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How to become a nurse practitioner

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Nursing is one of the most important professions in the world, tasked with providing one-on-one care for patients in need. Within the nursing career trajectory, there are a wide variety of specialties and areas of expertise. Read on to discover how to become a nurse practitioner (NP), one of the highest-earning positions for nurses.

What Nurse Practitioners Do

Becoming a nurse practitioner is an end goal for many nurses worldwide, as the median salary for an NP is over $117,000 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Aside from the lucrative pay, many nurses also want to pursue becoming an NP because it is a position that affords a great deal of responsibility and control over patient care. As a nurse practitioner, you may:

  • Act as an intermediary between patients and doctors
  • Participate in medical research projects
  • Manage and coordinate primary and emergency care
  • diagnose conditions
  • write prescriptions

Those final two points, diagnosing patients and prescribing medications, separate NPs from registered nurses.

Educational Requirements for Nurse Practitioners

Before becoming an NP, you'll need to go through the proper educational channels and get the required degrees. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners requires that you have a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing (BSN) before you can attend a master's-level NP program. To get licensed as an NP, you will need to undergo nurse practitioner schooling to obtain either a Master of Science in Nursing degree (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree (DNP).

Currently, the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) is pushing for DNPs to be a requirement for APRNs. Thus, if you want to avoid the need to take additional tests in the future to upgrade from an MSN, your nurse practitioner education may need to stem from a DNP degree.

Credentials for Nurse Practitioners

Nurse practitioners can have different specializations and credentials awarded by several organizations. In general, you will likely receive certifications as well as your NP licensure. Below, we'll go over the differences in these types of credentials as well as some of the popular organizations that award them.

NP Certifications

Certifications are add-ons to your nurse practitioner status that allow you to specialize in a specific area of care. For example, some NPs have certifications in oncology through the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation, gerontological care through the American Nurses Credentialing Center, or certifications through a number of other organizations.

You could specialize in acute care, family practice, cardiac nursing, women's health, and more. The goal of certifications is to provide additional expertise in a narrow niche. With certifications, you can expand your repertoire, provide more in-depth care for patients, and negotiate higher compensation.

At minimum, you'll need to take at least one certification exam to become a nurse practitioner.

NP Licensure

On the other hand, licensure is necessary for you to begin work as a nurse practitioner. To get your license as an NP, you will need to meet all the nurse practitioner requirements in both education and testing.

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) administers the NCLEX exams for nurses. Since nurse practitioners are a step above RNs, you'll need to get your license as a registered nurse first, through the NCLEX RN exam. Additionally, you are required to become licensed as an APRN (advanced practice registered nurse) before you can become an NP.

Unlike RNs, APRNs are decided at the state level and there is no nationally recognized test for them. The new APRN Compact designed by the NCSBN, but not yet enacted, will help APRNs use their licenses in other states more easily. It must first be enacted by seven states.

Your Guide to Becoming an NP

Let's do a brief, condensed recap on how to become a nurse practitioner. Below is a list of short steps you'll need to take to ensure you can get your NP license.

  1. Become an RN by graduating from an accredited nursing school and passing the NCLEX RN.
  2. Gain experience as an RN and add on certifications when you can.
  3. Get your BSN if you haven't already. You will need one if you want to become an NP.
  4. Get your MSN or DNP (preferably a DNP to avoid having to upgrade later) by attending graduate school.
  5. Become certified. Get at least one certification to qualify to take the exam for NP licensure.
  6. Sign up for your NP licensure exam.

Wondering how long it takes to become a nurse practitioner? All of the above steps take about six to eight years in total to complete. That's a big commitment, but NPs earn more money and take on greater responsibilities than RNs.

How Exam Edge Practice Exams Can Help You Get Your NP License

They say that practice makes perfect. That's not really the case, but practice does tend to make you better at tasks like test-taking. By giving you familiarity with your nursing practitioner license exam, practice exams from Exam Edge can help you pass the real test the very first time. Our practice tests cover the same material as the real exam, can be taken in both timed and untimed versions, and provide feedback on any missed questions.

Use our tests to gauge your readiness for the NP license exam and to create a personalized study plan that focuses on exactly the areas in which you consistently struggle. Plus, you can always check out our blog for other helpful study tips and online exam preparation resources

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