Smiling nurse with a team behind her

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

Duties, Responsibilities, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary

Smiling nurse with a team behind her

There are several different nursing specialties that Registered Nurses (RNs) can pursue once they’ve earned their license. Each specialty has its own specific job responsibilities, work environments, and benefits. To reach these positions, there are varying education and certification requirements. For many nurses, becoming a Nurse Practitioner (NP) serves as the general next step in their career.

Nurse Practitioners are RNs with advanced degrees and training, enabling them to work with a specialized group of patients. Once they’ve earned their graduate-level education, they can explore various fields to discover the nursing specialty that interests them the most.

(Click here to see our full list of top paying nursing jobs)

We’ve put together a comprehensive guide for anyone who’s wondering how to become a Nurse Practitioner. Continue reading to better understand the role of a Nurse Practitioner, their responsibilities, school requirements, job outlook, and salary.

Nurse Practitioner Definition

What is a Nurse Practitioner?

Nurse Practitioners are Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs). They have earned advanced degrees in nursing, most commonly a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. Nurse Practitioners typically require a state APRN license and a national certification in a patient group focus.

Due to their specialized education and training, Nurse Practitioners can provide higher levels of care than RNs, and hold responsibilities that RNs do not. For example, Nurse Practitioners have the ability to prescribe medications to patients while RNs don’t. They also have the ability to earn certifications in a larger variety of nursing specializations than RNs.

In some US states, NPs can provide care without a physician’s oversight.

Nurse Practitioner: Job Description

What Does a Nurse Practitioner Do?

Nurse Practitioners provide basic preventative health care to their patients. They can prescribe medication, examine and diagnose patients, and provide treatment. They perform many of the same job duties as a physician, and their advanced experience and training make them increasingly indispensable to hospitals and healthcare facilities.

Nurse Practitioner Jobs

Where Do Nurse Practitioners Work?

Nurse Practitioners can find work in a variety of healthcare settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes, and physician offices.

Some of the daily responsibilities held by a Nurse Practitioner include:

  • Assisting in providing primary care to patients
  • Administering medicines and treatments
  • Diagnosing acute health issues
  • Conducting diagnostic tests such as x-rays and EKGs
  • Educating patients on medication and managing their health
  • Maintaining medical records of patients

Nurse Practitioner Schooling

How Long Does It Take to Become a Nurse Practitioner?

What Degree Do You Need to be a Nurse Practitioner?

Becoming a Nurse Practitioner requires extensive education and experience. While the benefits of becoming a Nurse Practitioner are great, you’ll have to dedicate about 6–8 years to higher education in order to become an NP.

The total time it takes to become a Nurse Practitioner varies depending on whether or not you decide to gain work experience as an RN before earning your graduate degree. Here are the steps you’ll need to take in order to become a Nurse Practitioner:

BSN sign on a stack of books with a stethoscope

1. Earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree

A common first step to becoming a Nurse Practitioner is earning your Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree (BSN). A BSN program will take about 4 years to complete unless you’ve already earned your associate’s degree in nursing (ADN). Students who’ve already earned their ADN can enroll in an RN-to-BSN program which they can complete in as little as 20 months.

2. Pass the NCLEX-RN exam

Once you’ve earned your BSN, you’ll have to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) in order to earn your nursing license. Once you’ve passed the NCLEX, you can be licensed as an RN and prepared to jump into the workforce.

(Click here to read our test-prep guide for passing the NCLEX-RN exam)

3. Gain Experience Working as an RN

There are different opinions when it comes to higher education in nursing. For some, the accelerated education path is seen as the most efficient option. Others find that rushing through nursing school to earn a graduate degree may leave you unprepared for the career responsibilities that lie ahead.

RNs with prior work experience have acquired a solid foundation in nursing and are better prepared to become effective Nurse Practitioners once they’ve graduated. Furthermore, many graduate schools require a few years of experience before accepting students into their Nurse Practitioner programs.

4. Earn a Graduate Degree

The minimum degree requirement for becoming a Nurse Practitioner is a Master of Science in Nursing degree (MSN). An MSN degree is the most common graduate degree earned by Nurse Practitioners. You may also earn your Ph.D. in a field related to healthcare administration or nursing education. MSN degrees usually take about 18–24 months to complete, while doctorate degrees typically require 2–3 years of full-time education.

5. Obtain State License and Certification

Once you’ve earned your graduate degree, you’ll be one step away from officially becoming a Nurse Practitioner. Prior to entering the workforce, you’ll need to obtain your state-specific advanced practice nursing license and national specialty certification. Earning your specialty certification qualifies you to enter your chosen nursing specialty or profession.

Nurse Practitioner Salary

How Much Do Nurse Practitioners Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Nurse Practitioners make an average salary* of about $118,000 per year or about $57 per hour.

The lowest 10  percent of Nurse Practitioners earn less than $79,000 a year, while salaries in the top 10 percent can reach as high as $163,000 or more.

Nurse Practitioners rank among the highest paying nursing specialties.

Stethoscope next to money

Highest Paying Industries for Nurse Practitioners

According to the BLS, these are the industries where you’re most likely to find the top-paying jobs for Nurse Practitioners:

Industry Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Home Health Care Services $64.03 $133,170
Psychiatric Hospitals $63.38 $131,830
Outpatient Care Centers $62.11 $129,190
General Hospitals $59.12 $122,960
Physicians’ Offices $55.23 $114,870

Highest Paying States for Nurse Practitioners

According to the BLS, these are the states where you’re most likely to find the top-paying jobs for Nurse Practitioners:

State  Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
California $72.99 $151,830
New Jersey $65.87 $137,010
New York $64.39 $133,940
Washington $62.90 $130,840
Massachusetts $62.28 $129,540

Highest Paying Cities for Nurse Practitioners

According to the BLS, these are the cities where you’re most likely to find the top-paying jobs for Nurse Practitioners:

City Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
San Jose, CA $95.13 $197,870
Napa, CA $88.80 $184,700
Fairfield, CA $86.72 $180,380
San Francisco, CA $85.18 $177,160
Yuba City, CA $76.57 $159,260
San Luis Obispo, CA $73.70 $153,300
Sacramento, CA $73.58 $153,050
Santa Rosa, CA $73.15 $152,150
Santa Cruz, CA $72.25 $150,280
Fresno, CA $71.04 $147,760

Beautiful nurse typing on a laptop

What is the Job Outlook for Nurse Practitioners?

The BLS reports that the overall employment of Nurse Practitioners will grow by 45% by 2030. This is significantly higher than the average growth of all occupations (8%).

Nurse Practitioners also have the greatest job outlook amongst APRNs. Nurse Practitioners will be needed to care for the baby-boom population. They will also be required to treat the growing number of acute and chronic health conditions patients.

Nurse Practitioner Career

Are you ready to start your career as a Nurse Practitioner?

Whether you’re a nurse looking to take the next step in your career or just starting your nursing journey, becoming a Nurse Practitioner is one of the best ways to dive deeper into nursing. Of course, you’ll have to commit time and money to education, but the increase in salary*, benefits, and job outlook pays off over time. If you’re looking to become a Nurse Practitioner, you can start by earning your BSN degree at Provo College.

Click here to learn more about our BSN program.