How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

Nurse listening to child patient's heartbeat

Maybe you have a passion for helping people, or perhaps you enjoy making a difference in your community. Whatever your reasons might be to consider becoming a nurse practitioner (NP), good for you! With the demand for nurse practitioners on the rise, there’s never been a better time to join the career.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of nurse practitioners is expected to increase by 52% between 2020 and 2030, far surpassing the average for other careers.

So how do you get started in this in-demand field? Understanding the steps involved in becoming a nurse practitioner will make the transition easier. We’ll dive into the timeline, starting with deciding on a nursing school, all the way to graduating and advancing your nursing career to become an NP. Laying this groundwork will help you understand the components and plan your nursing career.

As you’ll soon find out, the first checkpoint before you can become a nurse practitioner is earning your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Averett University’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program will help you earn your nursing degree and achieve your goals sooner. If you have at least 60 college credits or a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, you may be eligible for the 16-month accelerated program.

We’ll walk you through the seven steps for how to become a nurse practitioner, discuss why you should become one, clarify what they do and describe the career outlook for nurse practitioners.

What Is a Nurse Practitioner?

A nurse practitioner is a type of advanced practice provider who can diagnose, manage and treat patients alongside other health care professionals. While nurses act on the orders and treatment plans that others have created, nurse practitioners are leaders who create plans of care. They often treat patients independently, or they can be a part of a team of health care providers who coordinate to provide care.

Nurse practitioners can work in various health care settings, from surgery to obstetrics to orthopedics to pediatrics. Nurse practitioners apply their nursing background to a more advanced form of patient care with a greater scope of practice.

two nurses talking in hallway

7 Steps to Become a Nurse Practitioner

Becoming a nurse practitioner is an ambitious goal. Before you start on this career path, it’s helpful to have a clear plan in place. Next, we’ll walk through how to become a nurse practitioner without a nursing degree. Even if you don’t have a nursing degree yet, you can take these steps to earn your degree and get started on the nurse practitioner career path.

1. Choose an ABSN Program

Once you have decided that you want to become a nurse practitioner, where to get your nursing degree becomes your next consideration. To be eligible for NP school, you’ll first need to graduate with a BSN degree. Nursing school means investing your time and money, so choose a high-quality program that will set your career on the right track.

Why Choose a BSN?

When choosing between an associate degree and a bachelor’s degree, those aspiring to become a nurse practitioner should choose a BSN. A bachelor’s degree in nursing will set you up for:

  • Eligibility for nurse practitioner programs
  • Advancement and leadership opportunities
  • Higher salary
  • More job opportunities
  • Greater job stability

How to Choose a Nursing Program

Now that you know the importance of earning a BSN, you may be wondering how to find the right program.

First, confirm that the program is accredited with the CCNE or ACEN, as these agencies ensure that schools follow critical nursing standards and regulations. Then look for state approval of the school, as well, which you’ll be able to find on each state’s Department of Health website. Averett’s ABSN program is CCNE-accredited and state-approved.

Once you’re sure the nursing program is accredited, then evaluate the quality of the program. Some factors you should consider when you are choosing a nursing school include:

  • Length of program
  • GPA and past educational requirements
  • A hybrid program with flexible online coursework
  • Student support (tutoring, faculty availability for questions)
  • Campus atmosphere
  • Quality of clinical rotations and nursing labs

Averett is committed to helping you start your nursing career through a comprehensive 16-month hybrid nursing program. If you have any questions about our ABSN program, begin by reaching out to an admissions counselor.

2. Finish Prerequisites and Apply

Once you choose a nursing school, completing any unfinished prerequisites is your next step. Each school has different admission requirements and prerequisites, so talking with an admissions counselor will help you determine which courses you’ll need to take.

Talk with an admissions counselor at Averett to confirm how many prerequisites you’ll need to complete and to create a timeline for getting them done. You can apply for admission to the ABSN program before you finish the final semester of prerequisites. You just need to provide proof of registration in the classes and plan to send us a transcript after you finish.

Averett nursing student listening to another nursing student's breathing

Most accelerated nursing schools require a variety of core science prerequisite courses. For example, our ABSN program requires prerequisite courses in anatomy and physiology, microbiology, statistics and developmental psychology.

Once you have a plan for prerequisites and meet the admission requirements, the application and admission process will entail completing an online application along with submitting an official transcript and other supplemental documents.

3. Graduate with a BSN

Once you’re accepted into the ABSN program, the next step of how to become a nurse practitioner is learning the nursing knowledge and skills in the 16 months it will take to earn your nursing degree. Accelerated nursing school is a challenge, but you will grow and become a more efficient learner each day.

The ABSN program at Averett is a hybrid program consisting of three components:

  • Online coursework
  • Simulation/skills labs
  • Clinical rotations

The 16-month accelerated nursing curriculum spans four semesters. Averett offers start dates at three different times of the year: January, May and August. As you progress in your education — and especially in your final semester — you will spend more time studying for the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX), which you will take after graduation.

4. Pass the NCLEX and Obtain Licensure in Your State

Once you graduate from nursing school, you’ll apply for nursing licensure and approval to take the NCLEX. You’ll apply for a license in the state where you plan to work as a nurse. States have differing requirements, but you can expect that graduating from an accredited program and passing the NCLEX will be two of the main ones in every state. Visit your state’s Board of Nursing website to learn more about how to apply for registered nurse licensure in your state.

Once you apply for licensure, you’ll then be eligible to sit for the NCLEX. After passing this exam and meeting all state requirements, you’ll receive your nursing license and be allowed to work as a registered nurse.

5. Gain Experience as a Nurse

After the hard work of earning your nursing degree is done, it’s time to start caring for patients and making a real difference every day. You’ll need a couple of years of professional nursing experience before you can apply to nurse practitioner school.

You can start applying for nursing jobs when you are in your fourth semester of the ABSN program. When you apply for jobs, think about which rotations you enjoyed and what types of patients you connected with during nursing school.

Try to get experience in a specialty where you eventually want to work as a nurse practitioner. This approach will clarify your goals and help you narrow down which nurse practitioner specialty to pursue.

averett nursing student examining a patient's ear

6. Apply to an NP Program and Earn Your Degree

Now that you have some experience in bedside nursing, it’s time to move on to the next step. Applying for a nurse practitioner program is the first checkpoint. You can choose an NP program that is either a master’s or doctorate-level program.

Bear in mind that there has been a recent push to have more NPs educated with a doctorate degree, which means that earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) may be in your favor when competing for desirable jobs.

As you’re considering NP programs, you’ll need to choose a program specific to your desired NP specialty. These specialties are based on the population of patients you’ll treat. The options include:

  • Family NP
  • Pediatric NP
  • Neonatal NP
  • Women’s Health NP
  • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care
  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care NP
  • Psychiatric Mental Health NP

Nurse practitioner programs vary in length depending on the population focus and the degree you’ll earn. It takes work and commitment to learn how to become a nurse practitioner. The hard work is worth it, though, and you’ll apply the knowledge you’ll learn in NP school as you care for patients.

7. Pass the NP Certification Exam and Get Licensed

Graduation from an NP program marks your entry into professional practice. You’ll need to take and pass the national NP certification exam, which tests your overall knowledge as well as your population-specific knowledge.

After passing your exam, you’ll be able to receive your state license to work as a nurse practitioner. The investment in your education is finally complete, and now you’re ready for a meaningful and rewarding career as a trusted care provider.

What Does an NP Do?

Nurse practitioners serve as advanced practice health care providers who can treat patients independently. They are involved in diagnosis and patient care planning. Nurse practitioners can diagnose, test, manage and treat patients. In many states, they can also prescribe medications.

If you are looking for a challenge and an opportunity to grow and be a clinical leader, becoming a nurse practitioner may be an excellent fit.

Why Become a Nurse Practitioner?

There are numerous reasons to pursue advancing your career by becoming an NP, including:

  • Greater scope of practice
  • Increased independence
  • Higher salary, averaging $120,680, as of May 2021, according to the BLS
  • In-demand, fast-growing career field
  • Clinical leadership opportunities
  • Respect and trust within the community

Ready to Get Started?

Now that you understand how to become a nurse practitioner, we encourage you to get started today. There’s never been a better time to pursue nursing, especially as a nurse practitioner. You’ll reap the benefits of an in-demand, exciting career as a leader.

Contact an admissions counselor today to get started with launching your nursing career, and take the first step toward becoming a nurse practitioner.