How to Become a Nurse Practitioner:
The Definitive Guide

Many people don’t know this, but a Nurse Practitioner is an advanced position for a Registered Nurse.

A Nurse Practitioner is able to diagnose, treat, counsel, and prescribe medications to patients in hospitals or doctor’s offices.

Some states even allow Nurse Practitioners to work without a doctor’s supervision.

For anyone that works as a Registered Nurse, becoming a Nurse Practitioner might be the next step in advancing your career.

What is a Nurse Practitioner?

Considering the amount of education that a Nurse Practitioner has, many would assume that they are doctors.

Even though Nurse Practitioners do not hold medical degrees, they are licensed professionals who are responsible for getting and keeping patients healthy.

Whether you have a specialization as a Nurse Practitioner, or you just work in the medical field in general, Nurse Practitioners are a very important component to the healthcare system.

Due to their incredible competency, Nurse Practitioners make it possible for there to be fewer emergency room visits and give doctors the ability to work on other patients as well.


The responsibilities of a Nurse Practitioner can vary depending on the type of facility that you work in.

There are different specialties that a Nurse Practitioner can get into that could change the roles of their job.

However, these are some duties of the average Nurse Practitioner:

  • Diagnose illnesses
  • Treat diseases and other conditions
  • Provide evidence-based care to patients
  • Perform physicals
  • Perform and review diagnostic tests


On average in the United States, a Nurse Practitioner makes around $110,000 a year.

Nurse Practitioners who have specializations, such as geriatrics or pediatrics, or those who have been working in the field for a long time, will make much more.

Some Nurse Practitioners can make more than $152,000 a year.

Just starting out, it’s likely that you won’t make six figures yet.

The average salary for a beginning Nurse Practitioner is around $82,000 a year.

Some of the other factors that can determine the salary of a Nurse Practitioner are the location of where they work, as well as what type of facility they work in.

Nurse Practitioners who have their own practice or work in larger hospitals may make more than Nurse Practitioners working in doctor’s offices or clinics.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

Annually National Average Salary: $111,840


Average Annual Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
District of Columbia$111,950
New Hampshire$110,680
New Jersey$123,810
New Mexico$111,930
New York$122,550
North Carolina$105,890
North Dakota$110,950
Rhode Island$115,310
South Carolina$100,680
South Dakota$102,230
West Virginia$103,170

Annual Average Salary: Top 5 States

The top earning state in the field is California, where the average salary is $138,660.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

California - $138,660
Washington - $126,920
Hawaii - $124,000
New Jersey - $123,810
Minnesota - $122,850
* Employment conditions in your area may vary. * Salary information based on the May 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey.
Conducted by: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Labor.

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

Step 1Earn a Bachelor's Degree

In order to have a great career as a Nurse Practitioner, it is important that you are provided the best education.

Many Registered Nurses earn a Bachelor’s degree in nursing so that they have the knowledge for the job.

This type of degree typically takes around four years to finish, but with a nursing program, it is likely that you will be provided with on the job training during the course of your studies.

Along with either doing an internship or externship, as well as clinical studies, many nursing programs have classes like:

  • Leadership and Communication in Healthcare
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Microbiology
  • Healthcare Statistics
  • Biochemistry
  • Community Health
  • Nursing Science
  • Nursing Ethics

It is likely that with a Bachelor’s degree, students will be required to take classes like English, psychology, and math of some sort.

Once you earn a Bachelor’s degree, it’s possible to take the NCLEX-RN exam to gain licensure and become a Registered Nurse.

Step 2Gain Licensure

Every nurse that plans on working in the United States must become licensed.

Once you register to become a licensed nurse, you will have to take the NCLEX-RN exam, to determine your knowledge and competency about the job.

The NCLEX-RN exam is given twice a year, so please check your local nursing board to find out when the exam is given.

This is a competency-based exam, which means that it will score you on how many answers you get correct.

The more answers you get correct, the fewer questions you will have to answer in total.

The least amount of questions you may have to answer is 75, and the most are 200.

These are all multiple-choice questions, and your score is either pass or fail, there is no grade.

It’s typical for a first-time nurse taking the exam to fail, so it’s possible to retake the exam twice a year.

After you pass the exam, you are now a Registered Nurse and can work anywhere in the United States.

Step 3Get Experience in the Field

Having a license is an important step in any nurse’s road to becoming a Nurse Practitioner but having experience tops that.

Most Nurse Practitioners have experience working in all types of areas of the hospital.

From pediatrics to the emergency room, a Nurse Practitioner should try out all spots in their facility to ensure they have a good grasp of the medical field and all of its components.

After about two years of working as a Registered Nurse, a prospective Nurse Practitioner should think about if they want to specialize in a field or if they want to become a general Nurse Practitioner.

That way, they can gain experience in that specific area, or work in a wide variety of places in order to gain the most knowledge.

Nurse Practitioners should work in ambulatory care, intensive care, as well as geriatrics and acute care.

Step 4Obtain a Master's Degree

The next step on the road to becoming a Nurse Practitioner is to earn a Master’s degree.

In order to be eligible for a Master’s degree in nursing, you must have:

  • A Bachelors degree in nursing from an accredited program
  • An Active Registered Nursing license
  • A minimum of two years of experience working as a Registered Nurse
  • Ability to meet expectations of the program

Most Master’s degrees take about two years to complete for full-time students.

For those that go to school part-time, it can take anywhere from three to five years to earn a Master’s degree.

Often, Registered Nurses work while they go to school, and often times nursing programs will give credit for work done while in school.

Some of the classes that you can expect from a Masters degree program in nursing are:

  • Nursing Statistics and Analysis
  • Global Health Issues
  • Advanced Pharmacology
  • Workplace Leadership
  • Holistic Care of Patients
  • Pathophysiology

Many graduate programs can be found online, but it is important to meet the in-person requirements for lab work and clinical work.


Nursing is a meticulous job in itself, but working toward an advanced career like a Nurse Practitioner means that you will have to gain more education.

Every Registered Nurse must have at least a Bachelor’s degree in order to begin their career in nursing, but a Nurse Practitioner needs to have a Master’s degree.

Nowadays, many employers are even requiring a doctorate in order to become a Nurse Practitioner.

Since this isn’t the law quite yet, we’ll just discuss the Masters and Bachelors degrees.

Getting started in the nursing field means that you will need to have at least a Bachelor’s degree in nursing, which takes around four years to complete.

Many of these types of programs provide in-school training and clinical work so that you can get hands-on experience working with patients and doctors.

There are many courses that must be taken in order to earn this type of degree, along with English, psychology, math, and other electives, some of the classes that will likely be a part of your program include:

  • Microbiology
  • Chemistry
  • Nursing Ethics
  • Nursing Practice
  • Physiology
  • Public Health

After you obtain a Bachelor’s degree and work as a Registered Nurse for several years, you may want to think about furthering your education.

In order to work as a Nurse Practitioner, you must hold at least a Master’s degree in nursing.

Master’s degrees can take anywhere from two to four years, depending on whether you are a full time or part-time student.

Whether you enter a Master’s degree program online or on campus, it’s important to gain hands-on experience with in-person labs and clinical work.

Masters degree programs will likely be more specialized in the field in which you want to work.
Some Nurse Practitioners have specializations, or they can go a more general route.

Either way, some of the classes that you may encounter in a Masters degree program are:

  • Population Health
  • Epidemiology
  • Advanced Pathophysiology
  • Advanced Pharmacology
  • Family Care
  • Advanced Health Assessment
  • Leadership

Many Master’s degree programs also require a capstone assignment or an internship in order to earn a degree.

Video About The Career

Licensing and Certification

It is crucial that you become licensed after you graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in nursing.

A license shows doctors, employers, patients, and other people that you are competent in the area of nursing and have the knowledge to do the job correctly.

In order to become licensed in the United States, you must take the NCLEX-RN exam.

This exam is competency-based, which means that if you answer questions correctly, you won’t have to answer as many.

The minimum amount of questions that you may have to answer is 75 and the most are 200.

There are several facilities that give out this exam twice a year, so check your local nursing board to find out more information.

To become a Nurse Practitioner, after you earn a Master’s degree, you may want to think about becoming certified in a specialization.

There are some associations that provide certification as a general Nurse Practitioner, such as the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.

Eligibility requirements to become a Certified Nurse Practitioner are:

  • Actively licensed and registered in the United States
  • Masters degree from an accredited program
  • Continued education and supervised clinical work

Some of the specialized certification that is offered by various associations include:

  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Adult Primary Care Nurse Practitioner
  • Emergency Nurse Practitioner
  • Advanced Diabetes Management Certification
  • School Nurse Practitioner

Every certification requires the prospective Nurse Practitioner to pass an exam, all of the exam date and times vary by state, so check with your local nursing board for more information.

You can expect the cost for enrollment in certification to be around $400 in most areas.

Every credential expires after 5 years, which means that you will need to retake the exam and show proof of further education in order to become recertified in that specialty.

Certification Example:

nurse practitioner certification

Average Training Program Duration: 4+ Years

It can take some time to work up to the career of a Nurse Practitioner.

Many training programs happen while on the job, which can take several years to learn the ropes.

However, if you are looking for certification training programs, you may be able to find some online.

These programs are given by associations like The American Associate of Nurse Practitioners and have different lengths.

Some programs can take as little as 6 weeks to finish, while others can take several months.

Take a look at your local nursing board to find out your options.

Popular Degree Programs

Job Outlook

The need for Nurse Practitioners will grow around 28 percent over the next ten years.

Which is a lot faster than many other careers in the same field, including Registered Nursing- which is around 12 percent.

Many Registered Nurses are looking for promotions to become Nurse Practitioners, which can lead to higher salaries.

Everyone in the world is becoming more health-conscious, and this requires the need for more healthcare employees.

One issue that may cause a slowdown in the job opportunities for Nurse Practitioners is the requirement of a doctoral degree.

Many employers are now requiring a doctorate in order for a Nurse Practitioner to work in their facility.

Employment Growth Projection: 28%


That's a higher than average projected growth of 53,300 jobs.

Should You Become a Nurse Practitioner?

Overall Satisfaction

Overall Satisfaction: Medium

Having the job of a Nurse Practitioner can be very stressful, but the job is often very rewarding.

Many Nurse Practitioners feel as if they are making a difference in their patients’ lives, as well as forming relationships with those patients.

There isn’t much upward mobility from this career unless a doctorate degree is acquired.

There also isn’t much flexibility in the schedule of this career, and the work to life balance is a bit off.

That doesn’t mean it’s a bad career, because the satisfaction of this career is very optimistic on average.

Average Salary

Average Salary: High

It can pay quite well to work in this field.

When just starting out working as a Nurse Practitioner, most people make around $82,000 a year.

However, as a Nurse Practitioner in the United States, the average salary is around $110,000 a year.

Those that have worked in the field for a long time, or who have certifications and specializations can expect a larger paycheck, up to around $152,000 a year.

Job Growth Outlook

Job Growth Outlook: High

Nursing is a career that will never go out of style.

People that want to become Nurse Practitioners should do it because the job will grow around 28 percent over the next decade.

More Nurse Practitioners are going to be needed, and that means more job opportunities for you.

Hospitals in large populations, or areas in which there are large health issues, will likely see the most need for Nurse Practitioners.

The entire field of nursing will see a huge uplift in career opportunities, but Nurse Practitioners will see the highest boost.

Education Duration

Education Duration: 4+ Years

Working as a Nurse Practitioner shows that you are highly knowledgeable and understand both nursing and the medical field like the back of your hand.

In order to get to that point, it takes a lot of education.

Most Nurse Practitioners have at least a Master’s degree in nursing.

However, the word is that employers are starting to require Nurse Practitioners to gain a doctorate in order to practice.

For now, it takes around 6 years to become a Nurse Practitioner.

A Bachelor’s degree takes around four years to finish, while a Master’s degree can take up to two more.

Personal Skills Needed

Personal Skills Needed

As a Nurse Practitioner, it is likely that you will see a lot in your career.

It requires a certain amount of emotional and physical strength to work in this field.

There are some other requirements as well, these personality traits make for the best Nurse Practitioners:

  • Ethical decision-making skills
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Ability to reason
  • Effective communication with patients and doctors
  • Attention to detail
  • Create personal relationships with patients
  • Knowledge of nursing and medical field
  • Optimism and enthusiasm

Whether you plan to work as a specialized Nurse Practitioner or not, these are some great skills to incorporate into your daily life.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is the average salary for a Nurse Practitioner?

Since the role of a Nurse Practitioner is considered advanced in the medical field, this career makes a little bit more money than a Registered Nurse.

In the United States, a Nurse Practitioner makes around $110,000 a year on average.

This is true for Nurse Practitioners who have been working in the field and have established their career.

For those just starting out in this job, the paycheck can look more like $82,000 a year.

It’s possible to make around $152,000 a year in some areas as a Nurse Practitioner.

Q. How long does it take to become a Nurse Practitioner?

It can take a little while to become a Nurse Practitioner, and this is because it is an advanced job.

As a Nurse Practitioner, you will perform many of the same duties as a doctor, so that means you will need a lot of education.

It takes around 6 years to finish your education to become a Nurse Practitioner.

Four years to earn a Bachelor’s degree, and around two years to finish a Master’s degree.

Q. What does a Nurse Practitioner do?

A Nurse Practitioner is almost like a doctor, except they don’t have the credentials in most cases.

However, a Nurse Practitioner can evaluate, diagnose, and treat patients in a hospital or doctor’s office setting.

Many times, a Nurse Practitioner has a specialization, like pediatrics or geriatrics, and they will work with this specific set of people.

Nurse Practitioners will also guide Registered Nurses in the field as well.

Q. What is the demand for Nurse Practitioners?

It seems that there will always be a need for nurses in this world, and that means there will always be a need for Nurse Practitioners.

This job is not going away anytime soon, the more people who are interested in it, the better.

The rise in technological advances and the growing baby boomer generation has made this career soar.

If you are interested in working as a Nurse Practitioner, now is the time to get into the profession.

Q. How much does it cost to become a Nurse Practitioner?

The cost of becoming a Nurse Practitioner really depends on the types of programs available.

There are online Bachelor’s degree programs that can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $40,000 to complete.

Some on-campus Bachelor’s degrees can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000.

Master’s degrees can cost a bit more, at around $50,000 to complete.

Overall, it can cost anywhere from $70,000 to over $100,000 to become a Nurse Practitioner.

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