A nurse practitioner (NP) is a licensed registered nurse who has advanced education and national certification in a specialized field of practice. As of 2011, “advanced education” means nurse practitioners must hold a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree at minimum. Any bachelor’s degree can provide the foundation for an MSN, but you will have to supplement your existing degree with nursing education, clinical practice and extensive licensing/certification.
Second Degree Programs
Second or dual degrees programs are one way to get the required nursing education. These programs focus on core nursing practices and skills, take one to two years to complete, and lead to a BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) degree. After obtaining a BSN, you’ll need either an MSN (Master of Science in Nursing) or a doctoral nursing degree.
Graduate Master’s Programs
Another way to get the nursing component is to enroll in a direct-entry master’s program, which leads to an MSN (Master of Science in Nursing) degree. These programs usually take about three years to complete, with the first year comprising entry-level nursing courses, followed by two years of master’s-level studies.
Consider a DNP
Or you could enter a BSN-to-DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice) program, which will take three to five years of full-time study. There are two important reasons why you might want to do this. First, working NPs have identified several areas of knowledge, most notably advanced diagnosis and management, where the MSN doesn’t provide enough training. Second, nursing accreditation boards have agreed that as of 2015, the DNP will become the lowest acceptable credential for an entry-level NP. Other doctoral nursing degrees will not qualify.
Licensing and Certification
After completing your education and before you can work as an NP, you’ll need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam and be licensed as a registered nurse. You’ll also need to be certified in your NP specialty by a national accreditation board such as the American Nursing Credentialing Center (ANCC). To be eligible for the certification exam, you will need 500 or more hours of clinical nursing experience in your NP specialty and may need to meet other criteria as well. Then you’ll need to be licensed as a nurse practitioner at the state level, for which ANCC accreditation may need to be supplemented with additional clinical experience.
As a working nurse practitioner you’ll have more clinical independence and authority than most other nurses, and you’ll be well paid for your work. According to ADVANCE magazine’s 2009 salary survey, there are many NP specialties and work settings in which average salaries top $90,000.