To begin a nurse practitioner education, the first step is to earn a registered nurse (RN) license. There are several ways to do this, including diploma and associate degree programs, but for those who want to someday become an NP, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing followed by successful completion of the National Council Licensure Examination-Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN) is the preferred path. This is because BSN programs generally better prepare nurses for the rigorous education required of NPs and also leave graduates at least two years closer to completing their master's or doctoral degree than other RN programs.
After completing a master's or doctorate degree, nurses can apply for licensure as a nurse practitioner. Every state has a board of nursing that regulates NP licenses, and each has its own particular credentialing standards. Most states require, at minimum, a master's and certification by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners or American Nurses Credentialing Center. Licensing periods also vary from state to state: some require relicensing every two years, while others require it every three.
Finally, certification from additional organizations might be required to enter certain specialties. For example, the American Psychiatric Nursing Association sets credentialing standards for nurse practitioners who want to work in the psychiatric field.
Health-care employment is growing by leaps and bounds, so finding nurse practitioner jobs after licensure shouldn't be too difficult. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the nursing field to grow by 22 percent through 2018, a pace that is much faster than the average for all professions. This means there should be almost 600,000 new nursing jobs created over the next eight years, in addition to hundreds of thousands of job openings that will result from nurses who retire or leave for other reasons. Licensed NPs have the advanced education and training that qualifies them for many of the most sought-after and best-paying positions.
Nurse practitioner salaries are among the highest in the nursing field. According to PayScale.com, NPs with one to four years of experience earn between $65,000 and $80,000 annually. Those who have been in the field for five to nine years bring in anywhere from $70,000 to $88,000 per year, while NPs who have been practicing for over ten years can increase that to more than $93,000. Location and the type of facility an NP works in also play a role in determining how much they earn, as those who work in large cities, and those employed by surgery centers or the military, tend to have the highest top-end salaries.