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How to become a nurse practitioner

By Brian Fairbanks

Despite the word "nurse" in both titles, the job of a nurse practitioner (NP) is very different from that of a registered nurse (RN). RNs typically work on the hospital floor or in a bedside role, caring for patients and administering prescribed treatments and medications. A nurse practitioner, on the other hand, is an advanced practice registered nurse with a greater scope of practice. NPs are licensed advanced practice nurses with the autonomy to diagnose and prescribe treatments.

While the job responsibilities may be different, both careers are in high demand. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job growth for registered nurses is projected to be 7% between 2019 and 2029, while that of nurse practitioners is expected to be 45% between 2019 to 2029.

If you are a registered nurse thinking about becoming a certified nurse practitioner, or are new to the field and would like to know what nurse practitioners do and how much they make on average, as well as receive answers to some frequently asked questions, read on for the education, training and certifications necessary for this career field!

What does a nurse practitioner do?

Not all nurse practitioner roles are the same. While both RNs and NPs may have a variety of specialties to choose from in their profession, nurse practitioners’ advanced qualifications can prepare them for additional advanced practice responsibilities.

In the United States, nurse practitioners, often referred to as advanced practice registered nurses (APRN), are licensed medical professionals who may provide primary care, assume leadership roles and offer other healthcare services in advanced nurse practice and education settings. These may include nontraditional medical service locations such as large corporate offices, school systems or other types of healthcare practices.

With this increased scope and responsibility, NPs may have opportunities for more hands-on roles in treating, educating and diagnosing patients.

According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), nurse practitioners "are quickly becoming the health partner of choice for millions of Americans. As clinicians that blend clinical expertise in diagnosing and treating health conditions with an added emphasis on disease prevention and health management, NPs bring a comprehensive perspective and personal touch to health care."

And with increased responsibilities come potentially higher salary opportunities. Certified nurse practitioners earned a median annual salary of $111,670 in May 2020, according to BLS. Registered nurses, on the other hand, earned a median salary of $75,330 in May 2020. (University of Phoenix does not guarantee outcomes, and employment and salaries may be based on education level, competition and location, among other factors.)

BLS projections are not specific to students or graduates of University of Phoenix.

How to become a nurse practitioner

The path to a career as a nurse practitioner begins with first being a registered nurse and requires at least a master’s degree from an accredited university. According to BLS, registered nurses who wish to become an NP are required to be licensed RNs in their state, possess a state APRN license and pass a national certification exam.

While most hospitals prefer to hire NPs who have earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing, in addition to their master’s, there are graduate-level degrees with bridge programs for RNs who may have earned a degree in a different field. Bridge programs can also be an option for RNs with only an associate degree who wish to obtain their Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

Online education for nurse practitioners

With virtual courses available, nurses can develop additional skills and not necessarily have to quit their jobs to do so. Online-based classes afford students greater flexibility to manage their current careers, family time and any other responsibilities that may make attending a traditional classroom difficult.

As mentioned above, the path to a career as a nurse practitioner often starts with earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. From there, students will need to earn a Master of Science in Nursing from an accredited program. Some may choose to further their education and pursue a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).

Education opportunities for nurse practitioners at University of Phoenix

Registered nurses who want to become an NP may want to consider the MSN/Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) degree at University of Phoenix. Students can earn their degree in as little as 30 months and an intensive, five-day in-person residency. Those who graduate will be qualified for more hands-on roles in diagnosing and treating patients.

After completing the MSN/FNP program, students become eligible to sit for certification exams with the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) or pursue Family Nurse Practitioner-Board Certified (FNP-BC) and Family Nurse Practitioner-Certified (FNP-C).

For those with an active RN license and a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field, students can enroll in the MSN/FNP with a nurse bridge component. University of Phoenix’s nurse bridge program is geared toward registered nurses who already have obtained a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated — meaning, non-nursing — field.

If you’re interested in a Master of Science in Nursing/Family Nurse Practitioner at University of Phoenix, visit our program page

Wondering how to fit education into your busy life? Learn how our degrees are more flexible than the traditional online experience.

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