How Long Does It Take to Become a Nurse Practitioner?

As a nurse, one of your options for advancement in your career is to become a nurse practitioner. A nurse practitioner has many of the same duties as a registered nurse, but they also are able to complete advanced tasks, which were once only done by doctors. In many states, nurse practitioners are allowed to practice without the supervision of a licensed doctor, and in all states, nurse practitioners can write prescriptions. With this certification, you qualify for higher-paying jobs with more responsibilities. Getting a degree to become a nurse practitioner does take time, which is important to realize before you start any program, be it at a campus college or online.

Timeline and Time Commitment

  • In order to become a nurse practitioner, a nurse must have at least a master’s degree – These programs typically take two to three years to complete as a full-time student.
  • There are many Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs available – These programs last about four years, or if the student is already a registered nurse, they can complete an RN to BSN program, which typically lasts one to two additional years.
  • Students qualify for a Master of Science in Nursing (BSN to MSN) – These programs build on the education the student has already received as a BSN candidate and last about two years as a full-time student.
  • Instead of a BSN to MSN, some students choose to complete an accelerated MSN program – This program lasts about three years when a student is going to school full time. Upon graduation, nurses are awarded both a BSN and MSN.
  • The overall time commitment is about five years or longer and that is something to consider when choosing a program. However, with an MSN, nurses qualify for better jobs that are both more fulfilling professionally and more lucrative in terms of salary, bonuses, and benefits.

Steps to Become a Nurse Practitioner

The most common requirements to become a nurse practitioner include a minimum of a master’s degree in advanced nursing, a valid RN license, and passing a national certification or state-issued examination. Many states require continuing education classes or maintenance of a national certification to renew a license, and some states require nurse practitioners to obtain special licensing in order to prescribe medication. Below are the required steps to becoming a nurse practitioner:

  1. Earn a Nursing Degree: Completion of an undergraduate degree program prepares students for entry level positions in clinical settings.
  2. Become a Registered Nurse (RN): Each state requires a practicing nurse to have an RN license.
  3. Complete a MSN degree in Nursing: RNs with a bachelor’s degree who are interested in becoming NPs can qualify for the position by earning a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing.
  4. Obtain an Advance Practice Nurse Licensure: Most states require additional licensure for advanced practice nurses. In addition to an NP license, others within this field include clinical nursing, nurse anesthetics, and nursing midwifery.
  5. Obtain Specialized Certification: The successful completion of a graduate degree program and licensure requirements prepare graduates to sit for certification examinations specific to their careers.

Quick Tips/Recap

How long it takes to become a nurse practitioner depends a great deal on what education and experience you already have when you decide to pursue this career. If you are just getting started with your education, it can take at least six years to complete a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree program. However, that does not mean you have to wait that long to find nursing work, start working with patients and earn a solid income as a nurse in the middle of the process. In fact, experience as a nurse, especially specialty experience, goes a long way toward helping you land a job as a nurse practitioner after you graduate from a master’s degree program. Below are some quick helpful tips and a recap for becoming a nurse practitioner:

  • To become a nurse practitioner, you need at least a master’s degree from an accredited school, with some places requiring a doctorate in nursing (laws in some countries and states vary).
  • How long it takes you to get a master’s degree depends on your current level of education, your student status (full or part time), and your program of choice.
  • The quickest way to become a nurse practitioner is to participate in an accelerated master’s degree program, which qualifies you to work in most states.
  • A master’s degree in any field adds two years of full-time schooling to your education, but with an accelerated program, you can complete courses at the same school where you got your associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree and can cut up to a year of time off of your schooling.
  • You need to be certified as a registered nurse before you can be certified as a nurse practitioner.
  • If you participate in an accelerated master’s degree program, you can be certified as soon as you receive an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree level of education.
  • For nurses with a bachelor’s degree who are not in an accelerated master’s degree program, it typically takes two additional years to get a master’s degree.

Starting with an Associate’s Degree Instead?

If you opted just to get your associate’s degree, you can take one of two routes. First, you can go on to get your bachelor’s degree, which typically takes an additional two years, and then move on to get a master’s degree, adding a total of three to four years of full time education to your schedule. A quicker way to get your master’s degree if you have an associate’s degree is to join an ADN-to-MSN bridge program. With this type of program, you move more quickly through the coursework, but the disadvantage is that you may not actually be awarded a bachelor’s of science in nursing, so if you are working as you go to school; it takes longer to qualify for a pay raise or better job.

One of the most rewarding and flexible careers today is that of a nurse practitioner. In order to pursue a nurse practitioner degree, one should have either an associates or a bachelor’s degree in a related field. Below are a list of schools offering high-quality programs that can help you on your way to becoming a nurse practitioner.

Featured Nurse Practitioner Programs

Purdue University

Accreditation: HLC, NCA


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Liberty University

Accreditation: SACS


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