Is becoming a nurse practitioner right for me?

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What do nurse practitioners do?
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How to become a Nurse Practitioner

The requirements for becoming a nurse practitioner can vary by state and by specialty. Be sure to research the specific requirements in your area and in the area of nursing you are interested in pursuing.

To become a nurse practitioner, you generally need to complete the following steps:

  • Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Degree: A nursing degree takes four years of study and prepares you to become a registered nurse (RN). You can find BSN programs at universities, colleges, and some hospitals.
  • Become a Licensed Registered Nurse: After completing your BSN degree, you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to become licensed as an registered nurse. This exam is administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).
  • Gain Experience as a Registered Nurse: Most nurse practitioner programs require applicants to have at least one or two years of nursing experience as an RN.
  • Complete a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Degree: This is the minimum educational requirement for becoming a nurse practitioner. MSN programs typically take two to three years to complete and provide advanced training in areas such as pathophysiology, pharmacology, health assessment, and clinical decision-making.
  • Obtain Certification: After completing your MSN degree, you must pass a certification exam to become licensed as a nurse practitioner. There are several certifying bodies, including the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP).
  • Apply for Licensure: Once you have completed your education and obtained certification, you must apply for licensure as a nurse practitioner in the state where you plan to practice.

There are a number of certifications available for nurse practitioners, depending on their specialization and area of practice. Each certification has different eligibility requirements, exam formats, and recertification requirements, so it's important to carefully review the information provided by the certification organization.

Here are some of the most common certifications for nurse practitioners:

  • American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) Certification: This is the most widely recognized certification for nurse practitioners in the United States. ANCC offers certification in a number of specialty areas, including acute care, adult-gerontology, family, pediatric, and psychiatric-mental health.
  • Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB) Certification: This certification is specifically for nurse practitioners who specialize in pediatrics. The PNCB offers certification for primary care pediatric nurse practitioners and acute care pediatric nurse practitioners.
  • American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB) Certification: This certification is available to nurse practitioners who practice in family, adult-gerontology, and adult psychiatric-mental health specialties.
  • National Certification Corporation (NCC) Certification: This certification is available for nurse practitioners who specialize in women's health, neonatal, and pediatric specialties.

There are many professional associations for nurse practitioners (NPs), each with their own focus and areas of expertise. Here are some of the most well-known associations for NPs:

  • American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP): This is the largest professional association for nurse practitioners in the United States, with more than 135,000 members. AANP offers advocacy, education, and networking opportunities for NPs in all specialties.
  • National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (NAPNAP): This association is dedicated to promoting optimal health for children from birth through young adulthood. NAPNAP offers education, networking, and advocacy resources for pediatric NPs.
  • Gerontological Advanced Practice Nurses Association (GAPNA): This association is focused on the care of older adults, and offers education, advocacy, and networking opportunities for NPs who specialize in geriatrics.
  • American Nurses Association (ANA): While not specifically focused on nurse practitioners, the ANA is the largest nursing organization in the United States and offers resources for all nurses, including NPs.
  • Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN): This association is dedicated to promoting the health of women and newborns, and offers resources for NPs who specialize in women's health, obstetrics, and neonatal care.

Read our in depth Q&A interview with a Nurse Practitioner!