How Long Does It Take To Become a Nurse Practitioner?

7 Min Read Published January 12, 2023
How Long Does It Take To Become a Nurse Practitioner?

How Long Does it Take to Become a Nurse Practitioner?

Becoming a nurse practitioner (NP) takes hard work and dedication but the rewards of being an NP can certainly make it worth the effort. In total, it can take 6 to 7 years+ to become a nurse practitioner. 

  • The journey typically starts by earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, which takes about 4 years. 
  • After obtaining a BSN, you have to pass the NCLEX-RN exam and gain experience as a registered nurse for at least a year before you apply to a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner (NP). 
  • Becoming an NP requires another 2 to 3 years of study and clinical training. 

What is a Nurse Practitioner?

A nurse practitioner, also known as an NP, is a licensed healthcare provider who has completed advanced education and training in diagnosing and treating illness and injury and prescribing certain medications. NPs typically focus on primary care and often work in clinics and medical offices, although they may also work in hospitals or other settings. 

In addition to diagnosing and treating patients, NPs also work with individuals to promote preventive health measures and manage chronic conditions. Many NPs have a particular area of interest or specialization, such as pediatrics or geriatrics. 

In states where their scope of practice allows it, NPs can also prescribe medication, order diagnostic tests, and make referrals for specialty care. As healthcare becomes more accessible and demand for providers increases, the role of the NP continues to expand. 

>> Show Me Online Nurse Practitioner Programs

Nurse Practitioner Schooling

If you want to become a nurse practitioner, you'll need to plan for several years of education and training. Nurse practitioners hold at least a master's degree, and some have a doctorate in nursing practice. 

Besides traditional classroom learning, nurse practitioner programs include extensive clinical experience under the supervision of experienced healthcare providers such as nurse practitioners or physicians.

Becoming a nurse practitioner also requires passing a national certification exam administered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). The exact educational path may vary depending on an individual's previous education or nursing specialization.

Nurse Practitioner Specialty Program Lengths

Wondering what kind of nurse practitioner program might be a good fit for you and your interests and how long it will take to complete? Here are the different NP specialties and their program lengths.

1. Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)

    Program Length: 2 - 3 years

Becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) can be an exciting and rewarding career path for nurses. The length of the program and coursework required can vary, but many students can complete their family nurse practitioner program in 2-3 years of full-time study or longer if studying part-time. 

As a healthcare provider, an FNP is focused on the health needs of individuals and families throughout their lifespans. FNPs perform physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret diagnostic tests, prescribe medications, and manage chronic health conditions. 

They often work in primary care settings such as clinics or private practices, but can also provide care in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, schools, and even home health settings. Combined with their advanced education and clinical experience, FNPs are able to provide comprehensive healthcare to patients in various environments.

2. Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AG-ACNP)

    Program Length: 23 months - 2 years 

Becoming an Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AG-ACNP) typically takes about 2 years of full-time study. These advanced practice nurses provide high-level care for adult and elderly patients with acute or complex health issues such as heart attacks or strokes. 

AG-ACNPs often work in hospitals or intensive care units, but they’re also found in outpatient clinics and long-term care facilities. The skills they possess allow them to assess, diagnose, and manage their patients' acute medical conditions while also providing education on disease prevention and treatment compliance. 

On top of this, AG-ACNPs are able to prescribe medication and order diagnostic tests to ensure the best outcomes for their patients. With the aging population and growing healthcare demands, the need for AG-ACNPs continues to increase.

3. Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AG-PCNP)

    Program Length: 15 months - 2 years 

Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AG-PCNP) programs vary in length. The AG-PCNP program at the University of Pennsylvania takes only 15 months to complete full-time whereas most other programs take 18 months to 2 years of full-time study to finish.

AG-PCNPs specialize in providing primary care to adults and elderly patients. They work closely with physicians to diagnose and treat a wide range of health issues, from chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease to acute illnesses such as infections or injuries. AG-PCNPs also focus on preventive care, offering guidance on healthy practices such as exercise and nutrition. 

This specialized nurse can work in a variety of settings including hospitals, private medical offices, nursing homes, and community health clinics. The increasing demand for healthcare professionals has led to a growing need for AG-PCNPs, making it a rewarding and fulfilling career path for those interested in providing primary care to older adult patients.

4. Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP)

    Program Length: 2 - 3 years 

Most Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP) programs require 2 to 3 years of full-time study. NNPs are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who specialize in the care of newborn infants, from premature babies to full-term infants experiencing medical complications. 

These skilled practitioners work closely with doctors and other healthcare professionals in hospitals, clinics, and private practices. They assess the needs of newborn babies and their families, provide health education and support, administer medications and treatments, perform examinations and diagnostic tests, and attend deliveries. 

In addition to their primary focus on newborns, NNPs also provide care for older infants up to 2 years old. With their specialized training and experience in neonatal care, they play an essential role in ensuring the health and well-being of the tiniest patients.

5. Pediatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (PNP-AC)

    Program Length: 1 - 3 years

Completing a Pediatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner program can be done in as little as 1 year, although most programs require 2 to 3 years of full-time study.

A Pediatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (PNP-AC) specializes in caring for children and adolescents during times of critical illness or injury. They often work in hospitals and emergency rooms, but may also be found in pediatric intensive care units, school systems, and even outpatient clinics. 

One of the unique aspects of PNP-ACs is their emphasis on family-centered care and education, ensuring that families understand treatment plans and can effectively support their child's recovery. With their specialized skill set, PNP-ACs play a crucial role in the pediatric healthcare system.

>> Related: Top Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Programs

6. Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (PNP-PC)

    Program Length: 1 - 3 years 

Like the Pediatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (PNP-AC) program, a Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (PNP-PC) program can be completed in as little as 1 year of full-time study. However, most programs take 2 to 3 years to complete.

Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioners (PNP-PCs) specialize in providing primary health care for infants, children, and adolescents. These advanced practice nurses often work alongside physicians in hospitals, medical offices, and clinics. They have the skills necessary to identify and manage a wide range of childhood illnesses and injuries, prescribe medications, create treatment plans, and offer preventative care.

PNP-PCs also serve as patient advocates, working with families to ensure the highest quality of care for their children. 

7. Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)

    Program Length: 18 months - 3 years 

Most Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) programs last between 2-3 years, depending on the specific program requirements, although some programs are as short as 18 months

These NPs provide mental health care to patients, including assessments, diagnosis, and development of treatment plans. They also prescribe medication and work closely with psychiatrists and therapists to coordinate comprehensive care for their patients. 

PMHNPs work in many different settings such as hospitals, private practices, community health clinics, and correctional facilities. Due to the increasing demand for mental health services, these nurse practitioners are in high demand across all industries and locations. 

Working as a PMHNP gives these specialized nurses the opportunity to make a significant impact on the lives of those struggling with mental illness.

8. Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP)

    Program Length: 2 - 3 years 

Most Women's Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP) programs typically take 2 to 3 years to complete and prepare graduates with advanced skills and knowledge in women's health care. 

From puberty through menopause and beyond, WHNPs provide comprehensive primary care for women at all stages of life. This includes annual exams and screenings, contraception counseling, management of chronic conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes and even delivering babies. 

WHNPs often work in OB-GYN clinics or hospitals, but can also be found in family practice settings, community health centers, and private practices. In any setting, WHNPs play a crucial role in protecting and promoting women’s health.

Factors That Impact How Long it Will Take You to Become a Nurse Practitioner

While the average path to becoming a nurse practitioner takes about 5 years, this timeline can vary greatly based on a number of factors. 

1. Full-Time vs Part-Time Enrollment

The factor that can make the biggest difference in how long it’ll take you to complete your NP is whether you decide to go back to school on a part-time versus full-time basis. Also, completing accelerated versus traditional-length BSN and MSN programs will affect when you become an NP as well.

2. Current Level of Education

Another factor affecting completion is the route taken to become a nurse practitioner. Some individuals may enter the field with a BSN or other degree and then continue their studies to become an NP, while others may already hold a Master's in Nursing and pursue additional certification as an NP after that.

3. Prior Work

Additionally, prior work experience as a registered nurse also plays a role in how quickly a person is able to progress through their nurse practitioner program. 

4. Lifestyle

Individual personal commitments, study habits, and school schedules can also affect how long it takes to become an NP. 

Regardless of the educational path taken, it requires dedication and commitment to complete all the requirements needed to become a licensed NP.

Leona Werezak
Leona Werezak Contributor

Leona Werezak BSN, MN, RN is the Director of Business Development at NCLEX Education. She began her nursing career in a small rural hospital in northern Canada where she worked as a new staff nurse doing everything from helping deliver babies to medevacing critically ill patients. Learning much from her patients and colleagues at the bedside for 15 years, she also taught in baccalaureate nursing programs for almost 20 years as a nursing adjunct faculty member (yes! Some of those years she did both!). As a freelance writer online, she writes content for nursing schools and colleges, healthcare and medical businesses, as well as various nursing sites.

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