Nurse Practitioner License and Certification Information

A nurse practitioner is a registered nurse with advanced education and specialty clinical training that allows him or her to provide preventive and treatment services. Nurse practitioners work in clinics, hospitals, private practices and other healthcare facilities. They must hold a license in the state in which they practice and meet certain state and national qualifications.

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Education Requirements for Nurse Practitioners

Nurse practitioners (NP) must have a master's degree, a post-master's certificate or a doctoral degree in nursing from an accredited program. Most degree programs involve completing clinical work and courses in health assessment and promotion, pharmacology, diagnosis and disease prevention.

Most students choose a specialty area and incorporate the relevant classes into their degree program to eventually become certified in an advanced practice specialty. Students are encouraged to select their specialty prior to starting graduate school and can pick from many different clinical areas, such as acute care, adult care, pediatrics, geriatrics, women's health and critical care, among others.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, admission requirements for graduate nursing programs include a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), a registered nurse (RN) license and a minimum score on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or the Miller Analogies Test (MAT). Applicants must also have a minimum amount of prior clinical experience.

Licensure Information

To qualify for licensure, aspiring NPs must first complete the education and training requirements to become an RN in their state. This involves earning an associate degree, a bachelor's degree or a diploma from an accredited nursing program. Nursing programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC).

Each state's Board of Nursing specifies licensure requirements. In all states, RNs must pass the National Council Licensure Examination, or the NCLEX-RN. This is a standardized exam used to qualify candidates for entry-level nursing practice.

RNs who want to continue their education to become a NP must first earn a BSN. RNs who have a diploma or associate's degree (ADN) in nursing must upgrade their education by taking a diploma- or ADN-BSN bridge program.

There is no licensure exam for nurse practitioners similar to NCLEX-PN for practical nurses or NCLEX-RN for registered nurses. Licensure laws differ depending on the state. Generally, NPs are licensed by the Board of Nursing for the state in which they will practice. A state may use NP certification exams as a means of determining competency of a candidate. A NP, after passing certification exam, must apply to his or her state in order to be licensed. There may be additional requirements. They then can work as a NP under the scope of practice (regulations and rules) of their state.

A NP may obtain licensure to prescribe drugs or medication. Again, requirement for licensure or prescriptive authority varies by state. For example, for the state of Indiana, NPs must have a master's degree and have taken certain courses like advanced physical assessment or pharmacology. Licenses must be renewed at certain intervals, such as every three years.

Specialty Certification

After completing an advanced nursing degree program, graduates are eligible to register for a national certification examination in their specialty to become a certified NP. The two largest certifying boards are the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). The AANP Certification Program offers national certification examinations for NPs wanting to work as certified adult, gerontology or family nurse practitioners. The ANCC offers specialty certification examinations in many areas.

Eligibility requirements for certification can vary by specialty, and candidates should check the specific requirements for certification in their particular field. In addition to having a graduate degree in nursing, applicants generally must hold a current, active RN license in their state of practice. They also must have a minimum of 500 supervised clinical hours in their nurse practitioner specialty to be eligible, according to the ANCC.

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