Nurse Practitioner Education Requirements: How to Become an Advanced Practice Nurse

Nurse Practitioner education requirements include completion of a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) as well as a graduate degree; both involve a great deal of clinical practice. Once you become an NP, you may choose an area of specialty, which is just one benefit of pursuing advanced nursing practice.

Become a nurse practitioner. Opportunity awaits. - CTX nurse in lab coat

If you’re looking to begin a career in healthcare, you should know that becoming a Nurse Practitioner (NP) opens the door to tremendous career opportunity. We’ll explore how to become a Nurse Practitioner — including Nurse Practitioner education requirements, if you can become a Nurse Practitioner without a nursing degree, and how long it takes to become a Nurse Practitioner.

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

Becoming an NP is an academically rigorous path requiring the completion of hundreds of hours of clinical practice, but as you’ll see later in this blog, it’s well worth the effort. To become a Nurse Practitioner, you must earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), become a licensed registered nurse (RN), complete a master’s (MSN) or doctorate degree (DNP) in nursing, and pass an NP board certification exam. We’ll go into more detail about each step of becoming a nurse practitioner below.

1. Start with a BSN

The first step toward fulfilling Nurse Practitioner degree requirements is to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. The traditional BSN takes four years to complete and includes general education coursework (with a strong concentration in math and science) as well as nursing-specific coursework. In addition, you must gain a great deal of hands-on clinical experience (the number of hours varies by school) in order to graduate. A little later, we’ll look at the Accelerated BSN (ABSN) track at Concordia University, Texas (CTX), which will allow you to receive a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) in less time — 16 months.

2. Pass the NCLEX-RN® and Obtain Licensure

Once you’ve completed a BSN, the next step toward fulfilling Nurse Practitioner requirements is attaining RN licensure. To become a licensed RN, you must earn a proficient score on the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN®). This exam, administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), evaluates both nursing knowledge and critical thinking skills. Successful completion of the exam serves to ensure qualification for work in hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

The NCLEX follows a variable question format, meaning the number and difficulty of questions are dictated by the test takers' performance. The test is written in a variety of formats, including fill-in-the-blank and ordered response.

ABSN@CTX student

To register for the NCLEX, you must first complete all requirements from a nursing program and apply for the proper nursing credential from your state board of nursing. Since nursing license requirements vary by state, you should check with your state regulatory board before applying.

3. Gain RN Experience

Most graduate programs require applicants to gain 1-2 years of real-world clinical experience as an RN before admission. While working as an RN, you can explore various specialties to determine your future area of focus.

4. Enroll in a Graduate Program

Once you’ve earned a BSN and become a RN, the next Nurse Practitioner education requirement is the completion of a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Be sure that the program you choose is fully accredited and has a high graduate certification rate before enrolling.

Earn an MSN or Doctoral

Nurse Practitioner school requirements include completion of a graduate-level nursing degree, or Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), at minimum. MSN programs build on the foundational knowledge of the BSN degree. By completing a MSN, you’ll gain an advanced, deeper understanding of nursing practice.

Completion of an MSN requires both classroom study and clinical hours. Core courses may include advanced pharmacology, advanced pathophysiology, advanced health assessment, nursing administration and ethics. In sum, an MSN provides a well-rounded education that will prepare you to become a nurse leader.

Once pursuing graduate study, you may choose to focus your coursework on a specialty — be it a specific setting (such as acute care) or age group (such as pediatrics).

There are a variety of Nurse Practitioner specialties to choose from, including:

  • Acute Care
  • Adult Nursing
  • Family Practice
  • Gerontology
  • Neonatal Nursing
  • Pediatrics
  • Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing
  • Women's Health

Earn a DNP

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs build on MSN content, providing advanced clinical training. With a DNP, you’ll get an in-depth, doctoral education that will equip you to provide expert patient care, open the door to supervisory roles, and potentially increase your income.

It’s also important to note that employers are increasingly requiring a DNP degree for Nurse Practitioners. In fact, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) has recommended the DNP degree as the standard for NPs since 2004. And in 2018, the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF) moved to require DNP degrees as the industry standard for NPs by 2025.

5. Pass the National NP Certification Board Exam and Obtain NP Licensure

Concordia University Texas - Nursing student smiling

Once you’ve completed a graduate nursing program, you’ll need to pass a national board certification exam specific to your area of focus. Licensing criteria varies by state, but all states require a proficient score on a national board certification exam in your chosen specialty. These exams assess general advanced practice nursing competency as well as understanding of specialty populations.

After passing this exam, you can apply for initial NP licensure in your state. Please note that NPs must renew their certification and licensure regularly by meeting continuing education and other requirements. For more information about these requirements, contact your state’s regulatory agency.

6. Find Employment

NPs are employed in a vast array of settings, including hospital outpatient and inpatient units, private doctors’ practices, emergency rooms, community health centers, rural health clinics, and urgent care clinics.

Numerous hospitals offer NPs paid fellowships, allowing them to experience rotations in a variety of specialties with the hope of possible employment upon their completion. This is a great opportunity for new NP graduates just beginning their careers.

Can I Become a Nurse Practitioner without a Nursing Degree?

As we mentioned earlier, a BSN is required for application to a graduate NP program, even if you’ve already completed a bachelor's degree in another discipline, you may not have to start your nursing degree from square one. If you hold a non-nursing bachelor’s degree or 60+ non-nursing college credits with a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher, the ABSN track at CTX in Austin will allow you to earn a BSN in as few as 16 months.

To provide a comprehensive nursing education in an accelerated timeframe, the ABSN track at CTX follows a blended learning model, incorporating online coursework, hands-on labs, and in-person clinical rotations.

Online Coursework

Online study, like traditional on-campus study, requires you to complete a curriculum within a specified timeframe, meeting deadlines along the way. However, with online coursework, you have the freedom to choose when and where to complete your course requirements.

student studying at a coffee shop

At CTX, our accelerated nursing track will provide you with a solid foundation in nursing theory, nursing clinical practice, pharmacology, leadership, and more. You’ll complete your online coursework through an intuitive e-Learning platform that lets you:

  • Listen to and read coursework material.
  • Engage in interactive learning exercises.
  • Receive and submit assignments.
  • Discuss assignments with fellow students through our online discussion forum.
  • Connect with instructors through scheduled chat sessions.
  • Stay organized using our calendar function.

Did you know?
At CTX, our online ABSN courses are taught by the same distinguished faculty who teach in our traditional campus-based traditional nursing track.

Skills and Simulation Labs

Another key component of your accelerated nursing education at CTX is experiential learning in our state-of-the-art nursing labs, which emulate the clinical environments you’ll experience as an RN.

In skills labs, you’ll practice and hone nursing skills, from vital sign assessment to IV insertion, in a supervised, supportive setting.

Our simulation labs provide a safe space in which you’ll care for mock patients — portrayed by fellow students, instructors, and lifelike medical manikins. Our faculty manipulate our hi-fidelity manikins behind the scenes to exhibit symptoms and reactions to care. So you’ll learn to prioritize care steps in real time. Simulation labs allow you to develop critical thinking skills and clinical judgment, building the knowledge and confidence needed to care for real patients in your clinical placements.

Clinical Placements

Nursing student using stethoscope to listen to patient's heartbeat

CTX has developed strong community partnerships with healthcare organizations throughout the Austin and Central Texas area to provide you with quality clinical experiences.

During your clinical rotations, you’ll work alongside our experienced clinical faculty to provide patient care under supervision. You’ll gain diverse nursing experiences in areas such as:

  • Emergency Care
  • Geriatrics
  • Orthopedics
  • Adult Health
  • Mental Health
  • Obstetrics
  • Pediatrics
  • Intensive Care
  • Acute Care
  • Long-term Care

Clinical rotations also allow you to network with area healthcare employers. If you make a good impression, you may have an advantage when it comes time to apply for jobs.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Nurse Practitioner?

While the number of years it takes to become an NP varies, it’s possible to estimate the time invested in each stage of the journey.

BSN programs typically take four years to complete, but as we’ve seen, by leveraging prior college credit, it’s possible to earn the degree in as few as 16 months through an ABSN track such as the one CTX offers.

Then, as mentioned above, once you earn your BSN, you’ll need to earn a graduate-level nursing degree. Some graduate programs require one to two years of work experience as an RN prior to admittance.

From there, MSN programs can take as little as one year to complete, but one to two years is the norm. The exact timeframe varies by specialty, educational background, and enrollment status.

ABSN student working in sim lab

While full-time students can generally complete a DNP in three to four years, many students attend school part-time while working. Most schools require DNP completion within six to seven years.

In sum, fulfilling all the necessary requirements to become an NP can take between five and 15 years, depending on academic background and other factors.

Your Future as a Nurse Practitioner

Now that you’re familiar with the amount of time and effort it takes to become an NP, let’s look at the benefits of choosing this rewarding profession.

You’ll Be in High Demand

An increase in chronic health conditions, growth in the number of those insured (due to Medicaid expansion), the aging and associated medical needs of the baby boomer generation, and a shortage of doctors, have led to increased demand for NPs nationwide. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of NPs in the U.S. is expected to grow by 52 percent between 2019 and 2029.

Did you know?
The mean annual pay for an NP is $114,510.

This is partly because the number of newly licensed doctors becoming primary care providers is lower than the number of primary care doctors retiring. In response to this trend, NPs are taking on the role of primary care provider in a variety of practice settings. NPs can perform most of the functions that doctors do, and at a reduced cost. Hiring NPs is seen as a way to address growing patient demand and improve patient care.

Independent Practice is Within Reach

As of July 2021, 23 states and the District of Columbia have granted NPs the ability to practice independently. Practice and licensure laws in these states allow NPs to evaluate patients; diagnose, order and interpret diagnostic tests; and initiate and manage treatments, including prescribing medications and controlled substances, under the authority of their state board of nursing.

Opportunities Abound

Most of us have experienced NPs in a primary care setting. However, there is a growing need for NPs in all areas. They work in a variety of clinical and other settings, including school-based health centers, hospitals, correctional facilities, Veterans Health Administration facilities, and urgent care facilities. These days, NPs partner with, and even lead, interdisciplinary teams of healthcare providers.

Alternatively, NPs may apply their education and expertise to become university educators or researchers, legal or health policy consultants, healthcare administrators, or elected officials.

Ready to Become an NP? Let Us Help You Get Started

Considering the advantages of becoming an NP — including career opportunity, a generous salary, increased autonomy, and a wider scope of practice — the investment of time and effort is worth it.

Contact us today to learn how CTX can help you kick-start your career in nursing, starting with a BSN from our 16-month ABSN track.