How Long Does It Take to Become a Nurse Practitioner (NP)? 

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Nurse practitioners are well-paid and in high demand. Learn how many years of school you can expect to take to become one of these critical health care professionals. 

[Featured Image] A nurse wearing scrubs works on a laptop.

It takes between six and eight years of education to become a nurse practitioner. But how long it takes you will largely depend on your current qualifications and education level. 

Nurse practitioners are well-educated medical professionals with a wealth of health knowledge and patient-care experience. Such expertise is well-rewarded in the job market but can take time to develop. 

In this article, you will learn not only how long it will take you to become a nurse practitioner but also what they do, their job outlook, and the path you need to take to become one.

As you gain a deeper understanding of this fascinating career and its place in the health care field, you will also gain a better understanding of why it takes as long as it does – and whether it’s the right path for you. 

What is a nurse practitioner? Duties and job outlook. 

A nurse practitioner (NP) is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) with a master’s degree and additional specialized training who can assess patients, diagnose medical conditions, and prescribe treatment plans. Not to be confused with registered nurses (RN), NPs do much of the same work as physicians by diagnosing and treating patients. However, in some states NPs must have the approval of a physician to prescribe medication – a responsibility that physicians are allowed in all states. 

Duties

NPs perform many important duties to provide patients with quality health care. Some of these duties include: 

  • Diagnosing health problems and providing treatment 

  • Ordering, performing, and analyzing diagnostic tests

  • Taking samples, such as blood work 

  • Prescribing medication (in some states) 

  • Counseling patients

  • Performing some non-complex medical procedures, such as suturing a wound

  • Educating patients on health-related issues and lifestyle changes 

Job outlook and salary

The job outlook for NPs is very positive. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), career opportunities for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners are expected to grow by 45-percent (much faster than average) between 2020 and 2030 [1]. By comparison, the BLS projects that the overall job growth in the U.S. will be 7.7-percent between 2020 and 2030 [2].

With such high demand comes a high earning potential. In 2020, NPs earned a median annual salary of $120,680, several times higher than that of the national individual median salary of $35,805 for the same year [3,4]. 

How many years of school to be a nurse practitioner?

Nurse practitioners are required to have either a master’s or a doctoral degree in nursing. As a result, it usually takes six to eight years of schooling to become a nurse practitioner [5,6,7]. 

These years of schooling are typically broken down as follows: 

DegreeApproximate Average Years
Bachelor’s degree4
Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)2
Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)4

Note: A master’s degree is not required to pursue a DNP, so the amount of time it would take to obtain both a bachelor’s and doctoral degree would be approximately eight years. To obtain all three degrees, the timeline extends to approximately 10 years. 

How do you become a nurse practitioner?

It can take some time to gain the necessary knowledge, experience, and qualifications to become a nurse practitioner. This is how you would do it – from start to finish.  

1. Get a bachelor’s degree.

In order to qualify for a master’s or doctoral program in nursing, you must first have a bachelor’s degree. While a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) will likely best prepare you for graduate study, you can actually apply to a graduate degree program in nursing with a non-nursing degree as well. 

Read more: What Is the Difference Between a BA and a BS Degree?

Already an RN? 

Many registered nurses receive their training through either an accredited nursing program or an associate’s degree program in nursing. As a result, they have the relevant training to work professionally but lack a bachelor’s degree. 

Registered nurses in this common situation should consider taking an RN to BSN program, which can guide them to a BSN in as little as nine months. To accommodate those with busy schedules, flexible online programs are available through many education providers. 

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2. Become an RN. 

In order to become a nurse practitioner, you must first also be a registered nurse. 

The educational requirements to become a registered nurse vary from state to state but the three most common routes are through a BSN, an associate degree program, or an accredited nursing program. Contact the nursing regulatory body (NRB) in your state to see what you need to do in order to qualify for the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). Once you have met the proper qualifications in your state, you can take the NCLEX-RN. Make sure to study, though, because the NCLEX-RN tests your knowledge with questions that require critical thinking and informed decision-making rather than just rote memorization.  

3. Obtain a graduate degree in nursing.

There are two graduate degrees you can obtain to become an NP: a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

An MSN usually takes two years of full-time study to complete and deepens student knowledge on such topics as health care informatics and evidence-based practices. A DNP is the terminal degree in the nursing field and expands on the topics covered in an MSN while preparing students for leadership roles. It can take anywhere from 18 months to four years to complete depending on prior experience and credentials. 

Ultimately, whether you decide to enter an MSN or DNP program will depend on your own professional goals and life circumstances. Either degree, though, qualifies you to become a nurse practitioner. 

4. Get licensed. 

Once you have received your graduate degree, you are now qualified to sit for either of the certification exams used to license nurse practitioners. 

These two tests are the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) exam and the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) exam. Though the two tests differ somewhat in their focuses – the ANCC is more research-focused and the AANP is more clinically focused – you only need to take and pass one test to be licensed as an NP in your state. 

Next steps 

Health care is a growing field with constantly changing knowledge, practices, and tools. Prepare for your future as a health care professional with Coursera by taking one of our flexible online courses.

The University of Minnesota's Integrative Nursing Specialization teaches learners how to partner with patients in developing a plan of integrative care that fits their needs and preferences.

The University of Michigan’s Anatomy Specialization, meanwhile, teaches course takers all about the human body – from the skeletal system to the muscular system– from head to toe. 

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Article sources 

1. BLS. “Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm.” Accessed April 25, 2022. 

2. BLS. “Employment to grow 7.7 percent from 2020 to 2030; 1.7 percent excluding COVID-19 recovery, https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2021/employment-to-grow-7-7-percent-from-2020-to-2030-1-7-percent-excluding-covid-19-recovery.htm.” Accessed April 27, 2022. 

3. BLS. “Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2021: Nurse Practitioners, https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291171.htm,” Accessed April 27, 2022. 

4. FRED St.Louis. “Real Median Personal Income in the United States, https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/MEPAINUSA672N.” Accessed April 27, 2022. 

5. NurseJournal. “How to Become a Registered Nurse, https://nursejournal.org/registered-nursing/how-to-become-a-rn/.” Accessed May 5, 2022. 

6. Maryville University. “How Long Does It Take to Get a Master’s in Nursing?, https://online.maryville.edu/online-masters-degrees/master-science-nursing/resources/how-long-does-it-take-masters-in-nursing/.” Accessed May 5, 2022. 

7. Doctor of Nursing Practice DNP. “How Long Does a DNP Program Take?, https://www.doctorofnursingpracticednp.org/how-long-does-a-dnp-program-take/.” Accessed May 5, 2022. 

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