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Becoming an NP

Becoming an NP: Associate’s Degree

There are two educational routes one can take to become a nurse practitioner. First, one can become a registered nurse by obtaining a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) and then continue on to achieve a master’s degree as a nurse practitioner. The second route one can take to become a nurse practitioner is to obtain an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN), then a BSN and then a master’s degree.

There is not a nurse practitioner role with an associate degree. The education requirements are much greater and involve specialization and a great degree of education on pharmacology, and anatomy and physiology, medication prescribing and advanced clinical practice. This prepares nurse practitioners to prescribe and diagnose the patients within their practice.

An associate degree nursing program allows its students to obtain a graduate nurse associate degree and then test for the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) examination. This is the first step in becoming licensed in practicing as a registered nurse. With further education, the registered nurse can become a nurse practitioner.

The education requirements for an associate degree are similar to that of a diploma program and BSN program. First, general education requirements are completed, followed by courses in psychology, history, math and English. The student will also focus on anatomy any physiology, chemistry, microbiology pharmacology. The nursing process, medical/surgical, psychiatric, pediatric, and maternal and child, as well as other specific critical thinking areas, will be addressed. Clinical rotations will take place in all aspects of nursing: pediatrics, maternal and child, adult gerontology, psychiatric as well as possible rotations through specialty areas of the student’s and clinical instructor’s choice. An associate program like this can be a step on the path to becoming a nurse practitioner, but it will be the first step on a journey that requires greater advanced training.

Becoming an NP: Bachelor’s Degree

When deciding to further one’s nursing education the process can be time consuming. Among other things, it requires deciding which school or program to take classes from. The student may already have an associate’s degree in nursing and may be furthering their education to obtain a bachelor’s degree. This degree will require additional critical thinking skills, statistics and ethical issues with nursing. In the bachelor’s degree program, there are numerous studies about advanced nursing, ethical and legal issues, leadership, health and wellness, nursing research, and management with health care environment. There are additional electives that are required to reach the total credits for graduation. Some of these include: courses in arts and humanities, physical science, social science, statistics and open electives.

If the student already has an associate’s degree in nursing, there are many advantages to working in the field while obtaining a BSN degree. This will benefit the nurse and help him or her focus on skill improvement and also provide a greater understanding of what is expected of the bachelor’s degree nurse. This opportunity will provide the nurse with a chance to see what areas of nursing they enjoy and would like to focus on in the future practice environment.

The time required to obtain a BSN can range from a four-year degree program to an 18-month accelerated RN to BSN program. The courses of study will depend upon the credits needed to obtain and complete the program. In general, the studies will be focused on humanities, sciences and electives. The program will have numerous credits in the field of nursing practice and ethical and legal issues today for the nurse. These courses are dependent upon the program, but there are general guidelines set by the State Board of Nursing. When considering which school or university to select first look the State Board of Nursing web site for your state to find out what schools are available in your area.

If you are interested in becoming a registered nurse, most states have guidelines that need to be fulfilled. First, complete one of the available state-approved RN programs. Next, pass the NCLEX RN examination. Finally, pass a criminal history background check. Then the application process can begin (or continue, depending on the state) to see what area of nursing will be selected. Then the ongoing education requirements are placed on nurses to maintain licensure in their state. These vary and can also be found on the State Board of Nursing web sites for review. These are all the first steps to becoming a nurse practitioner, which lay the foundation for furthering your education and specializing in the field of your choice.

Becoming an NP: Master’s Degree

The nursing shortage has created a demand for qualified nursing professionals –especially those with master's degree education. Nurse practitioners have the opportunity to perform many of the same jobs as a physician. They offer individualized care to patients and can prescribe, diagnose and order lab and or diagnostic testing. The shortage of nurses is changing the dynamics of the health care industry and has created opportunities for specialization. A shortage of primary care physicians also has provided greater opportunities for nurse practitioners. This is why we currently see a rise in the career opportunities for the profession in general. School enrollments have risen during the last five years and have provided many job opportunities and specialty areas of growth in this profession.

Students considering the nurse practitioner master’s degree program can enroll in a post-master’s certificate program. The graduate of a nurse practitioner program is qualified to take the clinical nurse specialist and nurse practitioner certification exams. The focus depends upon the individual’s choice and what career direction they are considering. The core focus of courses will be concentrated on nursing, but all nursing students need to learn about: research development and principles, health care ethics and legal concerns, public policy and health care today, and advance pharmacology and prescribing.

One advantage to earning a master’s degree is that the student can begin work as a nurse practitioner immediately after taking and passing the nurse practitioner certification examination. The nurse who only has an associate’s or bachelor degree is unable to become a nurse practitioner until their master’s degree is completed, although they can practice with the RN license once it is obtained. This is currently the minimal requirement to practice according to the nurse practitioner guidelines. The new standard requirements will be enacted by 2015 and will require students to obtain a doctoral degree for practice purposes. This gives the master’s prepared nurse the advantage and endless opportunities to specialize in many areas including, but not limited to: pediatrics, gerontology, mental health, neonatal, occupational health, midwifery and acute care.

The educational program to earn your master’s degree can take up to three years, but can also be accelerated depending on the nurse’s current achievements and schooling. This varies by school. The average number of credits needed for completion of a master’s program is almost 60 credits. The advanced doctorate degree is trending to be the standard by 2015, although the current courses in the master’s program can be doctoral-level material in nature but without the achievement of the doctoral degree.

The prerequisites are similar to that of any nursing program and include humanities, anatomy and physiology, chemistry, microbiology, statistics, pharmacology, nutrition, nursing principles and all courses related to the basic RN nursing degree. The remaining credits are electives and can be selected to coincide with the area of specialty that the future nurse practitioner has a desire to practice.

When deciding on a master’s degree school, the nurse should think about what the school offers to accommodate his or her current nursing practice. What can the master’s prepared program offer them to achieve their goals in a timely fashion? This will help in facilitating the transition from registered nurse to nurse practitioner.


Last Updated: 05/19/2014