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How Do You Become an Advanced Practice Nurse? 

If you’re reading this blog, you’re in the healthcare industry and you know the facts: our population is aging, access to quality healthcare is disparate, and there’s a shortage of healthcare providers.

You also know advanced practice registered nurses (APRN) are part of the remedy and a vital part of our healthcare delivery system. Nurse practitioners (NP) performed more than one billion patient visits last year. Moreover, NPs and physician assistants delivered one-fourth of all healthcare visits in the U.S. 

Supply and demand have increased the need for more APRNs, especially with the dwindling number of primary care physicians on the horizon. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a mere 4,000 new family medicine physicians joining the workforce through 2032.

In contrast, the BLS expects the number of nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and nurse anesthetics to increase by 38% in the same time frame, which equates to 123,600 new APRNs in the next decade.

In this blog, we’ll look at the storytelling 5 W’s of advanced practice nursing — who, what, where, when, why and how to become an APRN.

Who Are APRNs?

Advanced practice registered nurses are master’s- or doctorate-level prepared nurses who are educated, prepared and certified to diagnose and manage specific patient populations, order diagnostic tests, interpret test results and prescribe medications.

APRNs have invested their time and resources in earning a graduate or post-graduate degree so they can:

  • Advance their career
  • Advocate for their patients
  • Broaden their scope of practice
  • Earn a higher salary 
  • Enjoy a better work-life balance
  • Fill the gap in health care
  • Practice autonomously
  • Pursue leadership roles
  • Specialize in an area of practice
  • Stay current with evidence-based nursing and health care

The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) reports that most full-time NPs see three or more patients per hour. The average NP is 46 years old and has been in practice for nine years.

What Is an APRN?

APRNs require a minimum of a master’s degree from a nationally accredited, graduate-level educational program. (Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists must hold a doctorate by 2025.) APRNs are licensed, board-certified and population focused. They must pass a national certification exam that measures their competency in the specialty or population in which they plan to practice. Nurse practitioners are one type of APRN.

To sum it up neatly, all NPs are APRNs, but not all APRNs are NPs. For the purpose of this blog, we will look at the nurse practitioner role as it fits under the advanced practice nursing umbrella.

NP Focus Areas APRN Roles
Family Practice Nurse Practitioner
Psychiatric Mental Health Clinical Nurse Specialist
Adult-Gerontology Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist
Women’s Health Certified Nurse-Midwife

What Does an Advanced Practice Nurse Do?

Depending on the state’s practice authority, NPs may work independently, in partnership with or under the supervision of a physician. Their roles and responsibilities include:

  • Assessing patients
  • Coordinating care plans
  • Diagnosing health conditions
  • Educating patients and families on disease prevention
  • Initiating and managing treatment
  • Ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests
  • Prescribing medication

Nurse practitioners provide patient-centric care and are frontline public healthcare providers. The hardworking NP is a healthcare leader who combines the roles of provider, educator, researcher, advocate and administrator to provide the best care for their patients and their community.

Where Do Advanced Practice Nurses Practice

Where Do Advanced Practice Nurses Practice?

There are 385,000 nurse practitioners licensed in the United States. Nearly 90% are certified in primary care, and 7 in 10 deliver primary care, most of which are family nurse practitioners.

Nurse practitioners deliver primary and acute care in all types of settings, including:

  • Clinics
  • Community Hospitals
  • Community-based Clinics
  • Government Systems
  • Healthcare Systems
  • Health Maintenance Organizations
  • Homeless Shelters
  • Nursing Homes
  • Physicians’ Practices
  • Private NP-Owned Practices
  • Public Health Departments
  • Rehabilitation Centers
  • Correctional Facilities
  • Schools and Universities

When Is the Right Time to Become an Advanced Practice Nurse?

The nurse practitioner role has been around for nearly 60 years, but with the rising demand for NPs and the respect that all APRNs enjoy, there has never been a better time to start your journey to becoming an advanced practice provider.

U.S. News & World Report awarded the nurse practitioner #2 in its 100 Best Jobs report in 2023 because the position is in demand, pays well, offers room for advancement and provides a satisfying work-life balance.

The Job Outlook is Promising

The BLS projects the employment of nurse practitioners to increase 45% through 2032, which is much faster than the average of 3% for all occupations. To account for this high demand, they cite an increased emphasis on preventive care and a rising need for healthcare services from an aging baby boomer population.

Last year, the states with the highest concentration of nurse practitioner jobs were:

  1. Tennessee
  2. Mississippi
  3. Rhode Island
  4. Vermont
  5. Missouri

The Earning Potential Is High

Earning a master’s degree to advance your career is a smart move financially. Nationwide, nurse practitioners earned an average annual salary of $124,680 last year, according to the BLS. The top five paying states were:

California $158,130
New Jersey $143,250
Massachusetts $138,700
Oregon $136,250
Nevada $136,230

Why Become an Advanced Practice Nurse?

Autonomy, leadership roles and a six-figure salary are just a few tangible reasons to become an APRN. Many people find that moving from an RN to an advanced practice nurse is personally rewarding and offers greater potential to have a serious and lasting impact on patient and health care.

As reported by the AANP, numerous studies have proven that patients under the care of NPs have fewer unnecessary hospital readmissions and emergency department visits, as well as higher patient satisfaction than patients under the care of physicians.

Nurse practitioners treat the whole person, not just the disease or condition. That’s why NPs are so highly regarded and trusted. They help patients achieve physical and emotional quality of life and well-being.

Becoming an APRN also affords you additional career opportunities. Depending on your interests, you can specialize in a specific area of nursing or focus on particular patient populations that you genuinely care about, such as women, children or aging adults. 

How to Become an Advanced Practice Nurse

MSN programs require an active nursing license and a bachelor’s degree (BSN). If you have an associate degree (ADN), you can enroll in an RN-to-MSN bridge program. MSN programs generally require a minimum 3.0 GPA for admission, but every school differs.

If you already have an MSN and want to broaden your career opportunities as an APRN, you can pursue a post-graduate certificate in your desired specialty.

How long does it take to become an APRN?

MSN programs typically take two years to complete, while post-graduate certificates tend to be shorter. In addition to coursework, clinical hours are required for hands-on patient care experience. Some schools, such as Cleveland State University (CSU), offer clinical placement services to save time and money.

After graduating, you must pass your specialty's board-certification exam and apply for state licensure.

Online MSN Programs at CSU

When you’re ready to become an APRN, choosing an accredited and reputable school is essential. With nearly 60 years of excellence in higher education, Cleveland State University’s Nurse Practitioner programs offer online coursework, advanced practice skill building and dedicated clinical placement support built into the program's cost.

CSU’s family nurse practitioner (MSN-FNP) and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (MSN-PMHNP) programs can be completed in just two years without compromising quality or cost. For those with an MSN, earning the post-graduate FNP and PMHNP certificates takes just over a year.

CSU also offers four additional MSN programs, including Nursing Education, Forensic Nursing, Clinical Nurse Leader and Specialized Populations.

Learn more about CSU’s online pathways to earning your MSN and becoming an NP.