To become a nurse practitioner (NP) in the United States, you typically need a master’s degree in nursing (MSN) or a related field. While some programs offer a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree for nurse practitioners, an MSN is the most common educational requirement for entry-level positions.
This page will provide a high-level overview of the educational journey for successful nursing practitioners and some alternative careers in healthcare for those who do not want to pursue a master’s degree.
How To Become a Nurse Practitioner
Becoming a nurse practitioner (NP) can be a rewarding career path for those interested in providing primary care to patients. NPs are advanced practice registered nurses with a master’s or doctoral degree licensed to practice in their state. The following steps disclose the typical educational journey for most professionals practicing successfully in this field.
1. Earn an associate degree in nursing
An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) typically takes about two years to complete and provides students with a solid foundation in nursing theory and practice and hands-on clinical experience. In addition, this can prepare them to take the National Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) and become licensed RNs.
While a Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN) degree is becoming increasingly preferred by employers, it is still possible for RNs with an associate degree to work as a nurse and gain the necessary experience while continuing their education. This career track can be especially beneficial for those who may not have the time or resources to pursue a higher degree immediately.
2. Earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing
Many nurse practitioner programs require applicants to have a Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN) degree. However, one way to earn a BSN to become a nurse practitioner is to enroll in an RN-to-BSN program. These programs are designed for individuals with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a nursing diploma who want to earn a BSN. RN-to-BSN programs usually take one to two years to complete and can be completed online or in person.
A BSN can provide aspiring nurses with more career opportunities and higher salaries than an ADN. Some employers prefer or require a BSN for certain nursing positions, such as nursing management or research roles.
3. Pass the NCLEX exam and become a registered nurse
After earning an ADN or BSN, nursing graduates must apply for licensure in the state where they plan to practice. Once their application is approved, they can schedule their exam with the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).
Individuals must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to become registered nurses in the United States. The NCLEX tests the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to perform safely and effectively as an entry-level RN.
Passing the NCLEX is a critical step in becoming a registered nurse. It demonstrates that the individual has the knowledge and skills to provide safe and effective patient care. Once an individual passes the NCLEX and becomes licensed as an RN, they can begin working in a healthcare setting and pursue the advanced education necessary to become a Nursing Practitioner.
4. Earn a master’s degree in nursing
After passing the NCLEX exam and working as a registered nurse for at least one year, individuals can pursue their master’s degree in nursing. MSN programs can take one to three years to complete and include coursework in advanced nursing theory, research, and clinical practice.
Earning an MSN is a crucial step to becoming a nurse practitioner, as it provides individuals with the advanced education and clinical experience necessary to develop the skills and knowledge to be successful in the field. Nurse practitioner programs build on the foundation of nursing education to provide specialized training in healthcare management, patient assessment, diagnosis, and treatment planning.
Additionally, earning an MSN can expand an individual’s career opportunities and earning potential. Nurse practitioners are in high demand and often earn higher salaries than registered nurses.
5. Become certified as a nurse practitioner
Several nurse practitioner certification exams are available, each with its own eligibility requirements and costs. The most common nurse practitioner certification exams include the following:
|Exam||Who it’s for||Eligibility Requirements||Price|
|American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) Certification Exam||Adult-gerontology, family, pediatric, and psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners||A current RN license, a master’s degree from an accredited nurse practitioner program, and 500-1000 hours of supervised clinical practice in the relevant specialty||$295-$395, depending on the specialty|
|American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB) Certification Exam||Family nurse practitioners||A current RN license, a master’s degree from an accredited nurse practitioner program, and 500 hours of supervised clinical practice as an FNP||$315|
|Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB) Certification Exam||Pediatric nurse practitioners||A current RN license, a master’s degree from an accredited nurse practitioner program, and 500 hours of supervised clinical practice as a pediatric nurse practitioner||$385|
|National Certification Corporation (NCC) Certification Exam||Women’s health, neonatal, and pediatric nurse practitioners||A current RN license, a master’s degree from an accredited nurse practitioner program, and clinical experience in the relevant specialty.||$325-$375, depending on the specialty|
Alternative Careers in Healthcare
For those interested in healthcare but who don’t want to pursue a master’s degree, there are many alternative career paths to consider. From nursing to nutrition to recreational therapy, there are a variety of roles in the healthcare industry that do not require an advanced degree. In this short list, we will explore some of the most promising alternative careers in healthcare for those looking to enter the field without a master’s degree.
A registered nurse (RN) is a healthcare professional responsible for providing patient care, assessing health conditions, and developing care plans. RNs often work in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and home healthcare. In 2021, the median salary for RNs was $77,600.
Registered nurses typically have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) from an accredited nursing program. In addition, they must pass the NCLEX to become licensed.
The career outlook for registered nurses is very positive. Employment of registered nurses is projected to grow six percent from 2021 to 2031, which is faster than the average for all occupations. This growth is expected to be driven by an aging population, increased demand for healthcare services, and a greater emphasis on preventative care. As a result, RNs can expect many job opportunities and career advancement options in the coming years.
Clinical laboratory technician
A clinical laboratory technician (CLT) performs laboratory tests and procedures on patient specimens, such as blood, urine, and tissue samples. CLTs work in clinical laboratories in hospitals and clinics to provide diagnostic information to healthcare providers. The median salary for CLTs was $57,800 in 2021.
To become a CLT, individuals typically need to earn an associate degree from an accredited medical laboratory technician program and pass a certification exam. CLTs may pursue additional adulation and certifications in specialized areas of laboratory testing, including microbiology, chemistry, or hematology.
Employment of clinical laboratory technicians is expected to grow seven percent over the next decade. This growth is expected to be driven by increased demand for laboratory testing from an aging population and advancements in medical technology.
A nutritionist specializes in studying nutrition and its effects on the human body. Nutritionists work with individuals and groups to develop and implement nutrition plans that promote health and prevent disease. They may work in hospitals, clinics, schools, public health organizations, and private practice. The median salary for dietitians and nutritionists was $61,650 in 2021.
Nutritionists typically have a bachelor’s degree in nutrition or dietetics and may need to complete a dietetic internship and pass a certification exam. In addition, some states, including Alabama, Florida, and Tennessee, have licensure or registration requirements for nutritionists.
The employment of dietitians and nutritionists is projected to grow seven percent from 2021 to 2031. The growth is expected to be driven by a growing awareness of nutrition as a preventative and treatment method for chronic diseases, aging populations, and an increasing need for nutrition services in healthcare facilities.
An exercise physiologist is an expert in studying how the body responds to physical activity and exercise. Exercise physiologists work with individuals and groups to develop exercise programs that improve overall well-being and reduce the risk of illness. They typically work in hospitals, clinics, fitness centers, and sports organizations. In 2021, the median salary for exercise physiologists was $47,940.
To become an exercise physiologist, individuals typically need a bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology, kinesiology, or a related field. In addition, they may need to complete a clinical internship and pass a certification exam. Arkansas, North Carolina, Ohio, and New Mexico have licensure requirements for exercise physiologists.
Employment of exercise physiologists is projected to grow nine percent over the next decade. The nation’s increased awareness of the importance of physical activity in preventing and managing chronic diseases and the demand for exercise services in healthcare facilities is expected to drive this growth.
Recreational therapists use recreational and leisure activities as a form of treatment to improve the physical, emotional, cognitive, and social functioning of individuals with disabilities, injuries, illnesses, or other health conditions. Recreational therapists often work in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, and community organizations. The median salary for recreational therapists was $47,940 in 2021.
Recreational therapists typically have a bachelor’s degree in recreational therapy or a related field and may also need to complete a clinical internship and pass a certification exam. Oklahoma, New Hampshire, Utah, and North Carolina have licensure requirements for recreational therapists.
Employment of recreational therapists is expected to grow four percent from 2021 to 2031, growing at a typical pace compared to other careers.
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