Become a Nurse Practitioner: How to Go From RN to NP
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Nurse practitioners (NPs) have some of the best career prospects in the United States. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for nurse practitioners is $111,680, and job opportunities could grow by 52% from 2020-2030.
Nurse practitioners have more professional autonomy and better access to nursing leadership roles. This guide explores how to make the move from registered nurse to nurse practitioner, introduces you to nurse practitioner bridge programs, and can help you make the right decision as you consider this career step.
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What Is a Nurse Practitioner?
Nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) with a master of science in nursing (MSN) degree from an accredited NP program. NPs also must pass board certification. In most states, NP programs require or strongly prefer experience as a registered nurse (RN).
NPs, unlike RNs and licensed practical nurses (LPNs), can diagnose conditions and prescribe medications as nurse practitioners, including controlled substances. In many states, they must practice under a physician's supervision. This is more of a reporting relationship than the direct supervision that an RN might provide for an LPN job.
It takes time and effort to become an APRN, but the career comes with great growth potential. There are many RN-to-NP bridge programs to choose from.
What Are the Benefits of Becoming a Nurse Practitioner?
Going from an RN to an NP is a significant investment in time and money, including at least two years of graduate school. However, the RN-to-NP career path provides significant rewards, and most who have made this career jump say that the transition from RN to NP is worth it.
Career Growth and Opportunities
The BLS projects that nurse practitioner jobs could grow 52%, compared to the 8% job growth across all occupations between 2020 and 2030. Factors driving this growth include the increasing demand for healthcare for the aging U.S. population, greater recognition of the effectiveness of nurse practitioners, and the need for clinicians with higher education.
More Flexibility and Autonomy
Many nurses make the move from RN to nurse practitioner to experience more professional autonomy. Nurse practitioners can diagnose conditions, prescribe medications, and act as primary care providers.
NPs must work under the supervision of a physician in some states, but this means they report to a physician or can call upon a physician for consultation as needed. NPs do not receive direct physician supervision on their daily responsibilities.
The transition from nurse to nurse practitioner can prove financially rewarding. As reported by the BLS, while the RN median annual salary of $75,330 is already above the U.S. median of $41,950, a nurse practitioner salary is $111,680 annually.
The financial benefits of becoming a nurse practitioner can help offset education costs. You can finance your MSN degree through nursing scholarships and grants.
How RNs Can Become NPs
To become a nurse practitioner, you must first earn an MSN degree from an accredited program. Many MSN programs require or strongly prefer candidates with at least two years of experience as an RN. If you have a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), you can enroll in a traditional on-campus or online nurse practitioner program. If you are an RN with an associate degree, you can enter a bridge RN-to-MSN program.
After you graduate, you must pass the board certification examination in a particular specialty, such as family practice, women's health NP, geriatrics, psychiatric nurse practitioner, or pediatrics. You also need to apply for state licensure. Prior criminal convictions, especially for violent crimes, may make you ineligible. If you're uncertain about your qualifications, check your state board of nursing.
If you do not have a BSN, many schools offer RN-to-MSN or RN-to-BSN bridge programs for nurses with an ADN. Like MSN programs, there are excellent online options. Bridge programs usually take longer to complete, between 3-4 years instead of two years for a BSN-to-NP program, since it covers a BSN curriculum too.
RN-to-NP Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to go from RN to NP?
Most RN-to-NP programs take a minimum of two years of full-time study for BSN nurses. Part-time programs take longer to complete. Many RN-to-NP programs also require or strongly prefer at least two years of experience as an RN. If you have an ADN, the path from RN to nurse practitioner may take an additional 1-2 years.
Can you go straight from RN to NP?
To go from RN to NP, you must earn an MSN degree from an accredited program, and then pass the board certification examination in your chosen field of practice. The path from BSN to NP will take at least two years and longer for ADN to NP.
How long does it take to bridge from RN to NP?
You can complete most BSN-to-NP programs in two years, studying full time. If you have an associate degree, the RN-to-NP path takes 3-4 years. Part-time programs take longer, but if you want to keep working as a full-time or part-time nurse while studying, most schools offer part-time RN-to-NP programs.
Is it worth going from RN to NP?
Whether it's worth it to go from an RN to an NP depends on your career and financial goals. Increased autonomy brings more responsibility, but two or more years of graduate school is a significant time and financial investment. Most nurses who made the RN-to-NP career change say that it was worth it for the increased autonomy, opportunity to make more of an impact in patients' lives, and financial rewards. Additionally, some employers will offer tuition reimbursement for RNs to return to school for an NP program, which can eliminate the financial strain.
Elizabeth M. Clarke, FNP, MSN, RN, MSSW
Elizabeth Clarke (Poon) is a board-certified family nurse practitioner who provides primary and urgent care to pediatric populations. She earned a BSN and MSN from the University of Miami.
Clarke is a paid member of our Healthcare Review Partner Network. Learn more about our review partners.
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