How to Go from an RN to an NP: All You Need to Know

nursing students graduating from rn to np
Written by
Jenna Elizabeth
Reviewed by
Miranda Kay, RN
January 29, 2024

Table of Contents

Are you a registered nurse (RN) looking to take your profession to the next level? You could consider becoming a nurse practitioner (NP). Nurse practitioners are advanced-level medical providers who assess, diagnose, and treat a wide range of patients. NPs also tend to be highly satisfied with their jobs. In fact, a nurse practitioner role was ranked as one of the best healthcare jobs in a recent U.S. News World & Report

While nurse practitioners frequently work in tandem with doctors, NPs have a high level of autonomy in diagnosing and treating patients and providing comprehensive and direct care. Moreover, nurse practitioners are often compensated generously and have ample opportunity for career advancement. Read more about nurse practitioner authority in our state-by-state guide.

With this in mind, regardless of whether you are a novice or an experienced registered nurse and ready to take your nursing career to the next level—check out the steps you must take to become a nurse practitioner. 

What Is the Difference between an RN and an NP?

One distinction between a registered nurse (RN) and a nurse practitioner (NP) is a nurse practitioner's scope of practice and level of autonomy. Essentially, RNs provide fundamental patient care, such as medication administration and patient treatment, under the supervision of physicians or nurse practitioners. 

NPs, on the other hand, have received advanced education and training, often earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). This advanced training gives nurse practitioners more authority when diagnosing, interpreting test results, and prescribing medications. Nurse practitioners can also choose whether to collaborate with other physicians or work independently. In some states, nurse practitioners have the same freedom to start and run their own private practices in states where full practice, sometimes known as NP practice autonomy, is permitted. 

In a nutshell, the primary distinction between RNs vs NPs is that NPs can carry out physician-typical tasks like ordering tests, prescribing treatments, and diagnosing patients—while RNs cannot.

What Are Some Basic Duties of NPs?

Nurse Practitioners can be in charge of providing comprehensive and holistic care to patients. Often, but not always, NPs work in conjunction with other medical professionals to diagnose and treat patients' acute and chronic conditions. NPs can also order, carry out, and interpret diagnostic procedures like X-rays and lab work. Many NPs are qualified to prescribe drugs and serve as the patient's primary care provider. Nurse practitioners might also help with disease prevention counseling and encourage patients to lead positive, healthy lives. 

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

If you want to learn how to become a nurse practitioner, regardless of your nursing experience level, it's a good idea to understand what educational requirements you'll need in order to achieve this goal. With this in mind, if you want to pursue advanced practice nursing roles, specifically as a nurse practitioner, you must be prepared to study hard and gain field experience. Furthermore, admission to nurse practitioner (NP) programs is known to be competitive, sometimes with only 10-15 students admitted each year. As a result, it's critical to remain committed and studious in your undergraduate program, maintaining a GPA of at least 3.0. Also, when applying to an NP program, you may be asked to submit letters of recommendation and demonstrate that you have at least one or more years of experience working as a registered nurse. 

What Degree Do You Need to Become a Nurse Practitioner? 

The first step toward becoming a nurse practitioner (NP) is obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), which provides you with a foundation in nursing theory and practice. Admission to a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program typically requires a BSN degree. Earning an advanced nurse practitioner degree is also possible if you already have an associate degree in nursing (ADN) and want to consider completing an RN-to-BSN accelerated bridge program.  

Additionally, some nurses may pursue a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree; however, this type of degree requires additional years of education, preparing nurses for leadership positions, and is geared more toward nurses with an MSN. 

Weigh your options when choosing the right RN to NP program.

Steps to Become A Nurse Practitioner as a Registered Nurse

Here's a quick rundown of RN to NP programs and what to expect in your pathway to becoming a nurse practitioner: 

Step One: Obtain a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

Most NP programs require a  Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) as a prerequisite for applying for an MSN graduate program. However, individuals with an associate degree in nursing or a bachelor’s degree in another field can choose from a few “bridge” programs to obtain a BSN degree.

Step Two: Consider a Fast-Track ADN to BSN Program

If you already have an associate degree in nursing, you may want to consider a bridge ADN to BSN program. Most ADN to BSN bridge programs are completed in two to three years. Similarly, you might qualify for an accelerated BSN program if your bachelor's degree is in an unrelated field (see step five below).

Step Three: Pass the NCLEX Exam

The National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX, is the prerequisite for becoming a registered nurse, the first step towards becoming a nurse practitioner. State licenses require nurses to pass the national board certification exam, or NCLEX, to practice legally in a clinical setting. 

Step Four: Gain Experience

Once you have your Bachelor of Science in Nursing, working as an RN for a few years is an excellent idea to gain valuable clinical experience. Most NP programs require applicants to have at least one if not two, years of clinical experience as registered nurses.

Step Five: Pursue a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

After gaining clinical experience as an RN, you can begin to apply to an accredited nurse practitioner program. A few ways exist to complete a Master of Science in Nursing degree: 

  • RN-to-MSN programs are ideal for RNs with experience but no Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or individuals with an undergraduate degree unrelated to nursing. An RN-to-MSN program allows you to enter an MSN program while completing your BSN and MSN degrees. 
  • BSN-to-MSN programs are great for RNs with a BSN who have completed their BSN and would like to focus on completing an MSN, which takes about two years. 
  • Direct-entry MSN programs are good for nurses with a bachelor's degree in another field. A direct-entry MSN program is an intensive program that offers a full-time curriculum with a strong focus on hands-on experience via clinical rotations and a leadership-specific courseload. Elmhurst University states that a direct MSN program is "the fastest pathway to becoming a Nurse Practitioner."

Step Six: Choose a Nursing Speciality 

Once you've decided on an RN to NP program that's right for you, you'll need to select a focus and a clinical area of concentration. NPs will typically choose and work in one of six main focus areas: 

  • Adult-Gerontology
  • Family
  • Neonatal
  • Pediatric
  • Psychiatric
  • Women's Health

Step Seven: Become Board Certified

Once you have graduated and chosen your specialty, it's time to take the state exam specific to your population's specialty. After passing your exam, you will apply for your initial NP license. In order to keep your NP license up to date, you may have to periodically renew your license depending on your state's specific requirements. 

What Are Accelerated RN to NP Programs? 

group of registered nurses becoming nurse practitioners
RN to NP programs can include classroom training.

As mentioned above, accelerated RN-to-NP programs may include RN-to-MSN programs, BSN-to-MSN programs, and Direct MSN Programs. Likewise, RN to NP online programs provide working nurses a convenient way to continue their jobs while pursuing a graduate degree and earning advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) status. Ultimately, an accelerated RN to NP program allows registered nurses (RNs) to fast-track their training and become nurse practitioners (NPs) in a shorter time frame.

How Long to Go From RN to NP?

The time it takes to go from an RN to an NP depends on the program. If you have an associate degree, an RN to NP path may take 3-4 years. Accelerated RN to NP programs may take less time, especially if you already have your undergraduate degree in nursing. Consequently, many BSN to NP programs can take as little as two years if you commit to studying full-time. If you decide to pursue a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), this can add additional education—typically up to three years. Finally, if you are starting without an undergraduate degree, becoming a nurse practitioner can take anywhere from six to eight years.

How Much Can I Make as an NP?

All that studying and years of commitment to fulfilling your dream of becoming a nurse practitioner has a big payoff. As a matter of fact, according to the most recent BLS data available, a nurse practitioner can make an average of $124,680, a year, or $$ 59.94 an hour. Furthermore, top-paying states can offer a nurse an even more generous salary. The following are some of the highest average and best-paying conditions for Nurse Practitioners: 

Due to the level of education and training required for the role, nurse practitioner jobs offer nationwide competitive salaries. Moreover,  because nurse practitioners are frequently sought after by acute care settings nationwide, nurses who choose to become NPs can anticipate a high demand for their skills.

Becoming a Nurse Practitioner: Is it Worth It?

While becoming a nurse practitioner requires time and effort, the payoff is, quite literally, excellent. That's because high salaries and flexibility are why many nursing professionals become nurse practitioners. So, the answer is yes, becoming a nurse practitioner is definitely worth it. 

Are you a registered nurse looking to gain experience in the field or a nurse practitioner looking to earn a great wage while making a difference? Consider picking up PRN nursing jobs and connecting to local facilities near you today. 

Sources:

Blog published on:
January 29, 2024

Meet Jenna, a contributing copywriter at Nursa who writes about healthcare news and updates, empathy and compassion for nurses, how to show staff appreciation and increase retention, and guides that help nurses navigate career pathways.

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