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How to Become a Nurse Practitioner: Steps to Take From High School

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What’s Covered:


If you are interested in the health field but aren’t sure if you want to commit to the long process of going through medical school, you might want to consider becoming a nurse practitioner. In fact, chances are your primary care “doctor” may actually be a nurse practitioner. 


This post can help you figure out the right steps to take to become an NP and how to determine the best colleges for the field.


What Does a Nurse Practitioner Do?


A nurse practitioner is responsible for being on the frontlines of patient care and providing healthcare, treatments, and management of the entire patient experience. NPs tend to spend a lot of time interacting and working directly with patients, so having empathy and compassion are also important.


A nurse practitioner is one of the more advanced nursing positions with more responsibility than registered nurses. Nurse practitioners can prescribe medication, treat and diagnose illnesses, and more with less or no supervision from a medical doctor, depending on the state.


It’s important to note the distinction between nurse practitioners and physicians assistants. While they’re very similar positions, NPs are trained in advanced nursing and required to choose a specialty, whereas PAs education is based on medical school training and they can practice general medicine. 


How Much Do Nurse Practitioners Make?


The national average annual salary of a nurse practitioner is $117,670 according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics. The salary of a nurse practitioner can depend on a lot of factors, such as the location and specialty. The lower range of the salary is around $80,000 and the higher end is around $150,000.

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How to Become a Nurse Practitioner: Steps to Take from High School


High School


Getting a head start in high school can show colleges and grad schools that you’re interested in and passionate about nursing. You should focus on any math or science-related courses, such as biology, chemistry and anatomy.


It’s important to take as many AP or honors classes as you can handle while maintaining a strong GPA. This will show colleges that you’re challenging yourself and working hard.


It’s also important to participate in extracurriculars that are related to nursing or the health field. Some examples include organizing blood drives or volunteering at a nursing home, hospice care, or a local hospital. You could also try shadowing a nurse at a local health care facility if you’re able to get permission to do so. 




In order to attend graduate school to become an NP, you’re required to earn a bachelor’s of science in nursing. Even if you have a bachelor’s degree in another field, you must also earn a bachelor’s of science in nursing, although it may be completed through an accelerated program.


The college you attend must be an accredited program and you can expect to take courses such as biochemistry, health care ethics, nutrition, patient care, psychology, and more.


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In addition to taking the right classes and maintaining a strong GPA, you should also try and get involved in extracurriculars related to nursing. Check with your college to see what extracurriculars are available for students in your nursing major. If your school doesn’t offer any specifically for your major, you could consider volunteering at local hospitals or participating in any health-related clubs or organizations. 


For example, some students become Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs). EMTs provide out of hospital emergency medical care and transportation for critical and emergent patients. Some schools offer certification programs though the school like at Amherst College, or you can become certified and work in the surrounding community. This is a great way to gain experience in the health profession and you can really make a difference in people’s lives. 


Take the NCLEX


Once you graduate and earn your bachelor’s degree, you’re then eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to become a registered nurse.


Before taking the exam, you need to register with the National Council of State Boards of Nursing to receive an Authorization to Test, then you can sign up. It’s a good idea to prepare ahead and do this well in advance of the exam date. 


After you pass the exam, you will need to obtain a state license in the state(s) you wish to work in. Every state requires nurses to have a license, but requirements vary from state to state, so contact your state board of nursing to find out what you need to do.


Graduate School


Since a Master of Science in Nursing is required to become an NP, you must apply to and get accepted into a graduate program. There are about 400 academic institutions that offer NP programs in the United States, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. Some students may also choose to pursue a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree, which is more advanced than just a master’s degree.


Spend time researching and deciding what programs are right for you and consider what level of education you want to pursue. You should also consider what specialty you want to go into and make sure the schools you’re interested in have it as an option. Some speciality options include:


  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Oncology Nurse Practitioner
  • Nurse Anesthesiology
  • Neonatology


Pass the National NP Certification Board Exam


Once you’ve completed your master’s or DNP program, you need to pass a National NP Certification Board Exam. This exam will differ depending on which specialty you choose. For example, if you want to become an emergency nurse practitioner, your test will cover a broad range of disorders, ranging from cardiovascular to trauma.


After passing the exam, you will need to apply for your NP license in your state. Similarly, requirements differ for each state, so make sure you check specifics for your state.


It may sound like a long process, but throughout your studies and certification you will already be working hands on with patients. 

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Asia is a graduate of Tulane University where she studied English and Public Health. She's held multiple writing positions and has experience writing about everything from furniture to higher education to nutrition and exercise.