How to Become a Nurse Practitioner and What Salary to Expect


If you are interested in health and medicine, then there are many different career paths from which you can choose. One of these is to become a nurse. This role offers many different options, as you can choose to specialize in specific areas of healthcare. It is also a career in which you can progress to enjoy a higher rate of earning and to take on more responsibility. One role that offers this opportunity is the role of a nurse practitioner. Here is everything you need to know about becoming a nurse practitioner, what the role involves, and the nurse practitioner’s earning potential.

What is a Nurse Practitioner?

A nurse practitioner is also known as an advanced practice registered nurse, or APRN. Those working in this role are classed as a mid-level practitioner, as they have additional responsibilities to the role of a registered nurse. A nurse practitioner is qualified to assess patients, order tests, interpret test results, make diagnoses of some illnesses and diseases, formulate treatment plans, and prescribe medication. This is a role that has continued to evolve since it was introduced in 1965.

What Does the Role of a Nurse Practitioner Involve?

Nurse Practitioner Schools says that the role of a nurse practitioner depends on their specialization, the state in which they work, and the type of medical setting. Just some of the duties and responsibilities of a nurse practitioner are:

  • Assessing- A nurse practitioner will make an initial assessment of a patient using physical examination and verbal questioning to learn about a patient’s symptoms and the possible cause of these.
  • Testing- Those in this role can request or perform diagnostic tests and request laboratory tests.
  • Diagnosing- Nurse practitioners can diagnose diseases and illnesses.
  • Treatment planning- A nurse practitioner plays an integral role in planning treatment for their patients.
  • Prescribing- In all 50 states, nurse practitioners hold prescriptive privileges. They can also administer controlled substances in 49 states.
  • Referring- A nurse practitioner can refer a patient for specialist care if they need assessment or treatment that only a specialist can undertake.
  • Record-keeping- nurse practitioners contribute to maintaining and updating patients’ records.

Reasons to Consider Choosing a Career as a Nurse Practitioner

For those who want to work in the medical profession, the role of a nurse practitioner is an excellent job to choose for many reasons. Just some of the reasons to consider working in this role are:

  • The salary- A nurse practitioner earns significantly more than a registered nurse. The higher earning potential makes it worth putting in the effort to qualify and taking on additional responsibilities.
  • Rewarding- The role of a nurse practitioner is a rewarding one. They can have a positive impact on many aspects of their patients’ lives.
  • Personal fulfillment- If you have worked as a registered nurse and feel that you have more to offer, then you may find that progressing to the role of a nurse practitioner gives you personal fulfillment. This tole allows you to reach your full potential.
  • Challenging- Some people like the security of taking on the same tasks every day and not experiencing any difficult situations. If that applies to you, then you are not suited to the role of a nurse practitioner. This role poses many challenges that are exciting and will keep you motivated.
  • Varied-Each day in the life of a nurse practitioner is different as you see new patients and take on new challenges.
  • Opportunities- Becoming a nurse practitioner opens the door to several new and exciting opportunities. This is a career in which you can progress, and you can opt to specialize in an area that interests you the most.

An Overview of the Steps Involved in Becoming a Nurse Practitioner

The steps you need to take to become a nurse practitioner can vary slightly depending on the location. As a general overview, the following are the basic steps you will need to take to qualify as a nurse practitioner based on information from Nurse Practitioner Schools:

  1. Graduate from high school- If you are still at high school and you are intending to pursue a career in nursing, you need to check the minimum entry requirements of different establishments that offer nursing degrees and aim towards achieving these requirements.
  2. Complete a Bachelor of Science in nursing- There are many educational establishments across the United States and around the world that offer Bachelor of Science in nursing programs. The courses usually last around four years. During that time, you will combine academic study with gaining hands-on experience of working with patients.
  3. Become a registered nurse- You will normally receive this following the completion of your degree. You will need to prove that you have completed a program of study and sit the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses.
  4. Gain experience- How much experience you will need to move to the next stage of achieving your career goal can vary. Most registered nurses get at least two years of experience before progressing to a graduate nursing degree.
  5. Complete a graduate degree in nursing – Most graduate nursing degrees require students to have achieved their Bachelor of Science degree in nursing and to have gained experience. There are some that also have other requirements, such as the completion of online courses. The entry requirements are something that you should check with each educational establishment you are considering. Completing a graduate degree in nursing can take as little as 1.5-years, but it is most likely to take up to four years. The application process is quite vigorous and takes place in stages, including submission of a CV and application form, an interview, literacy and numeracy tests, submitting an application fee, providing letters of recommendation, and submitting a personal statement about your professional goals.
  6. Get certified by a specialty nursing board- Even if you have local licensing, you must also apply to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners to achieve specialist certification. This is done through established entities, such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

What Qualifications Do You Need to Become a Nurse Practitioner?

The role of a nurse practitioner is one that cannot be undertaken without completing the necessary qualifications. You will need both a Bachelor of Science nursing degree and a graduate degree in nursing. Further to the qualifications, you also need to register as a nurse and get accreditation from a specialty nursing board. When it comes to applying for jobs, they may need additional qualifications or accreditations.

How Long Does It Take to Qualify as a Nurse Practitioner?

The length of time it takes to become a qualified nurse practitioner can vary, depending on the courses you take, the area in which you live, and if you take any breaks. However, it can take up to 10 years from leaving high school. According to Health Careers, completing a Bachelor of Science in nursing takes around four years and then you need between one and two years of experience before progressing to the next stage. Completing a graduate degree can take from two to four years. This is a career that you progress towards in stages rather than one you will achieve following your first qualification.

What Are Nurse Practitioner Specialisms?

Nurse practitioners have the chance to specialize in various fields of medicine and healthcare if they want to progress in their career. Achieving a specialism means that a nurse practitioner can perform additional tasks and undertake specialist responsibilities in the area of their chosen specialism. Some examples of the different types of specialisms for nurse practitioners are:

Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner

This is a very broad specialism as an adult-gerontology nurse practitioner provides advanced clinical focus on patients from adolescence through to adulthood. This specialism is possibly the one that opens the most opportunities, as you will work with a broad spectrum of patients and in almost any type of medical or healthcare setting. A course takes approximately two years to complete and covers topics including physiology, advanced health assessment, and healthcare ethics. Once you have received certification in this specialism, you will need to maintain your certification every five years.

Family Nurse Practitioners

Family nurse practitioners work with both adults and children. There is a strong focus on wellness and prevention, but they can also provide treatment for any member of a family. The course can take up to three years to complete and covers topics such as the patient-practitioner relationship, primary care of the family, and healthcare perspectives. Those who study for this degree can also choose to have a family nurse practitioner specialism. Just some of the possible specialisms include medical-surgical, cardiac, pediatrics, perinatal, urology, and trauma.

Neonatal Nurse Practitioners

Becoming a neonatal nurse practitioner can take up to three years. Once qualified, you will need to maintain your certification every three years. This role involves delivering advanced neonatal care, so experience in this field is necessary before embarking on the course. Some of the topics covered in the course will include neonatal assessment, advanced practice in nursing neonatal patients, and population health.

Pediatric Nurse Practitioners

A pediatric nurse practitioner works with children. Some pediatric nurse practitioners work independently, while others work alongside pediatricians and other healthcare professionals. Some of the duties within this role include routine developmental assessments, diagnosis, and treatment of common childhood illnesses, immunizations, and delivering health education to families. Qualifying in this specialism can take up to two years. Depending on the credentials, you will need to maintain certification every one to five years.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners

The role of a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner is to deliver specialist healthcare to those suffering from psychiatric disorders or mental health conditions. They may work with both the patient and their family in a range of settings. In addition to delivering care and treatment, those working in this role may also deliver education to patients and families. Completing this specialism will take between two and three years. The graduate degree covers topics including adult psychiatric mental health, principles of epidemiology, and evidence-based practice.

Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner

A women’s health nurse practitioner works with women across their lifespan. Some aspects of women’s health on which these nurse practitioners focus include reproductive health, gynecological care, obstetrical care, and well-woman care. Achieving a qualification in this specialism takes between two and three years. Courses within the program may include care of the family, lifespan care through menopause, and healthcare of women.

How Much Experience as a Registered Nurse is Needed to Become a Nurse Practitioner?

The role of a nurse practitioner is not one that you can jump into straight away. It is important to gain experience as a nurse first to prepare you for the additional responsibilities that a nurse practitioner undertakes. You will gain some experience in nursing as a student working towards your nursing degree. Most people who progress onto the graduate nursing degree gain at least two years of experience before starting that phase of their education. You will continue to gain more advanced experience while studying for a graduate degree in nursing.

What is the Salary of a Nurse Practitioner?

Nurse practitioners earn more than a registered nurse because of their additional skills, experience, and qualifications. This is one reason why people choose to progress in their career. Not all nurse practitioners earn the same because there are several factors that can impact on the earning potential in this role. Some of these include:

  • Location- The average salary of a nurse practitioner varies from one state to the next.
  • Type of medical facility- Nurse practitioners working in a hospital environment will typically earn more than those working in a medical center.
  • Experience- Some nurse practitioner salaries are progressive, so you will have incremental rises in pay when you complete time-based milestones.
  • Specialisms- If you complete a specialism after qualifying as a nurse practitioner, there is the opportunity to earn more money if you work in your specialist field.
  • Benefits- Nurse practitioners will often have a salary package that includes additional benefits, such as reduced childcare costs, performance-related bonuses, pensions, and flexible work schedules.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national median wage for a nurse practitioner is $113, 930 per year. This is the equivalent to earning $54.78 per hour. To give you an indication of the type of salary you can expect to earn in different locations, here are the average salaries that you could potentially earn in five states, according to figures provided by Learn How to Become:

  • Alaska- $115,670
  • California- $115,460
  • Hawaii- $115,870
  • Massachusetts- $107,230
  • Oregon- $111,160

Is the Nurse Practitioner Salary Worth the Time and Effort of Becoming Qualified?

As it takes so many extra years of studying to become a nurse practitioner after qualifying as a registered nurse, you may question whether the time and effort are worth it. While you are studying to become a nurse practitioner, you will continue to work as a registered nurse and take on some additional responsibilities. This does not mean that you will receive extra pay during this period. However, some healthcare and medical institutions may offer their employees extra pay or additional incentives during the time they are working towards their nurse practitioner qualification.

With this in mind, it may not seem worth the effort to take your career to the next level. The salary is the big deciding factor, so you need to compare the potential salary increase if you qualified. While the average for a nurse practitioner is $113,930 per year, Nurse Salary Guide says that the average salary of a registered nurse in the United States is just $73,550. Therefore, you can increase your salary by over $40,000 annually if you choose to train and qualify as a nurse practitioner.

Although it can take several years to get to the point where your salary increases so significantly, most people would argue that the earnings are high enough to warrant spending two to three years gaining the extra qualification.

What is the Working Environment of a Nurse Practitioner?

The working environment of a nurse practitioner can vary from one role to the next. Just some of the settings where a nurse practitioner may work include hospitals, clinics, medical centers, and physician’s offices. Your choice of specialism can dictate the type of environment in which you will most likely work in the future, so this is something to consider when choosing your specialism if you have a preference for a specific type of working environment.

Are There Plenty of Job Opportunities to Work as a Nurse Practitioner?

A concern for anyone who undertakes additional training to progress in their career is whether putting the effort into achieving a qualification will open more doors to them professionally. They worry that they will put time and effort into becoming qualified, only to find that there are no job opportunities that will allow them to progress in their career and utilize their additional training and skills. So, are there plenty of job opportunities for nurse practitioners?

According to Nurse Journal, there is a lack of primary care professionals. This means that they are highly in demand. The United States Bureau of Labor estimates that by 2020, this profession will have seen a growth of around 19 percent, which is significantly above the national average.

The growth trend is expected to continue over the next decade to resolve the increased demand for primary care. Another reason for this trend is that nursed are now receiving more recognition for the key role they play in healthcare.

Once Qualified, Where Can a Nurse Practitioner Work?

It is important to understand where a qualification entitles you to work. This is especially the case if you are considering moving to a new area to work in the future, or even working abroad. Nurse practitioners who have qualified in the United States are automatically qualified to work in any state. They also have some opportunities to work abroad. According to MidlevelU, there are some countries that allow a nurse practitioner to apply directly for licensure to practice in their country. Both Canada and the United Kingdom allow nurse practitioners who qualified in the United States to work without taking additional qualifications. Unfortunately, there are some countries that will not allow you to apply directly for licensure, so this is something you should check before making a life-changing decision about where to live and work.

A Career as a Nurse Practitioner – The Final Verdict

Choosing to pursue a career as a nurse practitioner is challenging, varied, and rewarding. There are many options for specialisms, so you can choose a career that is best suited to your interests, experiences, and areas of knowledge. The role includes a variety of duties and responsibilities in a range of setting. Achieving the qualification to progress from being a registered nurse to a nurse practitioner can take up to four years. If your initial career goal from high school is to become a nurse practitioner, then you can expect the journey to achieving your dream to take up to ten years. Once qualified, a nurse practitioner will see a significant increase in the salary they received as a registered nurse. Currently, the average nurse practitioner salary in the United States is over $113,000 per year. Therefore, there are financial rewards for putting in the effort and progressing in your nursing career.

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