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    What is a Nurse Practitioner?

    By Cait Williams

    Cait Williams is a Content Writer at Scholarships360. Cait recently graduated from Ohio University with a degree in Journalism and Strategic Communications. During her time at OU, was active in the outdoor recreation community.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Posted: February 1st, 2024
    What is a Nurse Practitioner?

    If you want to learn more about becoming a nurse practitioner, you’ve come to the right place! Nurse practitioners are registered nurses who have gone on to receive an advanced degree in nursing, such as a masters or doctorate. This means that their scope of practice is much more broad than typical registered nurses. They can prescribe medications, diagnose patients, order tests for patients and create care plans. There is a lot to know about the road to becoming a nurse practitioner, so let’s jump right into it!

    What does a nurse practitioner do?

    Nurse practitioners share many of the same responsibilities as doctors. They can work in a range of settings, including hospitals, clinics, emergency rooms, nursing homes, and more. Within these settings, NPs are licensed to perform physicals, order tests and interpret results, as well as give patients referrals to specialists. You may even find that your primary care provider these days is a nurse practitioner. 

    It’s important to note too that nurse practitioners are a growing field. The demand for medical professionals, especially in rural and underrepresented populations, is ever growing and nurse practitioners are helping to fill those gaps. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that nurse practitioner jobs will increase by forty five percent over the next ten years. 

    How to become a nurse practitioner 

    Okay, now let’s look at a brief overview of what becoming an NP may look like if you pursue this path right after high school, or are starting your higher education journey from square one.

    Graduate high school and begin pursuing a bachelor’s degree in nursing at an accredited university
    Pass the NCLEX exam to become an RN and practice as a nurse
    Return to school to complete a Masters of Nursing Science or Doctorate of Nursing Practice 
    Pass your board exams to become a Certified Nurse Practitioner and begin practicing 

    This timeline is just an example of one of the many paths that you can take. So, let’s get into all the other paths and what it might look like if you’re not a recent high school graduate. 

    What if…

    While the information above is valuable, it’s not where everyone will be starting from. Some people already have bachelors or associates, or even master’s degrees in other fields. Where do those individuals start? Look at our list below, and identify where you fall. In each section you’ll find information about what your next steps to becoming an NP will look like! 

    …You’re just graduating high school or are early on in your college journey

    If you are about to graduate high school or early on in your college career, you’re in a great place to start your journey to becoming a nurse practitioner! Because you will need to receive either a MSN or DNP, you’ll need to first obtain a bachelors. So, look into BSN programs, or even BSN to MSN programs which may allow you to complete both degrees in one program!

    …You’re an RN with a bachelors in nursing degree

    Once you have your bachelors in nursing, and you’ve passed the NCLEX, the exam all nurses must pass in order to receive the title of RN,  you have the choice to pursue a higher degree, or take some time to practice. Some programs may require that you gain experience as a nurse before applying. Check with the programs you’re applying  to see what their requirements are. Some people may choose to just go for their MSN, but keep in mind that there are also MSN to DNP programs that allow you to complete both your masters and doctorate in one program. 

    …You have a bachelors in anything

    If you already have a bachelors in something, don’t worry thinking that you’ll have to start all over with a whole new bachelor’s degree. You can take part in accelerated MSN programs that allow you to complete a masters in nursing in as little as two years. Take a look at Johns Hopkins entry into their nursing program as an example! For many programs, you will not need a background in nursing to participate, though you may need to complete a set of prerequisite course work to help prepare you. 

    …You’re an RN with an associate in nursing degree

    If you don’t have a bachelors, but you are an RN, you should look into programs that are specifically designed to take you from your RN to MSN, or RN to BSN, which can then lead to your masters. These programs begin with helping you complete the course work you need for your bachelors, and then moves you right into your masters. 

    …You have an associate degree in anything

    If you have an associate degree, you should look into what classes you’ve already taken that may transfer well towards a bachelors in nursing. You may be able to complete your bachelors in anything and then participate in programs like the Johns Hopkins one we mentioned above, however, if you already know that nursing is what you’d like to go into, it may not be worth spending any more time on coursework that is not directly related to what you want to do.

    …You’re an LPN

    If you’re an LPN you’ll likely have a bit longer of a road to becoming a nurse practitioner, but that by no means makes it any less possible, especially because you’ll certainly have one thing others may not: clinical experience! You can pursue lots of different routes, but like we said above, if you know nursing is what you want to go into, it may not be worth spending your time pursuing any other degrees. The next best step you can take is likely to pursue your bachelors in nursing. After your bachelors you can go back to practicing, or look into programs that take you closer to being a nurse practitioner. There are LPN to BSN programs available, so be sure to check them out! 

    How long does it take to become a nurse practitioner?

    How long it takes to become a nurse practitioner can vary quite a bit depending on the route you take. Some individuals may take several years acquiring clinical skills before they pursue an advanced degree, while others may prefer to complete a dual program which allows them to complete both their BSN and MSN in one program. At a minimum, you will spend roughly 6-8 years in actual classes obtaining all of your education from start to finish. However, that education may be broken up. You may spend four years pursuing a bachelor’s degree, but then take several years off to work as a registered nurse, and go back to school for 2-3 years later on to finish your education.  

    Becoming certified

    After you complete all of your schooling, you will need to complete a certifying exam in your specific area of practice. There are many options for certification exams, so be sure to do your research to understand which is best for you. Throughout your career you’ll need to meet certain requirements for continuing your education as well. 

    How do nurse practitioners compare to other medical professionals?

    Nurse practitioners rank above registered nurses, but below MD’s and DO’s. The scope of practice for nurse practitioners can vary depending on the state that they are practicing in. If you are considering becoming a nurse practitioner, be sure to look into the guidelines for the state you live in or intend to practice in. 

    Having your school paid for

    If you are currently working as a nurse, or have just finished your BSN, you should be aware that some hospitals, clinics, or other organizations might actually be willing to pay for your additional schooling to become a nurse practitioner. If you’re currently job hunting, ask potential employers what their policy is surrounding this, or if you’re already employed, speak with a supervisor. Paying for school can be a huge hurdle, but that shouldn’t be the thing that stops you from trying. Explore all your options!

    Related:Top nursing scholarships

    Key Takeaways

    Key Takeaways

    • A nurse practitioner is a registered nurse who has completed a masters or doctorate in their field and been certified in their specialty 
    • While all nurse practitioners will complete similar schooling, there are many different paths and programs to complete that coursework
    • Nurse practitioners rank above registered nurses, but will still usually work under the supervision of a medical or osteopathic doctor
    • It generally takes between 6-8 years to become a licensed nurse practitioner from start to finish, though that time frame may be longer if you go through a program that requires you to gain clinical experience as a regular RN first

    Frequently asked questions about nurse practitioners

    What’s the difference between a nurse practitioner and a doctor?

    Doctors and nurse practitioners have different medical training for their jobs. Many nurse practitioners will gain clinical experience as RN’s before they go on to complete higher level degrees. This experience allows them to gain experience that is centered around individual patient care, while doctors will focus more on diagnosing and treating patients.

    Is a nurse practitioner higher than an RN?

    Yes, nurse practitioners are ranked above registered nurses. Nurse practitioners do usually begin their careers as registered nurses, but then go on to receive advanced degrees that RN’s do not hold. In hospitals, or clinical settings, nurse practitioners may be in charge of nurses that work under them.

    Is it okay to see a nurse practitioner over a doctor?

    Depending on what sort of medical care you need, you may not need to see an actual doctor. For routine physicals, things like a sore throat or ear infections, or other minor medical issues, a nurse practitioner may be more than qualified to address your concerns, diagnose you, and prescribe you the proper medication. If you’re unsure about who you should see at your doctor’s office, speak with them about why you need to be seen and they should be able to point you in the proper direction.

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