipment such as IV infusion pumps, cardiac monitoring devices, EKG units, oxygen analyzers, nebulizers according to the nurse practitioner's specialty*

Sources: *Careerbuilder job listings (September, 2012), **State nursing boards, ***Nurse practitioner certification boards

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree in Nursing

The first step to becoming a registered nurse is obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree (BSN). This degree takes four years to complete. Courses in nursing degree programs generally include anatomy and physiology, patient health assessment, pharmacology basics, pathophysiology basics and nursing throughout all life stages. Students also participate in supervised clinical rotations in several medical specialties.

Candidates who have a bachelor's degree in another subject can forgo this step for a fast-track option to a master's degree.

Step 2: Obtain State License as Registered Nurse

All nurses must be licensed by the state before they can practice. Most states require candidates to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. There may also be additional state nursing board requirements in order to earn and maintain state licensure. The time frame to complete this process depends on the state and whether or not the applicant has to take the test more than once, but this generally only takes a few months to process.

Step 3: Choose a Specialty and Gain Experience in That Specialty

Aspiring nurse practitioners should choose their specialty before starting a graduate program, because many graduate degree nurse practitioner programs encourage or require applicants to have at least 1-2 years of experience working as a registered nurse in their chosen specialty. Nurse practitioner specialties vary widely and include family practice, pediatrics, gerontology, women's health, midwifery, acute care, mental health, anesthesia and more. The experience can be obtained in a variety of clinical settings, depending on the specialty.

Step 4: Earn a Nurse Practitioner Master's Degree From an Accredited Program

Candidates may choose from several graduate programs in order to become nurse practitioners. Nurses who have a master's degree in a different nursing background may opt to complete a post-master's graduate certificate program as a nurse practitioner. This can take five months to a year to complete, depending on the specialty. Master's degree programs for RNs with a bachelor's degree generally take 1-3 years to complete, depending on the school and the specialty. Graduates with a non-nursing bachelor's degree have the option of enrolling in a BSN-to-master's degree fast-track program. These programs build upon the candidate's prior education and provide about a year's worth of intensive coursework and clinical experience in the nursing discipline, which results in a bachelor's degree in nursing. Once that portion is completed, the student moves directly into the master's degree nurse practitioner specialty program, which proceeds according to the normal time frame of 1-3 years to complete.

Step 5: Apply for Certification

Graduates of accredited nurse practitioner master's degree programs are generally eligible to take the nurse practitioner certification exam for their practice specialty. Most credentialing agencies require applicants to have a valid RN license, to have performed a minimum required number of hours of nursing practice in their specialty and to pass the examination. The minimum number of hours required for certification varies by specialty and generally runs between 750 and 1400 hours. This could take from six months up to a year to complete depending on the hours or shifts the candidate works.

Success Tip

  • Obtain a nurse practitioner license. Most states require nurse practitioners to be licensed in addition to their RN license, which is granted by the state nursing board. The general requirements include a valid RN license, graduation from an approved nurse practitioner master's degree program and certification from a recognized nurse practitioner credentialing agency.
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