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.
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.
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.
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)
Performing some non-complex medical procedures, such as suturing a wound
Educating patients on health-related issues and lifestyle changes
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 . By comparison, the BLS projects that the overall job growth in the U.S. will be 7.7-percent between 2020 and 2030 .
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].
These years of schooling are typically broken down as follows:
|Degree||Approximate Average Years|
|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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.