How to Go From Registered Nurse to Nurse Practitioner (RN to NP)
If you're a registered nurse, you've likely considered advancing your career and one of the most popular options to do that is becoming a nurse practitioner. The increased autonomy, career opportunities, and higher salary are just some of the reasons RNs choose to pursue their NP. According to U.S. News and World Report, nurse practitioners are actually ranked the best healthcare job of 2022! But, how do you go about becoming a nurse practitioner as a registered nurse: through RN to NP programs. Keep reading to find out more about them and how to enroll in one.
What Are RN to NP Programs?
RN to NP programs are programs for registered nurses looking to become nurse practitioners. There are full-time, part-time, and online options, as well as options based on what level of education you're starting out with -- ADN vs BSN vs MSN.
One of the most important things to consider if you want to become a nurse practitioner is the patient population you want to work with. The specialty you choose will determine the type of coursework you study in your program. Some of the most common nurse practitioner specialties include:
- Family NP
- Adult-Gerontology Acute Care NP
- Adult-Gerontology Primary Care NP
- Women's Health NP
- Pediatric NP
- Neonatal NP
- Psychiatric Mental Health NP
4 Ways to Go From an RN to an NP
In general, NP programs take around two to three years to complete when you're starting from an RN. Here are some of the pathways available to becoming a nurse practitioner:
ADN to NP
ADN to NP programs are designed to be a fast track for nurses to earn a master's degree as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) and obtain certification and licensure as an NP.
These are intensive and accelerated programs that can usually be completed full-time in about three years. Upon graduation, students earn a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) and an APRN degree as an NP without attending two separate programs.
Diploma RN to NP
RNs who have completed a diploma program can also enter into bridge direct entry NP programs but may need to meet with a school counselor to guide their program, and/or take additional prerequisites before enrolling.
BSN to NP
One of the most common options, a BSN-NP program takes you from a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) directly into a master’s NP program. Some students choose to enroll directly from their BSN undergraduate program or work in a clinical setting before advancing their education.
BSN to NP programs can be achieved through an MSN. However, many schools offer BSN to Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs. At this time, NPs must have a minimum of an MSN.
BSN to NP programs can usually be completed in 24-26 months for an MSN or 36-48 months for a DNP if attending school full-time.
Direct Entry Nurse Practitioner Programs
If you’re not a nurse but have a degree in another field, you can enroll in a direct entry nurse practitioner program. Essentially, you take an accelerated nursing program in about one year for the first portion of the program to be eligible for the NCLEX, then you continue on to the NP coursework for the second half of the program. Many schools also recommend that with this option, course participants take at least a year between the first and sections to gain hands-on clinical experience as well.Depending on where you choose to do your coursework to become a nurse practitioner, the options are varied. Programs across the country offer full-time, part-time, and online choices. Some take one year full-time, and others can go for years with part-time classes and clinic work.
Keep in mind that there are significantly more BSN and direct-entry NP programs than ADN or diploma RN programs. If you are considering nursing school and think you may want to become an NP sometime in the future, your options may be significantly limited if you don’t achieve a BSN first.
RN (ADN) to NP Programs
Picking the right ADN to NP program can be an overwhelming decision. The best program for you will depend on many factors and how important each is to you during your educational journey.
While there aren't that many ADN to NP programs available, here are two that recommend:
Herzing University offers an accelerated ADN to Family Nurse Practitioner program. Herzing has an “everywhere classroom, where students can learn on their own schedules and at their own pace and will set up your clinical placements for you.
- Tuition: Students must use the school's tuition wizard to see how much tuition costs. Prices vary based on campus and whether you want online or in-person learning.
- Program length: As few as two years (for the accelerated program), but usually closer to 32 months (for students who also want to earn a BSN)
Aspen University is known for its excellence in distance learning. The university is accredited by the CCNE and the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC).
The university offers an ADN to NP path that students can achieve at their own pace. Classes start every two weeks.
- Tuition: Around $20,000 depending on the program you choose
- Program length: As little as three years or longer
Top BSN to NP Programs
Considerations we used to rank each program below include affordability, length of the programs, accreditation status, program flexibility, and academic quality. Each of the programs on this list is accredited by the CCNE.
John Hopkins offers BSN to NP programs specializing in adult-geriatric, family practice, pediatric, and psychiatric care. Each program results in the student earning a DNP credential. Most programs can be completed remotely with onsite clinical rotations in the student's location.
- Tuition: $1,738 per credit
- Program length: 4 years
The Duke University School of Nursing offers an MSN program for bachelor-prepared RNs looking to become an NP. This program is entirely online and distanced-based. However, students may have required on-campus activities for a few of their courses.
Students may complete clinical work in healthcare facilities close to home. Students also have an option to obtain specialty certificates upon graduation.
- Tuition: $1,838 per credit
- Program length: 24-26 months (42 to 49 credit hours)
The Neil Hodgen Woodruff School of Nursing at Emory offers APRN education in many NP specialties, including adult-gerontology, pediatrics, psychiatric care, women's health, neonatal, and emergency care. The school's website reports that each curriculum consists of three components: theoretical core, clinical core, and specialty content.
- Tuition: $1,963 per credit
- Program length: About 4 semesters
Columbia’s DNP program prepares BSN-educated RNs to provide comprehensive care to many patient populations. Graduates are eligible for state licensure and professional certification in their specialty areas.
- Tuition: $87,242
- Program length: Three years, full-time
The University of Washington offers a family nurse practitioner track focusing on providing primary care for patients throughout their lifespans. The school's website emphasizes that they aim to help prepare students to deliver family-focused care for various backgrounds, including underserved communities.
- In-state $17,919 per year
- Out-of-state $31,026 per year
- Program length: Three years
Vanderbilt University is a private research university located in Nashville, TN. The university offers a BSN to NP program with online and distance learning options.
Upon completing the MSN portion and earning certification and licensure as an NP, students may continue to earn a DNP if they wish.
- Tuition: $1,716 per credit
- Program length: Two to three years if full-time
Ohio State University offers a family nurse practitioner track to prepare BSN-level nurses for a career providing care within a wide range of clinical settings. The university's family nurse practitioner track is even ranked #3 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report!
Ohio State has two FNP tracks. The on-campus track is available to students with a BSN and students in the direct-MSN program. The distance program is also available to students entering with a traditional BSN.
- In-state: $973 per credit
- Out-of-state: $2,447 per credit
- Program length: Two years if full-time
Located in beautiful Northern California, the University of California, San Francisco, offers several nurse practitioner programs for BSN nurses with at least two years of patient care experience. The program provides extensive hands-on experience with a wide range of patient populations and in various clinical settings.
- In-state: $12,570 per year
- Out-of-state: $24,815 per year
- Program length: Two years
The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, offers part-time and full-time options for BSN-trained nurses to become family practice nurse practitioners. In addition, the university provides NP programs that result in an MSN or a DNP, depending on the level of education the student prefers to achieve.
- In-state: $1,351 per credit
- Out-of-state: $2,773 per credit
- Program length
- For an MSN: 2 or 3 years
- For a DNP: 3 or 4 years
The University of Pennsylvania offers BSN to NP programs through their MSN pathway. The specialty programs students can choose from include adult-gerontology, family practice, neonatal, pediatrics,psychiatric-mental health, and women’s health.
The university also offers a Post-Graduate APRN Certificate program for NPs with an MSN or DNP and certificate programs for nurses with an MSN.
- Tuition: $45,248
- Program length: 2-4 years
Online Nurse Practitioner Programs
Online nurse practitioner programs are ideal for various nursing professionals with busy schedules as they allow the entirety or majority of coursework to be completed remotely. They are flexible and give students the opportunity to work around their schedule.
>> Related: Top Online Nurse Practitioner Programs
While online programs are inclusive to all lifestyles, nurses with the following lifestyles may especially benefit from online programs:
- Working nurses
- Nurses with families
- Nurses with outside responsibilities
- Nurses with difficult and/or set schedules
3 Key Differences for Online Nurse Practitioner Programs
In general, the requirements for an online NP program are generally the same for an in-person NP program. However, there are a few differences:
- You might have to secure your own practicum site and preceptor - Not every school has this requirement but, some do not provide online students with practicum sites and preceptors. If this is important to you, make sure to ask about it before enrolling in an online program.
- You may be required to attend an in-person event - Some online programs also require you to attend at least one in-person event as part of your education at the school, such as an immersion weekend to kick off the program or different set meet-ups during the course of the program.
- Price - Depending on the program, online NP programs are sometimes more or less expensive than traditional in-person programs. Bes sure to check out price differences when choosing an online program.
Benefits of Becoming a Nurse Practitioner
There are many reasons–both personal and professional–that may drive a nurse’s decision to pursue an advanced degree. The opportunities abound for this profession.
Becoming an NP allows for increased autonomy, more specialized and intense training in your field of interest, more freedom and flexibility with your career, and usually, a higher wage.
- Operate your own clinic. Because NPs are independent practitioners, they also have the ability to operate and own their own clinic, depending on their own state rules, and have enhanced clinical skills, such as the ability to prescribe medication for treatment.
- Nurse practitioners can prescribe medications in all 50 states (Florida is the only state that won’t allow them to prescribe narcotics) and order testing for their patients. No matter what the specialty, he/she will spend the majority of time at work assessing, examining, diagnosing and treating patients.
- Nurse Practitioners can diagnose patients with diabetes or high blood pressure and then help them manage it. They can order and then interpret laboratory tests and X-rays. They also are there to educate and support patients’ families through the bad moments.
- Nurse Practitioners have the authority to work independently in most states. However, in some states, nurse practitioners are required to have a supervisory contract in place with a physician.
- Nurse practitioners have a chance to work in all types of settings including hospitals, doctors’ offices, urban and rural clinics, college campuses and within corporations.
- NPs have increased opportunities to advance in their fields and expand their practice beyond solely bedside nursing.
Is a Doctorate Required to Become an NP?
It is not a requirement that Nurse Practitioners earn a doctorate degree (DNP) unless they are pursuing a CRNA certification.
As of January 2022, it is required that all CRNA school applicants enter into a doctorate program, according to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists. And in 2025, all CRNAs will need to have a doctorate in nurse anesthesia to enter the field.
Outside of working as a CRNA, however, NPs can have a masters-level education. There may also be additional educational requirements if you plan on working as an NP educator and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing is often discussing the future possibility of transitioning all NP programs into doctoral-level programs, although there is not a final decision that has been made on that switch.
How long does it take to go from RN to NP?
- If you’re an RN with an associate’s degree, getting your NP will take approximately 3-4 years. If you already have a BSN, you can become an NP in about two years.
How long does it take to bridge from RN to NP?
- A bridge RN-NP program takes approximately 3-4 years.
How do I transfer from RN to NP?
- If you’re an RN with an associate’s degree, look for a school that offers a bridge ADN-NP program. If you’re an RN with a BSN, you can apply directly to an NP program.
How much more does an NP make than an RN?
- NPs make an average of $117K per year, while RNs make about $75K annually.
What is the fastest way to become a nurse practitioner?
- The fastest way to become an NP is to earn your BSN-RN and enroll directly into an NP program. It’s helpful to choose a school that offers both.
Can you go straight from RN to MSN?
- You can go straight from an RN to MSN with a bridge program.
- Affordable Online Nurse Practitioner Programs
- Nurse Practitioner
- Family Nurse Practitioner
- Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
- Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
- Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
- Neonatal Nurse Practitioner
- Women's Health Nurse Practitioner
- Orthopedic Nurse Practitioner
- Emergency Nurse Practitioner
- Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner