How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

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If you are wondering how to become a nurse practitioner, then you should be aware that there are three primary requirements that you’ll have to satisfy: a graduate nursing education, sufficient nursing experience, and passing a certification exam. The following takes an in-depth look at each of these prerequisites.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Nurse Practitioner?

The length of time it takes to become a nurse practitioner depends on the amount of time you can dedicate to study, your previous nursing experience and how quickly you can meet all requirements. Becoming a nurse practitioner requires a graduate degree and usually at least one year of nursing experience.

Full-Time vs. Part-Time Programs

Nurse practitioner programs are offered on an accelerated, full-time or part-time basis. At minimum, education requirements may be completed in six years. The undergraduate degree and nursing license take four years to complete, and at least two years are required for the graduate degree. Accelerated programs allow students with a bachelor’s degree in a field other than nursing to complete a graduate program in as little as three years.

Program Prerequisites

To apply to graduate nurse practitioner programs, often at least one year of RN experience is recommended or required. For an aspiring nurse without previous nursing education or experience, this can bring the total time to complete nurse practitioner education and requirements to a minimum of seven years.

Challenging the Board Exam

Lastly, before a nurse practitioner can began practice, they must apply for and take a board exam for national certification. Students can take the certification exam immediately after they graduate. Although, some nurses take up to a year to prepare and sit for the nurse practitioner certification exam.

The time it takes to complete nurse practitioner education is up to you. Depending on full or part time study, and your level of experience and education, you may complete a program in three, six or more years.

What are Nurse Practitioner Education Requirements?

To become a nurse practitioner, one should normally have an undergraduate nursing degree, nursing license and a masters or doctoral nursing degree. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) has recently declared that in the year 2015, the Doctor of Nursing Practice will become the preferred qualification for nurse practitioners. This has left many nurses with doubts as to what qualification they need.

Nurse practitioners are still able to practice with an MSN (Master of Science in Nursing), and do not need to earn a DNP. However, for nurses who are left wondering how to become a nurse practitioner, it is advised that they earn the DNP. In fact, many programs are transitioning their MSN-level NP (Nurse Practitioner) programs to DNP-NP programs.

Admission requirements can be among the most-difficult requirements for aspiring nurse practitioners. A GPA of 3.0 is required for most programs and a grade letter of “C” or higher is required for all courses.  Additionally, stellar letters of recommendation are usually required from graduate-prepared referrers; some schools only accept recommendations from individuals with a doctoral degree. The referrers should come from employers and professors who can attest to your ability in the classroom and clinical setting.

What About Becoming a Nurse Practitioner Online?

Become a Nurse Practitioner Online

With the growing popularity of the internet, even the most selective schools are offering nurse practitioner programs online. Because of the clinical practice hours required for certification as a Nurse Practitioner, it is normally required that nurses either complete the clinical practicum requirements in their city of residence, or travel to their institution to complete degree requirements.

There are several other factors to consider when pondering how to become a nurse practitioner online:

Time Commitment

Although classes are offered online, many require as many as 15+ hours of study per week. Both part and full time study options are usually available, though it is important to assess time commitment necessary to earn the NP degree. Online participants may put in more time than campus-based students.

Campus Visits

Though delivered online, most online nursing programs require students to visit the host institution at some point. Visits can range anywhere from once at the beginning of the program to monthly throughout the course of the program. Before applying to the institution, consider the feasibility of fulfilling any travel requirements. In some cases, not coming to campus for specific visits can result in dismissal.


Various states place restrictions on online nursing programs. Online nursing programs usually require nurses to have licensure in the state in which they live and will complete the nursing practicum. Certain states forbid nurses to take online nursing education. States that forbid licensure vary according to school. Nurses should verify with their school and state licensing board, that their license will be accepted in the state in which they practice if there degree is earned online.

What is the Process for Nurse Practitioner Certification?

To obtain Nurse Practitioner certification one usually must complete a graduate level nursing degree program in an area of specialization prior to pursuing NP certification. Clinical practicum hours and a dissertation or thesis must also be completed. Upon completion of all training, students are able to sit for the national certification exam in their area of practice.

Certification is obtained through one of three nursing bodies:

  1. American Nurses Credentialing Center
  2. American Academy of Nurse Practitioners
  3. National Certification Corporation

Summing Up the Steps in Becoming a Nurse Practitioner

In summary, becoming a Nurse Practitioner requires graduate level education, clinical practicum hours and certification beyond RN (Registered Nurse) training. NPs are required to have an MSN, though most schools are transitioning to the DNP, which will be the preferred qualification by 2015. Though possible, becoming a nurse practitioner online may require on-campus attendance and be susceptible to state restrictions. Ultimately, Nurse Practitioners earn their certification by taking a board exam in their chosen area of specialization.