Nurse Practitioner Licensing & Certification

Last Updated/Verified: Apr 13, 2024

After completing a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree and perhaps gaining some experience as an RN, many nurses are ready to take their careers to the next level by becoming licensed and certified Nurse Practitioners (NPs). This means completing a nurse practitioner or advanced practice nursing program (with many online program options available) to obtain a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) or higher.

The state in which a nurse resides, as well as their career ambitions, may necessitate the need to complete a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree or a Ph.D. in a related field, but the MSN is typically the next step after securing the BSN.

Becoming Licensed as a Nurse Practitioner

The requirements to become a licensed nurse practitioner vary by state. There is a campaign that may lead all states to coordinate their licensing requirements in the future. As of today, many states have not conformed, so it's important that nurses check requirements for their state before starting the journey from RN to NP.

Many states ask RNs to apply for Advanced Practice Registered Nurse certification, otherwise known as APRN. An APRN is an RN who has completed educational programs beyond the BSN and is permitted to perform a wider range of clinical duties, including delivering more direct care to patients with or without the supervision of a doctor.

Nurse practitioners fall under the umbrella term APRN (though APRNs can be more than nurse practitioners, as outlined by the APRN Consensus Model). Some states have nurse practitioner certifications while others refer to it as APRN certification. Either way, the qualifications vary from state to state and may change at any time.

For example, RNs need the following qualifications to apply for Texas APRN certification:

  • $100 – $150 fee, depending on the need for prescriptive authority
  • RN license
  • Completion of an accredited advanced practice nursing educational program
  • National certification in the correct role and patient population (should match the completed advanced practice nursing program)
  • At least 400 hours of experience working in the role correlated to the advanced practice nursing program
  • At least 20 contact hours of continuing nursing education

Compare that to Utah, where RNs must submit fingerprint cards, national certification, and transcripts from qualifying MSN or DNP programs. The transcripts must reflect a specific list of coursework to qualify.

Steps to Nurse Practitioner Licensure

To get a general idea of what it takes to become a nurse practitioner, nurses can consider the following steps that lead to state licensing:

  1. Complete an accredited online nurse practitioner or advanced practice registered nurse educational program. Nurses should select a program that will meet all licensing requirements for the state in which they want to practice.
  2. Secure national certification. We'll talk more about this in a moment.
  3. Obtain experience in the chosen specialization, if required by the state. Nurses may want to work as an RN for a while even if it isn't required because it will deliver the hands-on expertise needed to work as a successful NP.
  4. Gather all documentation needed to prove the nurse’s qualifications for state licensing.
  5. Complete the application for state licensing and send in all supporting documentation. Many states now make it easy to apply online.

Nurse Practitioner Certification

After completing an online nurse practitioner educational program, nurses are required to select an area of specialization. These will correlate with the NP degree program concentration, examples include Adult-Gerontology, Pediatrics, Psychiatric-Mental Health, and others. This will determine the role they may take when entering the field as an NP and what population of patients they may serve.

Nurses need to secure national certification by passing a national certification exam, and each specialty has its own examination. Nurses should do this before applying for state licensing because most states want to see proof of certification before approving a license application.

In most cases, certification is reserved for nurses with at least a valid RN license and a specialized NP degree from an accredited educational institution. Qualifications may also include completion of a certain number of clinical hours. As always, it is imperative that prospective NPs check all the guidelines and requirements for the certification exam they intend to take.

Available national certification boards include:

Nurse Practitioner Certification Exam Tips

You've completed your graduate degree and are ready to become certified as a nurse practitioner in your specialty of choice – the only thing left to do is pass the certification examination. Tests can be nerve-wracking, but you can improve your chances of success by following these tips to prepare for exam day:

  1. Work through a study book for your NP certification exam and take all available practice tests. The more you test your knowledge, the more confident you will feel going into the exam. You can find at least one review book online for most NP certification examinations.
  2. Learn deep breathing techniques to calm your nerves. Test anxiety can slow your thinking and make it difficult to focus on the exam. Taking deep breaths to slow your heart rate and center your mind on the task at hand can help.
  3. Give yourself time to study. If you schedule your exam immediately after finishing your educational program, you may not have time to prepare for the test. Don't assume that you will remember everything if you act fast. It's important to give yourself at least three or four weeks of dedicated study. Pick a realistic test date if you have trips or other distractions planned.
  4. Make sure you're well-hydrated and rested during your study period as well as on exam day. You're more likely to get in productive study hours and sleep soundly the night before the exam if you're on a consistent sleep schedule before that final night of rest.
  5. Team up with someone else studying for the same certification exam. Not only can you quiz one another, but you'll have someone to vent to when the intense study schedule and anxiety becomes too much. Your family and friends may not understand what you're going through.
  6. Don't stay up late cramming the night before the exam. If you don't know the information by then, you're not likely to retain it during an intense all-nighter. It's better to have a healthy meal, de-stress as much as possible, and get a good night of sleep.
  7. Make sure you know where the exam is held in advance. You don't want to get lost or follow Google around in circles while your start time ticks by. Plan to leave early so that time doesn't become an added stress.
  8. Wear comfortable clothing that looks professional. You don't want wardrobe malfunctions or discomfort while sitting for long periods, but you also want to feel like a well-trained professional who is ready to ace a big exam.

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