To qualify for acceptance into a nurse practitioner (NP) program, applicants must first complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree (BSN). This degree takes four years to complete and contains general education, nursing courses and specialty practicums. There are also options of BSN to MSN programs.
BSN graduate students must successfully pass the NCLEX exam to practice as a licensed registered nurse (RN).
In preparation for obtaining a NP degree, it is highly recommended for RNs to first gain clinical experience in a nursing specialty.
A graduate nursing degree is required to become an NP. NPs must complete at a minimum a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) through an accredited program. An NP program must meet criteria of accrediting agencies, certification organizations and board of nursing requirements.
The MSN education encompasses earning 45 credits hours for the following core competencies:
- Clinical/direct care
- Leadership and collaborative practice
- Improving quality and developing practice
- Developing self and others
Students must also complete 500-1500 hours of clinical training.
DNP programs include coursework in areas such as evidence-based treatment, population-level health, and use of information technology to inform practice.
Graduate programs may be offered online. However, clinical preceptorships must still be completed.
There are five nurse practitioner certification boards in the United States, each of which award certifications across different population-foci.
NP graduates initially may obtain a general certification and then return for more specialized certification. For example, a primary care certified NP may enroll in a post-master’s track to obtain acute care certification.