Action Plan- How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

So, you have decided you are interested in becoming a nurse practitioner.  What are the next steps you should take?

Start now!  There is discussion that a doctorate degree (DNP) will be required for graduation from nurse practitioner schools in 2015.  While not all schools plan to require the DNP by 2015, many will so your educaiton options will become increasingly limited for getting a nurse practitioner degree at the master’s level.  If you complete your nurse practitioner degree before this change you can get the same job and make the same amount of money with less schooling and therefore a mush lower cost!

One of the best things about the nurse practitioner career is the flexibility of options for your education.  You can become a nurse practitioner if you are already a nurse or you can enroll in a school with a ‘bridge’ program allowing an individual with a degree in a field other than nursing to complete a nurse practitioner program.  Most schools offer both full-time and part-time education options and are eager to accomodate working students with online courses and courses that are held on evenings or weekends.

How do you get started on your nurse practitoiner degree?  First, research nurse practitoiner programs.  If you do not have a nursing degree, find out which schools offer bridge programs (See Special Entry Options in the 2012 Guide to Nurse Practitioner Programs in each school profile for this information).  If you are open to relocating, which areas of the country would you be interested in attending school?  Taking classes online can be very convenient especially if you plan to work while you complete your nurse practitoiner program (also convenient if you like to avoid traffic, stay at home in your pajamas, browse facebook while simultaneously listening to the professor etc.).  ThriveAP’s Guide to Nurse Practitioner Programs will be very helpful as it contains all of this information in a consolidated format.

Secondly, figure out what requirements for admission you will need to complete.  What prerequisite classes do you need to take?  Prerequisite requirements for each school can be found in ThriveAP’s Guide to Nurse Practitioner Programs.  Make sure your school of interest will accept credits from the school where you plan to take your prerequisite courses.  Community colleges and online schools are an inexpensive and convenient way to complete your prerequisite coursework.   Get a GRE book and start studying!  Many nurse practitoiner programs require that you take the GRE before applying.  I highly recommend purchasing a study book as it has likely been a while since you have done any SAT-like math problems.

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Third, apply.  Most schools require letters of recommendation, a basic online application and official transcripts.  Also, if you are already a nurse you will need to be licensed in the state in which you plan to attend school.  The ThriveAP Guide to Nurse Practitioner Programs contains basic inforamtion regarding admission requirements.

Lastly, enjoy school and look forward to your new career!


7 thoughts on “Action Plan- How to Become a Nurse Practitioner”

  1. Hi! First off, thanks for your blog it is so useful. Im currently an ER/RN here in Austin Texas and was looking to further my education. I graduated from Kansas with my Associates degree. Became a RN and moved to Texas. Now im wanting to go back to school. Would you recommend for me to do my ADN-BSN or ADN to MSN. Also is it hard to get into a program??

  2. Hi Mia!

    I would recommend going back and getting your MSN rather than BSN for a few reasons:

    1. If you eventually want to become a nurse practitioner, you will save time and likely money going straight to getting an MSN degree rather than taking an intermediate step by getting your BSN.
    2. Many states will likely require a doctorate degree soon (2015) to practice as a nurse practitioner.  If you get your nurse practitioner degree now rather than later you will be able to  become a nurse practitioner much more quickly (and less expensively).

    A lot of readers who contact me worry that without a BSN they won’t be able to find work.  Not to worry!  I think employers are most concerned with the fact that you are a nurse practitioner, not your prior nursing certifications.  I actually don’t have a BSN either!  This has never been a problem in finding employment.  Employers I have encountered are most concerned with experience working as an NP.  

    You should be able to find a program for students without a BSN who want to become nurse practitioners.

    I would say that overall, it is not difficult to get into a nurse practitioner program.  If you want to go to a more prestigious school, like Yale for example, then yes it will be competitive.  If you want to go to a less prestigious school as long as your grades are acceptable and your recommendations are solid I think you will get into a program.  I would recommend applying to a few programs if possible to make sure you are accepted to at least one. Make sure you have completed or have a plan to complete all of the program’s prerequisites before you apply!

    Hope this helps, let me know if you have any further questions.  Good luck!!

  3. Hello
    I’m just finishing up my 2nd degree BSN in two months. I know that I want to be a nurse practitioner focussing on pediatric primary care. I hear a lot of nurses say that you should work for a few years first but I really want to go right into an NP program. Any thoughts on that?

  4. Hi Jessica,

    Congrats on finishing up your BSN program!  There are certainly a few points you should consider in making this decision.  Here are a few thoughts:

    1. If you work for a few years before you go back to school, the learning curve in your clinical work won’t be as steep.  You will likely have an easier time learning how to diagnose and treat patients and feel less stress and/or frustration when you graduate from your NP program.  Your first year in practice out of school can be tough but if you have more experience it will go more smoothly.  If you do decide to work as a nurse before attending a NP program, I would work in the area you eventually want to practice.  Ex. you could work in a Children’s Hospital since you want to be a PNP.

    2. The DNP requirement is the most important thing you should consider in this decision.  If you go back to school immediately, you can avoid getting the DNP (which will likely be required in 2015 or shortly after) and will be able to become a nurse practitioner with an MSN.  This will save you at least one year of schooling as well as tuition costs- you could save up to $40,000 in tuition costs if you go back to school before the 2015 requirement.

    I attended an accelerated NP program and did not work as a nurse before I attended my NP program.  My classmates and I have had no difficulty finding jobs.  We had a little more to learn initially when starting work as NP’s but quickly overcame our lack of experience.  We were also able to start working with an NP salary more quickly than if we had worked as RN’s before attending a NP program.  There are certainly benefits and drawbacks to both, and really you can’t go wrong either way!

  5. Hi,
    I am currently working as an RN on a general medicine floor. I have been there for 2 years and by the time I plan to (hopefully) start school again for my FNP I will have been working for 3 years. Add in 2 more years working while in school and that will make 5 years of working as a nurse before I start working as an NP. My question is should I try to work in a Critical care/ICU setting before I work as an NP? I have heard from several people that this will make me a stronger NP student, however I really have no interest in the ICU setting. I am excited to work as an FNP because I like that type of environment! Thoughts?

  6. Hi Jen,

    If you want to work in acute care, ICU experience would be an asset. But, if you want to work as an FNP, there’s no need to work in the ICU if that is not your area of interest. Experience that is closely tied to the specialty you want to study as a nurse practitioner student will make you the strongest applicant. 

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