What Degree is Needed to Become a Nurse Practitioner?

nurse practitionerAre you intrigued by the idea of a career in nursing and curious about the degree needed to be a nurse practitioner? As some of the nursing profession's most highly educated members, nurse practitioner must hold a minimum of a master's degree.


What is a Nurse Practitioner?

A type of advanced practice registered nurse, nurse practitioners are registered nurses who have successfully completed additional training that allows them to provide primary or specialty care. They can take health histories, conduct physical exams, order and interpret lab results, diagnosis and treat health problems, and refer their patients to specialists as necessary. While the position has been around since the 1960's, the responsibilities and privileges of nurse practitioners vary from state to state. Some states specify that a nurse practitioner must work under the supervision of a physician who approves her proposed treatments and prescriptions. Other states allow nurse practitioners to prescribe medications and work without a doctor's direct oversight.

How Do You Become a Nurse Practitioner?

The path you need to take to become a nurse practitioner depends on where you already are in your nursing journey. Students interested in becoming nurse practitioners should begin by completing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree program. Registered nurses who entered the profession with associates degrees and would now like to advance professionally can earn a bachelor's degree in nursing through a traditional program or by completing an R.N. to BSN program designed to allow experienced nurses to earn a bachelor's degree more quickly. Once aspiring nurse practitioners hold a bachelor's degree, they need to begin earning a master's degree in nursing. For individuals searching for an appropriated program, the American Association of Nurse Practitioners provides a searchable datebase of accredited nurse practitioner degree programs. Although some programs can be completed in as little as a year, most require two to four years. Many programs allow students to study part time, allowing working professionals to earn their degree without leaving the workforce. Once participants graduate with their master's degrees, they must pass their state's licensure exam.

Can Nurse Practitioners Specialize?

While earning their graduate degrees, nurse practitioners are expected to pick an area to specialize in. Common choices include primary care, cardiology, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, dermatology, gerontology, cardiology, oncology, orthopedics and gastroenterology. Once licensed, they even have the option to seek professional certification from the board that oversees their particular specialty. Pursuing certification from the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners is also a possibility for those who are interested.

What is the Job Outlook for Nurse Practitioners?

As U.S. News and World Report points out while explaining why it ranked nurse practitioner fourth on its list of "Best Jobs of 2014," recent health care reforms and an aging population have combined to create an explosive demand from qualified health care professionals like nurse practitioners. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, experts are predicting employment opportunities for nurse practitioners to increase an astonishing 34 percent between 2012 and 2022. If they are right, that means there will be an additional 37,000 jobs for nurse practitioners. Since the median salary for nurse practitioners was just shy of $90,000 in 2012, many will consider these potential positions quite lucrative.

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Like many nursing careers, working as a nurse practitioner can be challenging and stressful. But, it also presents virtually unlimited opportunities to help others. Individuals interested in this career should consider the degree needed to be a nurse practitioner, the responsibilities that come with the position and their own personal and career goals when deciding if working as a nurse practitioner is right for them.

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