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How Long Does It Take to Become a Nurse Practitioner?

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Becoming a nurse practitioner (NP) can provide you with many job opportunities and specialization options, as well as a competitive salary. Working as an NP can include assessing, diagnosing, and treating patients in any of a number of clinical settings. However, before you pursue a career as an NP, you’ll need to ensure that you have the right academic credentials, as well as the proper level of certification.


The process of becoming an NP includes several steps. Additionally, several factors may influence how long it takes to become a nurse practitioner, such as what your current level of education is. If you are considering becoming an NP, you should understand what the role entails and the requirements for an advanced career in nursing.

What is a nurse practitioner?

Nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who can provide a range of acute, primary, and specialty care services, either independently or in conference with a physician.


Some of the common duties of the nurse practitioner include:

  • Taking patient medical histories and documenting symptoms
  • Performing physical health assessments
  • Ordering, conducting, and interpreting diagnostic tests
  • Diagnosing patients for injury as well as acute or chronic illness
  • Providing patients with treatments, including medications

Increasingly, with the ongoing physician shortage, nurse practitioners are stepping up to serve as primary care providers. A nurse practitioner may also seek specialty training to hone their practice; common specialty areas include family nurse practitioner (FNP), adult-gerontology nurse practitioner (AGNP), pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP), and women’s health nurse practitioner (WHNP).

What are the steps to becoming a nurse practitioner?

You need to complete a number of steps before you can begin practicing as a nurse practitioner. For those interested in how long it takes to become a nurse practitioner, it’s helpful to explore these steps one at a time.

Earn an undergraduate degree

To become an NP, you must first be licensed as a registered nurse (RN). This means earning an undergraduate degree in nursing. Earning an associate-level degree is an option, and usually takes just two years. However, to best prepare for ongoing education in the nursing field, pursuing a full Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) may be the better choice. These programs usually take four years to complete and can give you the basic skills needed to assess and care for patients.

Become a registered nurse

Once you complete your undergraduate degree, the next step toward becoming an RN is passing the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). This is a comprehensive exam that will evaluate your knowledge of anatomy and basic medical principles, as well as your skill in working with patients.

Pursue additional education

To go from RN to NP status, you’ll need to pursue an advanced degree. Nurse practitioners are required to have at least a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), though some prefer to earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Either degree can allow you to further cultivate your medical knowledge and skill in working with patients. Note that a DNP will go deeper into health policy, which may be necessary for getting more advanced leadership or nurse educator roles.

Obtain certification

Once you have completed your education, you will need to become licensed to practice as an NP. To do so, you’ll need to pass a national NP certification board exam that is specific to your population focus. Certifications for specific NP specialty areas are offered by several national organizations. Once you pass the exam, you can apply for licensure in your state. Licensing requirements may vary by state.

How long does it take to become an NP?

A number of factors will determine how long it takes to become a nurse practitioner, including whether you pursue a part- or full-time education, credit hour requirements, and certification requirements. Other factors include the type of degree you pursue, plus your current education level. Several different program options are available.

  •  An RN to MSN program usually takes two to three years to complete; these programs are mostly for practicing nurses who have associate-level degrees.
  • A BSN to MSN program may take anywhere from 18 months to three years to complete.
  • An MSN to DNP program will take one year at a minimum.
  • Going from a BSN to DNP will usually require at least three to four years.

Certifications may also require work and clinical experience alongside degree programs. The specifics can vary by state and certification, but you can expect that you will need to have a certain number of hours of supervised clinical experience to qualify.

Explore your options for becoming an advanced practice nurse

Advanced practice nurses, including NPs, play an increasingly important role in providing primary and specialty care to patients across the country. As you consider the possibilities in this field, make sure you investigate the different career trajectories and education options. Explore our recommendation engine and look at different NP career paths today.


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