How to Become a Nurse Practitioner – the Simple Guide

Debra Riley


This guide is designed to give you an easy to follow overview of the modern Nurse Practitioner, a very popular type of nursing specialty in healthcare in the United States. We cover nurse practitioner job description, skills, training, licensing and job prospects giving a useful guide to this career.

You can find all of the latest salary information on our main Nurse Practitioner Salary page – with detailed breakdowns of earnings across different states, areas and industries.

Members of the nursing profession have stepped up to the plate as the shortage of medical doctors continues to be a factor in the quality of healthcare that patients have access to. Nurse practitioners (NP) ably satisfy the need for competent, experienced and certified healthcare professionals.

Their role can be described as a highly qualified link between registered nurses and doctors. Not just nurses but not quite doctors!

Many NP’s will have been registered nurses who took further education and training in specific areas of care, although increasingly people are entering through direct education programs.

They carry out many of the functions of a medical doctor in their particular area of specialization, having acquired a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing in that area. With certification as an NP, these nurses possess a greater level of autonomy and authority than registered nurses or licensed vocational nurses.

Basic Qualities and Skills

All of the basic skills applicable to any nursing career apply to nurse practitioners, but they go a little further, in line with their level of responsibility.

Critical Thinking – decisions made may affect the future health and care of the patient; be it in life or death situations; or relating to policies that govern how NPs function.

Stress Management – with long hours and the pressure of increased responsibilities, they must be able to manage their own stress levels to ensure there is no negative effect on those they serve.

Communication – conveying information to patients in a clear and respectful way is a major skill for NPs to possess. Many whom the nurse practitioners serve have limited medical literacy and as such information must be broken down and related in a manner that is not deemed to be condescending or confusing.

The patient who understands the reasons behind your decisions regarding his or her healthcare is better able to appreciate and stick to whatever plans you put in place.

Medical Knowledge – while this is guaranteed by their certification, NPs must have the ability to transfer their knowledge into working situations that will often be critical or emergency.

Patience – dealing with a very varied set of patients, there is indeed a great need for patience (no pun intended). They must bear in mind that each patient comes with his or her own set of personality traits and must be dealt with professionally in order to ensure that the best care and advice are given. Patience is also required in dealing with employers and policy makers.

Stamina – being an NP means long hours on your feet and still being able to effectively manage crisis situations. They must have the strength to manage the physical strain the job entails and enthusiasm required to make their job enjoyable none the less.

Confidence – self-doubt leads to hesitation which can be dangerous in critical situations. NPs ensure their confidence by continued education and research in their field of specialization. Confidence that you possess the skills and knowledge necessary to handle a patient’s needs helps to ensure that the patient receives the best care possible.

This confidence can be sensed by the patient who in turn gains confidence in you and your decisions regarding his or her care.

Job Description for a Nurse Practitioner

np guide

Nurse practitioners now work in a wide variety of roles and locations that include:

  • clinics
  • office practices
  • managed care hospitals and organizations
  • community health centers
  • college campuses
  • worksite employee health centers

Added to this list are nursing homes, nursing schools, home healthcare agencies and hospice centers. Pharmaceutical manufacturers and other healthcare technology companies also utilize the services of nurse practitioners.

They can also perform healthcare research, teach in schools and universities and serve in governmental agencies such as health departments and the military. A small percentage of NPs have their own private practices and there are those who work in nurse-managed health centers. In such facilities all of the healthcare is directed and provided by nurse practitioners, as well as other healthcare professionals.

Nurse practitioners will have a multiplicity of functions within any of the settings mentioned above.

They can diagnose and treat illnesses, infections and injuries in much the same way as a medical doctor.

They are qualified to perform advanced procedures and may make referrals in a wide range of cases involving acute and chronic medical conditions. This they may do as long as these cases fall within their scope of practice.

They may also write prescriptions for medicines, physical therapy and rehabilitative treatment. Furthermore, they have the authority to order and interpret diagnostic procedures such as x-rays and lab tests.

The autonomy of nurse practitioners varies by state, with some states requiring that their actions be supervised and sanctioned by a medical doctor – whilst others allow more freedom from supervision.

Another important function is to be in dialogue with and provide training to other healthcare professionals and members of the local community. NPs provide counseling that focuses on prevention, wellness and patient education.

They are also involved in on-going research and patient advocacy activities. These functions are in keeping with their core philosophy of individualized and holistic care of the patient.

NP Specialties

NP’s usually train in closely specialized areas, becoming highly trained in these areas of healthcare.

There is a wide range of areas in which nurse practitioners may choose to specialize. These include:

  • Family Practice
  • Geriatrics
  • Neonatology
  • Nephrology
  • Acute Care
  • Psychiatry
  • Cardiology
  • Pediatrics
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Primary Care
  • Gastroenterology
  • Oncology

This list is just a sample – there are many more!

Nurse Practitioner Guide

Pre-entry Qualifications

A candidate for certification and licensure as a nurse practitioner must first have completed the education and training required to be a registered nurse (RN). Registered nurses have an ADN or associate degree in nursing; a BSNor Bachelor of Science degree in nursing; or have completed a diploma program, in addition to direct patient care for acutely or chronically ill patients.

Acquiring these may take anywhere from 2 to 5 years. Have a look at our main Registered Nurse Guide – for a closer look at their training and pre entry qualifications.

Training Overview

We have a full Nurse Practitioner Training page with lots more detail – but below gives a brief description of the training process to get you started.

In pursuit of nurse practitioner status, the minimal educational requirement is the completion of a master’s degree. To this end, while BSN holders may matriculate effortlessly, it is often recommended that persons with an ADN or a diploma enter a bachelor of science to master’s program. Achievement of the master’s degree may then take 2 to 4 years.

Upon receiving RN certification, candidates are required complete advanced training through a state-approved program. Such programs include courses in health sciences (e.g., pathophysiology, pharmacology, and epidemiology); statistics and research methods; health policy; role development and leadership; and courses in the diagnosis and clinical management of health and illness.

They must also complete several semesters of supervised clinical practice to demonstrate competency in providing healthcare. Clinical rotations vary depending on the program being pursed and the population focus.

While the acquisition of an MSN is currently sufficient, many advocates are pushing for NPs to complete doctoral studies and earn either a DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice) or a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy).

This comes out of consideration of the fact that they perform many of the functions of medical doctors who themselves have studied and trained for many years before receiving their certification.

Nurse Practitioner Licensing


Graduates from the programs mentioned above are eligible to sit national board examinations to become certified as a nurse practitioner and to seek state licensure as such. National bodies providing such certification include:

  • National Certification Board of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners and Nurses
  • Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation
  • the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses
  • National Certification Corporation for the Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing Specialties
  • the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board
  • the American Nurses’ Association
  • Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing

Certification may be expected to involve examinations which focus on a particular specialty area. Re-certification requires proof of on-going or continuing education and specified hours of clinical practice in the field of certification.

Licensure is granted by state boards of nursing. While the requirements vary from state to state, they hold in common that the candidate should possess a master’s degree and national certification. Some states require that the NP’s license be renewed every two or three years.

Salary Information

That is what this site is all about – check our main page covering Nurse Practitioner salaries. It breaks everything down in detail, showing salaries by hour, month etc. and across different industries and for every state. That should cover everything I hope!

Job Opportunities

It is expected that within the next ten years there will be a near exponential increase in the need for nurse practitioners as the shortage of medical doctors becomes more critical. Other push factors for this increased need are

  • A greater life expectancy among an already aging population, with people living longer and more active lives.
  • Increases in technology giving rise to better healthcare and greater variety in healthcare options.
  • Technology that has made it possible for procedures that previously could only be performed in a hospital to be performed in physicians’ offices.
  • Healthcare reform and the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) which allows a greater number of persons to seek medical attention.

Also accounting for this predicted climb in the demand for NPs is the fact that healthcare facilities such as hospitals, health departments and home healthcare agencies are on a recruitment drive. They are hiring a growing number of NPs to handle some of the workload formerly handled by doctors.

This move takes into account the fact that NPs can provide the same basic services as a medical doctor without the proportionate costs. This means NPs bring in revenue and cut projected expenditure.

Specialty areas that will see the greatest surge in job opportunities for nurse practitioners include geriatrics and any field related to long term care and nursing homes. Geographic locations (rural or urban) that are currently experiencing or are set to experience a shortage of healthcare workers are also good job prospects for NPs.

Overall the future looks very bright!

Don’t forget to make use of the resources on this site – we have detailed information on –

Becoming a Registered nurse and their training and salary information. Becoming a certified Nurse Anesthetist – CRNA Guide.

Becoming a LPN/LVN and their training and salary information.

Thanks for reading and good luck!