How to become a nurse practitioner
Serving as either primary or secondary care providers, nurse practitioners (also known as NPs) work with doctors to diagnose illness, prescribe medicine and treat patients. Advanced practice registered nurses, a category that includes nurse practitioners, is potentially a strong career choice because of both the higher salaries and strong career growth relative to other jobs both in and outside the field. NPs can potentially benefit from a booming job market, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasts 31 percent job growth for the career from 2012 through 2022. In addition, it's a career that can pay off more quickly than other advanced jobs in health care. Whereas M.D.s may invest seven to 11 years in their education and residency, NPs can be ready to work after two years of graduate school.
What are the educational requirements for nurse practitioners?
The steps to becoming an NP may vary depending on your prior health care experience. If you're starting from scratch, the "Consensus Model for APRN Regulation," published by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, recommends that you take the following steps to become an NP:
- Complete a registered nursing degree program and earn a license
- Earn a master's degree
- Perform a supervised clinical experience
- Earn a license to be an NP
If you have a medical degree in another area your path might be a little different. Please consult the American Association of Nurse Practitioners for more information on possible paths to becoming an NP. The AANP offers additional information on its website about how to become a nurse practitioner, as well as details on the core competencies that NPs need in nine major areas, including:
- Scientific foundation
- Practice inquiry
- Technology and information literacy
- Health delivery system
- Independent Practice
How much can nurse practitioners make?
The BLS reports that the mean annual wage for nurse practitioners in the U.S. was $95,070, as of May 2013. The top paying metropolitan areas for nurse practitioners in the same time period were:
- Columbus, IN: $146,920 mean annual wage
- Texarkana, TX: $137,880 mean annual wage
- Texarkana, AR: $137,880 mean annual wage
- San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA: $133,930 mean annual wage
- Stockton, CA: $128,290 mean annual wage
- Bloomington, IN: $126,470 mean annual wage
- San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City, CA: $125,720 mean annual wage
- Yuma, AZ: $123,980 mean annual wage
- Longview, TX: $122,800 mean annual wage
- Gadsden, AL: $121,430 mean annual wage
- Medford, OR: $118,300 mean annual wage
Where can APRNs work?
While the demand for qualified health care professionals is nationwide, the BLS calls out the five states that had the highest concentration of employment in 2013. Those states were:
In addition, state labor department data collected by Projections Central shows which states are expected to have above-average job growth through 2020. They include:
- Georgia: 53.9% projected growth
- Utah: 46.9% projected growth
- Colorado: 34.0% projected growth
To learn more about how to launch a nurse practitioner career and to see a complete list of sources, please check out the infographic below.
Student Resource Center, American Association of Nurse Practitioners,
"Consensus Model for APRN Regulation: Licensure, Accreditation, Certification & Education," National Council of State Boards of Nursing, July 7, 2008,
Nurse Practitioner Core Competencies, The National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties,
Long Term Occupational Projections for Nurse Practitioners, Projections Central,
Occupational Employment and Wages: Nurse Practitioners, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, May 2013,
Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives and Nurse Practitioners, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014,