The nursing profession is diverse. Between RNs, LPNs, CNAs, and NPs, knowing the qualifications of each one can get confusing. But if you want to become a nurse practitioner (NP), it’s important to understand which degree you need to get there.
Earning your NP degree is a journey. From getting your bachelor’s to advancing to a master’s or doctoral degree, your dedication to the dream of becoming a nurse practitioner will be invaluable on the road ahead. Whether you’re already a working RN or you’re starting from scratch, learn which degree you need to break into the NP field.
What Do I Need to Become an NP?
To become a nurse practitioner, you need an RN license, MSN degree, and an APRN license. That means your first step should be getting your RN license. To do that, you must complete an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing, though the bachelor’s is generally the standard. Upon competition of an in-person or online RN program, an RN license will be granted by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing once you’ve passed the NCLEX or National Council Licensure Examination.
To earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree you must first complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Completing a BSN allows progression into a graduate level program such as an MSN program or nurse practitioning program.
Once you complete a MSN degree in nurse practitioning you may sit for the Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) license. Once completed you may practice as a licensed nurse practitioner.
Getting Your Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)
Before you can practice as a licensed nurse practitioner (NP), you must first obtain a graduate level degree called a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. Nursing science offers many MSN degree programs for various types of specialties and interests. An MSN is obtained after you complete a BSN and practice as a bedside nurse for at least a year.
Most programs prefer that you have practiced as a bedside nurse for 2 years, also known as clinical experience. Having clinical experience as a registered nurse is important prior to getting an NP license. You must first practice as a nurse to progress into an advanced practice nurse. The more clinical experience you have will only benefit you in NP school and subsequently NP practice. This is why it’s so important to have clinical experience and not just the educational background. It would be similar to a physician practicing without doing any internship or residency program. Clinical experience is beneficial and necessary.
Pathways to MSN-NP degrees
The traditional pathway to MSN-NP degrees is earning a BSN degree from a 4-year university and then attending graduate school. The traditional path is 16-week semesters over the course of 2 to 4 years. Once didactical learning is completed, you must complete rigorous clinical hours with a preceptor before you can sit for the national license examination.
Clinical rotations are required for all NP specialties. According to the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Program (AANPCP), 500 hours of supervised clinical practice is required in order to qualify for the national exam.
Clinical hours are also called clinical preceptorship and can be defined as a supervised clinical experience which allows students to apply knowledge gained in the didactic portion of a program to clinical practice. Clinical preceptorship is important in nursing because it prepares you for practice as an NP, and it also decreases stress by providing a nurturing environment which allows you to grow and adapt to the new role whilst being supported by your peers.
Types of nurse practitioners
Nurse practitioner licenses offer many specialties. Once core classes are completed during your MSN program, you may branch off into the specialty of your choice. Usually, when you apply for NP school you also apply for the specialty at the same time. This is because some specialties may require clinical experience in that area, such as pediatrics or maternal health. The different types of NP specialties include:
- Family Nurse Practitioner
- Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
- Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Practitioner
- Neonatal Nurse Practitioner
- Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
- Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
- Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner
After earning your BSN degree, most MSN-NP programs take 2-4 years to complete depending on the number of classes you complete each semester. Some online programs offer rolling start dates which allow classes to be completed in 8 weeks instead of the traditional 16-week semesters.
Why would you consider an MSN-NP degree?
Becoming a nurse practitioner gives you more autonomy as a nurse and allows you to diagnose, treat, and prescribe medications under the guidance of a licensed physician. Nurse practitioners work in a variety of healthcare settings including hospitals, physician offices, and clinics. Once your MSN-NP degree is earned and you have passed the national licensing exam, you can refer to yourself as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN).
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurse practitioner’s median pay is $115,800 per year and is growing 45% faster than the national average for all occupations. Growth is occurring due to an increased emphasis on preventative care and demand for healthcare services for aging populations.
How are nurse practitioners credentialed?
States require different requirements for APRNs. In general, nurse practitioners need the following completed prior to practicing as a credentialed healthcare provider:
- APRNs must have a registered nursing license
- APRNs must complete an accredited graduate-level program
- APRNs must pass a national certification exam
- APRNs must have an active APRN license
- APRNs may require cardiopulmonary resuscitation, basic life support (BLS) or advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) certifications
There are several licensing bodies for nurse practitioners. Each of these require periodic renewal similar to a registered nurse license. The licensing bodies for nurse practitioners include:
- American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board
- American Nurses Credentialing Center
- Pediatric Nursing Certification Board
Is becoming a nurse practitioner right for me?
If you’re looking to advance your nursing career into one that offers more autonomy and responsibility, then earning your nurse practitioner degree can be a great decision. Nurse practitioners work independently or in collaboration with physicians. In most states, NPs can prescribe medications, order medical tests, and diagnose health problems. As an NP you may also evaluate test results, refer patients to specialists, and create treatment plans.
APRNs focus on patient-centered care. Communication skills, critical-thinking skills, compassion, being detail oriented, excellent interpersonal skills, leadership skills and resourcefulness are all important qualities of nurse practitioners.
Nurse practitioners play an important role in the healthcare team by promoting health and educating patients about the importance of preventative care across the lifespan. If you are a registered nurse looking to advance your nursing career, nurse practitioning may be the next career path for you.