How to become a Nurse Practitioner

A nurse practitioner works alongside a general, family or specialized practice physician to set up and analyze health screenings, diagnose illnesses and prescribe medications. The nurse practitioner also grants doctor referrals and arranges for preventative health, as well as manages follow-up appointments. Becoming a nurse practitioner requires education beyond a high school diploma, followed by licensing, specialty training and other credentials.


  1. Pursue an undergraduate degree at an accredited college or university. Courses usually focus on reading health assessments, such as lab tests and X-rays.
    • Earn at least an associate degree in nursing for entry-level positions in clinical or hospital settings. Some other subjects require the aspiring nurse practitioner to learn about child, family and individual care, as well as mental health.
    • A nurse practitioner should also pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing. The bachelor’s degree prepares students to become registered nurses (RNs). Required courses prepare nurses for areas such as mental health, psychiatric studies, pharmacology, pediatric care, health assessment and community outreach.
  2. Obtain a graduate degree to boost your career potential. Master’s degree programs in nursing are highly regarded because most healthcare professions prefer it as a minimum educational requirement.
    • A Master of Science degree in nursing, particularly one with a nurse practitioner concentration, prepares students for careers beyond entry level and allows them to choose a specialty such as pediatrics, women’s health, family care or geriatrics, among other fields.
    • It takes at least 2 years to complete a master’s program in nursing, depending on the school.
  3. Apply for a nursing license. Study for and take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to become a registered nurse. Prepare for the international equivalent to licensing, such as CGFNS International, if you plan to work overseas or if you are an international student planning to work in the United States.
    • Take the licensing exam after you receive an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree.
    • Most places require you to pass the exam and obtain a license before beginning as a nurse or nurse practitioner. Each state or territory has its own requirements for applying for the exam, so verify according to your location.
  4. Build some experience on the road to becoming a nurse practitioner. Seek entry-level work in a clinic or a hospital setting to get registered nursing experience.
    • Seek this option after you receive a bachelor’s degree or while you pursue a master’s degree.
    • Entry-level work as a registered nurse usually serves as a stepping-stone to a higher-level career, such as a nurse practitioner.
  5. Get certified to work as a nurse practitioner. After earning a master’s degree and passing the state licensing exam, take the certification examination given by organizations like the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) or the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).
    • Specialties that require certification in addition to licensing include pediatrics, family health, mental health, acute care, diabetes management and school nursing.
    • Jobs are available in hospitals, private practices, schools, nursing homes, clinics and health departments.

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