APRN logging information on a computer

An advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) handles all the same duties as a registered nurse, plus advanced responsibilities within ‌a chosen specialty. Different certifications are necessary for the job, and the certification you need depends on the specialty you choose.

This position has some important benefits that can boost your nursing career, including greater freedom in your job, increased earning potential, and high job demand. With these benefits comes more responsibility and higher expectations of your job performance.

Much of what you’ll learn comes from hands-on experience in your role as a nurse. This allows you to continue working as you gain the education and credentials you need to reach your goal.

What are the steps to becoming an APRN?

There are several steps you need to take to become an APRN. All specialties require a degree from an accredited program, as well as training and experience, so you are prepared to take on the responsibilities of this advanced medical professional position. While each specialty has a different path leading up to it, they have some things in common.

1) Earn a nursing degree

The first thing you need to become a nurse is a degree program, which provides you with the education to work as a registered nurse (RN). An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) is acceptable if you want to work as an RN, but to work as an APRN, you’ll eventually need a graduate degree. You’ll have to complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) to be eligible for a graduate program.

There are a few options for completing a BSN: A traditional BSN program, a licensed practical nurse (LPN) to BSN program, an RN to BSN program, and a second-degree BSN program.

- A traditional BSN program

A traditional BSN program takes four years and is intended for students with no healthcare experience straight out of high school.

- An LPN to BSN program

An LPN to BSN program is a bridge program for LPNs who want to get degree credit for their experience in healthcare.

- An RN to BSN program

An RN to BSN program is for RNs who already have an associate's degree and want to transfer some of their credits. Their credits count toward a BSN, and they can complete the program in less time.

- A second degree BSN program

A second degree BSN program is intended for people who wish to change careers, already have a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field, and wish to use some of their educational credits toward a BSN.

2) Pass the NCLEX-RN nursing exam

The NCLEX-RN is an exam you need to pass before you can become an RN. The test takes six hours, graded as Pass/Fail, and you’ll have to answer anywhere from 75 to 265 questions.

There are four main test categories:

  • The Safe & Effective Care Environment

  • Health Promotion & Maintenance

  • Psychosocial Integrity

  • Physiological Integrity

The test will be over when you’ve answered the minimum number of questions correctly, answered too many questions incorrectly to pass, answered all the questions or the six-hour time limit is up. Before you can practice as an RN, you must register for state licensure.

3) Gain work experience

To continue working toward becoming an APRN, you need clinical experience. One option is to complete 1,750 clinical hours within two years. The other option is to complete 2,000 hours over five years. This hands-on experience will give you a clear idea of the work involved and prove your ability to handle the responsibilities.

4) Enroll in a graduate program (MSN or DNP)

The next step is to enroll in a graduate program for an advanced nursing degree. You can either complete a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program.

An MSN program teaches RNs to perform advanced roles in research, education, and nursing practice and prepares them for their specialty certification exam.

A DNP program prepares RNs for advanced nursing responsibilities, helps them to enhance their executive leadership skills, and teaches them to turn research into practical clinical knowledge.

5) Get an advanced nursing certification

You must become certified to practice an advanced level of nursing. There are several specialty certifications you can choose from so you can work within a specific field. You must also apply for licensure as an APRN in your state.

6) Apply for APRN jobs

Once you have completed all the education requirements and gotten the required certifications and licensure, it’s time to apply for jobs as an APRN. 

Can you become an APRN online?

Several educational institutions offer programs that will teach you everything you need to know to become an APRN. There are BSN programs available online if you’re seeking a traditional four-year program, a bridge program, or a program to fast-track your education.

Are there different types of APRN roles?

Under the umbrella of APRN, there are four roles: certified nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, certified nurse midwife, and certified registered nurse anesthetist. Each role has its own prerequisites before you can practice in the US.

Certified nurse practitioner

Certified nurse practitioners are clinical experts in diagnosing and treating patients. They focus on preventing disease and health management. They can diagnose and treat conditions, prescribe medications, and read medical test results in various healthcare settings.

Clinical nurse specialist

Clinical nurse specialists (CNS) provide ongoing patient care by diagnosing and treating illnesses. They also guide and support other nurses on staff to ensure they’re employing the best practices at all times with evidence-based care.

Certified nurse midwife

Certified nurse midwives focus on women’s healthcare, including check-ups, family planning, and prenatal care. They assist during natural births by monitoring patients' condition and collaborating with physicians during c-section births.

Certified registered nurse anesthetist

Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNA) are specialists in administering anesthesia to patients undergoing surgery. They are the main providers of anesthesia in hospitals in the United States and practice in every setting where surgery is performed.

What APRN specialties are available?

APRNs have many specialization areas, including:

  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AG-PCNP)

  • Cardiac Nurse Practitioner

  • Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP)

  • Oncology Nurse Practitioner

  • Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)

  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

  • Pediatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (PNP-AC)

  • Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP)

  • Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP)

  • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AG-ACNP)

  • Adult Gerontological Nurse Practitioner (AGNP)

  • Psychiatric and Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)

  • Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP)

  • Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

  • Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)

  • Orthopedic Nurse Practitioner (ONP)

Read More: What are the different levels of nursing?

Do your APRN exam qualifications expire?

Once you pass your APRN exam, you’ll need to recertify every five years on the same day your RN expires. You must recertify before your expiration date. If you don’t, recertification will no longer be available.

How much do APRN nurses make?

APRN nurses in the U.S. make an average of $34 an hour ($88,013.96 annually). Salaries vary by state within a range of $23.40 an hour ($64,607 a year) to $51.92 an hour ($112,506 a year).

Read More: How much do nurses make in each state?

How long does it take to become an APRN?

It typically takes eight years to become an APRN, but the time may vary, depending on how much training and experience you have already. BSN programs usually take four years, but if you are already working as an LPN or you’re looking to change careers, it could take less time than that for you to complete.

That’s followed by a minimum of two years of clinical experience and an additional two years in an MSN program. If you choose to do a DNP program instead, it will typically take four years to complete.

Read More: How long does it take to become a nurse?

Extra FAQs about becoming an APRN

Is an APRN higher than an RN?

Yes, an APRN is a superior position compared to an RN. In fact, you need to become an RN on your way to becoming an APRN. They have many of the same responsibilities, but APRNs have additional responsibilities that require advanced certification. They can prescribe medication, interpret diagnostic tests, and diagnose and treat illnesses.

RNs work under doctors’ supervision, and APRNs often work alongside doctors. While it takes longer to become an APRN, the salary is much higher than that of an RN.

What is considered an advanced practice registered nurse?

APRNs have at least a master’s degree in nursing, an advanced nursing certification, and an active license to practice nursing in their specialty. These nurses have more responsibilities and more autonomy.

How do I become an advanced practice nurse in the US?

To become an advanced practice nurse, also called an APRN, you need to have a BSN, complete a set number of clinical hours, pass the NCLEX-RN exam, and register for a license to practice as an RN. Then you need to complete an MSN program or a DNP program, a set number of clinical hours in your specialty predetermined by your state, and receive a license to practice in your specialty.

Is an advanced registered nurse practitioner a medical professional?

A better term for an ARPN is a healthcare professional. Doctors are medical professionals, while advanced practice nurses are educated and trained in their specialty in nursing. However, APRNs have some of the same responsibilities as doctors, such as diagnosing and treating illnesses, prescribing medications, and interpreting diagnostic tests.

What are some examples of advanced practice nurses?

Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) can choose a specialty in four main categories: Certified nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, certified nurse midwife, and certified registered nurse anesthetist.

Nurse practitioners provide specialty care by assessing, diagnosing, and treating injuries and illnesses.

Clinical nurse specialists diagnose, treat, and provide ongoing care to patients. They also guide and support the nursing staff and ensure they use the best practices for the highest standard of care.

Certified nurse midwives provide patients with primary, reproductive, and gynecological care.

Certified registered nurse anesthetists provide patients with anesthesia and pain management services.

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