I vividly recall sitting in a lecture hall in my nurse practitioner program in a plastic, too-small seat sandwiched between two classmates when I first heard of the NP licensing process. Suddenly, my personal space wasn’t the only thing feeling cramped. The ins and outs of certification, applying for a license and a DEA number all in a specific order while simultaneously conducting a job search seemed overwhelming. 

Once I took a step back and digested the material, the process appeared manageable but still tricky. I remember wishing someone had given me a simple roadmap outlining the NP licensing and certification process so I could have avoided my initial freak out. So, here’s yours.

Step 1: Graduation

Walking down the aisle in a cap and gown only gets you so far as a nurse practitioner program grad. Your school must also release information to certifying bodies regarding your status. Make sure you request that your NP program submit required paperwork to the organization with which you plan to obtain certification (ex. AANP, ANCC). Follow up with your NP program to make sure this step has been completed to avoid delays in the certification process. 

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Step 2: Certification

Following graduation, nurse practitioners must pass a national certification exam. In most states, nurse practitioners cannot begin practicing until they are nationally certified by passing this test. The next steps of your licensure process depend on first obtaining certification.

Step 3: Licensure

Once you have graduated from your NP program and passed the certification exam, you must obtain a license to practice in the state where you plan to work. A nurse practitioner license may take anywhere from about 4 to 12 weeks to process depending on your state board of nursing. In some states such as Texas, the licensing process is notoriously slow and may even take longer than 12 weeks delaying your job start date. Plan accordingly. 

Step 4: NPI Number

National Provider Identifier, commonly known as NPI, is a unique 10 digit identification number given to healthcare providers by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). To apply for a NPI number, visit the National Plan and Provider Enumeration System (NPPES) website and create a login. The process is free, easy and quick.

Step 5: DEA License/Prescribing Privileges 

In order to prescribe medications, nurse practitioners must register with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and obtain a DEA number. Some states also require their own unique license allowing nurse practitioners to prescribe. This is a relatively simple process and can be completed online. Be aware that it will take a few weeks once you have submitted your online application to receive your DEA license.

Step 6: Credentialing

Once a nurse practitioner has accepted a job, an onboarding process called credentialing occurs. This is where the employer verifies the NP’s licenses with insurance companies so the employer will be paid for services provided by the nurse practitioner to patients. Not to worry. The credentialing process is typically coordinated by your employer requiring only that the NP sign a few forms. While you won’t have to manage credentialing logistics on your own, the process can push back your start date after accepting a position.

Licensure and certification is key to landing a nurse practitioner job after graduation. Planning a timeline for these steps is a must. Use this brief overview as a general guide to the steps you will need to take to get ready to practice after graduation day. 

Where are you in your NP licensure and certification process?


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3 thoughts on “The Nurse Practitioner Licensing Process in a Nutshell”

  1. I don’t know who wrote all this – but it’s very informative. I stumbled on to this while searching the Internet on nephrology NP’s. My goal was getting information on whether I would need to get special certification to do this. I have been RN since 99. I have spent the the last five years in dialysis. As an acute dialysis RN. Apheresis as well. I really, really, love the thought of being a NP. UCF in central FL offers a NP program. I have to work 40-65 hours a week in acutes. So I’m scared of school. But in a passionate advocate for education and feel that I know so much more and see so much deeper then I’m qualified to. I feel that I need to bring my formal education up to the level of my ability as a nurse. I have said a lot but I really appreciate your site. I also welcome any feedback. I don’t know if I’m allowed to post my email address but I will for now if anyone has any feedback. Thank you.


  2. You don’t need a DEA license in every state to prescribe medications but you do if you plan to prescribe controlled medications. You should look at your specific state board of nursing regs to determine what you need in place to prescribe medications.

  3. Thank you so much for the detailed description! The school does not prepare you for all of those! I just finished the FNP program and passed ANCC. This is very very helpful!

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