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How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

Medical science is advancing fast, and as more people gain access to healthcare, the demand for more primary care providers, especially nurse practitioners, grows.  

Regarded as having the highest professional level of clinical expertise in nursing, nurse practitioners are committed to providing high quality healthcare to individuals, families and communities. Nurse practitioners manage acute episodes of illness and chronic conditions through advanced practice knowledge and skills including diagnosing, developing treatment plans and evaluating outcomes. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were more than three million registered nurses (RNs) and less than 241,000 nurse practitioners working in the United States in 2018. The need for nurses at this level of expertise is growing at a rate of 26%, which is expected to create 62,000 new positions for nurse practitioners by 2028.

Once you’ve completed the first step in achieving your long-term career goals by earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), it’s time to explore the nursing pathways that are available to you and learn how to become a nurse practitioner.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Nurse Practitioner After Earning a BSN?

Along with how to become a nurse practitioner, another common topic on the minds of many RNs seeking career advancement is the length of time required for career advancement.

How long it takes to become a nurse practitioner after earning a BSN depends on your career goals and, ultimately, comes down to these possible pathways of study:

Degree PathwayTime to Become a NP
Master of Science in Nursing – Advance Practice Nurse (APRN)2-3 years
Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)3-4 years

Each of these degree programs provides a different spectrum of knowledge, hands-on clinical experience and the credential for specific professional practice opportunities. Before choosing the pathway that’s right for you, it’s important to understand where each program will lead you.

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

Earn a Master of Science in Nursing in Advanced Practice Nursing

For BSN-prepared RNs who are considering becoming a nurse practitioner, the next step is to earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) which provides eligibility for advance practice certification. The MSN degree is designed to enhance your nursing skills for advanced practice and typically takes three years of study to complete.

By choosing an MSN degree program with a specific concentration, you’ll graduate with the qualifications to become an APRN in a specialty area. Some commonly pursued positions by APRNs with this degree include:

Nursing RoleAverage Annual Salary
Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)$94,415
Nurse Educator$75,000
Clinical Nurse Leader$74,422

While some MSN programs in CT admit RNs with a bachelor’s degree in a field other than nursing, a BSN degree and clinical nursing experience are required to become a nurse practitioner.

Earn a Master of Science in Nursing – Family Nurse Practitioner

Family nurse practitioners have the qualifications and clinical experience to provide primary care to patients throughout the lifespan and treat and manage diverse health issues and conditions. MSN-FNP programs deliver the extensive knowledge and clinical learning opportunities for a rewarding career as a primary care provider.

According to PayScale, the average annual salary for family nurse practitioners who have completed an MSN-FNP is $93,525. While many family nurse practitioners provide their services through their own private practice, they are in high demand in other health facilities as well, including:

  • State, local and private hospitals
  • Outpatient care centers
  • Private offices of physicians
  • Academic medical centers
  • Independent NP practices
  • Telehealth services

Earn a Post-Master’s Doctor of Nursing Practice

For MSN-prepared RNs who are interested in advancing their careers at the highest level of management leadership, the next step is to earn a Doctorate of Nurse Practice (DNP). A DNP degree prepares nurses for leadership opportunities in various nursing and health care roles in a variety of practice and clinical settings.

They have the expertise to review and develop healthcare policy, advance quality improvement initiatives through evidence-based practice and advocate at the state and national levels for health justice. Many health care facilities seek to hire DNP prepared nurses for systems and clinical leadership position. This degree can be completed within three years.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) recommends the DNP as the degree necessary for RNs to become nurse practitioners and leaders in the field. In a position statement known as “DNP by 2015,” institutions accredited by the AACN are required to enforce this suggestion to nursing students. This statement has not only influenced several colleges and universities to offer DNP programs, but it has also led hospitals and physician’s offices to require nurse practitioners to complete a DNP for employment.

The DNP degree will advance your career in nursing as healthcare systems expand.  Examples of advancement opportunities for DNP prepared RNs include:           

Nursing RoleAverage Annual Salary
Chief Nurse Officer (CNO)$125,000
Director of Patient Care Services$98,436
Director of Clinical Services$116,454

*All position and salary information from PayScale.

Choosing the Path That’s Right for You

If you’re seeking to advance your career in nursing, choose Sacred Heart University. Through an exclusive online learning platform, we offer a variety of online nursing degree programs designed to transform your skills and lead you to success as a nurse practitioner. Courses are guided by educators with years of clinical experience and each program provides flexible schedule options that allow you to balance your education as you maintain your responsibilities as a full-time nurse.

To learn which option is right for you, call one of our program managers today at 877-791-7181.