Nurse Practitioners


Education and Training Requirements

High School

If you want to become a nurse practitioner, you will first need to become a registered nurse. To prepare for this career, you should take high school mathematics and science courses, including biology, chemistry, and physics. Health courses will also be helpful. English, speech, and foreign language courses should not be neglected because you must be able to communicate well with patients.

Postsecondary Training

You must be a registered nurse (RN) before you can become a nurse practitioner. There are three basic kinds of training programs that you may choose from to become a registered nurse: bachelor's degree, master's degree, or doctorate degree. The training program to choose depends on your career goals. A bachelor's degree in nursing is required for most supervisory or administrative positions, for jobs in public health agencies, and for admission to graduate nursing programs. A master's degree is usually necessary to prepare for a nursing specialty or to teach. For some specialties, such as nursing research, a Ph.D. is essential.

A master's degree is required to become a nurse practitioner. Admission to good nurse practitioner programs is very competitive. Nurse practitioner programs last one to two years and provide advanced study in diagnostic skills, health assessment, pharmacology, clinical management, and research skills. Usually the student begins with generalist work and later focuses on a specific nurse practitioner specialty.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Not all states require nurse practitioners to be nationally certified; however, certification is strongly recommended by those in the profession. Certification in a variety of specialties is offered by such organizations as the American Nurses Credentialing Center,  American Association of Nurse Practitioners, Pediatric Nursing Certification Board, and Society of Urologic Nurses and Associates. Certification typically involves passing a written exam, and requirements for recertification usually include completing a certain amount of continuing education. Exact requirements vary according to the certifying group.

All states and the District of Columbia require a license to practice nursing. To obtain a license, graduates of approved nursing schools must pass a national examination. Nurses may be licensed by more than one state. In some states, continuing education is a condition for license renewal.

State requirements for licensing and registration of nurse practitioners vary. All states license them to prescribe medications independently, although some states have restrictions regarding the prescription of controlled substances. For specifics, contact your state's nursing board. (Visit the National Council of State Boards of Nursing Web site at for information.)

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Nurse practitioners should have proven track records in their specialty area. For example, an infectious diseases NP should have experience collaborating with physicians to care for inpatients with transmissible or communicable diseases. Their responsibilities include interpreting laboratory and microbiologic data and antibiotic management. A sports medicine NP's background should include performing physical, musculoskeletal, and orthopedic examinations. They should be able to prescribe appropriate diagnostic tests and physical and occupational therapy treatments. This NP should be familiar with pain management services, such as trigger point and joint injections.

In addition to well-honed clinical specialty skills, NPs should enjoy working with people and be strongly committed to making a positive difference in patients' lives. They should possess excellent communication skills and exhibit patience, flexibility, and the ability to remain calm in an emergency.

Since new medical technologies and patient treatments are constantly being developed and implemented, nurse practitioners must stay on the cutting-edge of current research and practices in their specialty field.