So you’ve decided to pursue a career as a Nurse Practitioner. Where to begin? And what will it entail? The good news is the path to becoming an NP in the United States is clear and consistent. It’s a rigorous but rewarding path that leads to a fulfilling professional life.
Many nurses pursue their education by degree (literally), starting with an associate or bachelor degree before pursuing the advanced education and testing required for Nurse Practitioner certification. All practicing NPs have successfully completed a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or doctoral program with an emphasis on NP.
The path to becoming a Nurse Practitioner involves four major steps: two degrees and two certifications. If you’re already a working RN, you can skip to Step 3 below.
Step 1: Complete your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (skip if you’re already an RN)
Studying to become a Registered Nurse (RN) is a challenge in itself, and the first hurdle in becoming a Nurse Practitioner. Many modern nursing schools offer degrees that can be completed either on an accredited campus or online program. You’ll log clinical hours in addition to coursework, to fully prepare you for experience on shift. Like any baccalaureate degree, a BSN takes four years to complete. Some programs will accept previous general education coursework to allow for faster completion.
Step 2: Pass the NCLEX (skip if you’re already an RN)
You can’t get your license to be a practicing nurse without first passing the NCLEX, or the National Certification Licensure Exam. The exam is administered with a maximum six-hour time limit, with a mix of multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, answer sequencing, and other formats. It is scored by percentages in topics like pharmacological therapies and risk reduction. It’s a rigorous test that requires extensive preparation.
Step 3: Complete a Master’s or Doctorate in Nursing
Once you’re a licensed RN, you’re eligible to pursue your NP degree. You may choose to continue your education at the same school where you earned your RN, if advanced degrees are available, or opt for a different nursing school. Like a bachelor’s, you can opt to study at a nursing school campus or through an accredited online school like West Coast University. Nurse Practitioner study builds on your previous degree and experience to ensure you’re qualified for the extensive duties and responsibilities of practice at an NP level. An NP degree is a two-year commitment.
Step 4: Pass the National NP Certification Board Exam
Unlike the NCLEX, there isn’t a single exam option for national NP certification, but you’ll need to pass one to enter practice. There are two recognized boards offering testing options for Nurse Practitioners: The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Both of these boards offer options including exams with specific emphasis on nursing specialties and on primary care or acute care. Choose a test aligned with your planned area of focus as an NP.
Of course all of these steps on their own require a number of commitments and accomplishments, plus a lot of stamina for studying and plenty of perseverance. But if becoming an NP is your ambition, stay the course and you’ll be on the path to a fulfilling and gainful career, the respect of your industry, and the gratitude of your patients. We wish you luck on your journey!
WCU provides career guidance and assistance but cannot guarantee employment. The views and opinions expressed are those of the individuals and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs or position of the school or of any instructor or student.