FAQ: How long does it take to become a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)?

Answer: The amount of time it takes to become a Family Nurse Practitioner varies depending on the level of education and amount of nursing experience students have at the beginning of the process. Ultimately, there are four steps one must take to become an FNP:

  1. Get licensed as a registered nurse (RN)
  2. Successfully complete a graduate degree program in the FNP specialty
  3. Pass a national APRN certification exam
  4. Apply for state licensure

For someone who has no nursing background or college degree, this process generally takes around five years of full-time study (two years to complete an Associate Degree in Nursing [ADN] and become an RN, and then three years to complete an RN to Master of Science in Nursing [MSN] program). On the flip side, RNs who already possess a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) may be able to become an FNP in as little as 15 months.

Once they have acquired RN licensure, prospective FNPs need to earn at least an MSN from a CCNE or ACEN accredited program in order to qualify for the national APRN certification exam. There are several paths students can take to do this depending on their current level of education. RN to MSN programs, which admit RNs who hold either an ADN or a nursing diploma (depending on the particular program), take around three years to complete on a full-time basis, or four to five years on a part-time basis. RNs with a BSN or a non-nursing bachelor’s degree can typically complete an MSN FNP program in one and a half to two years of full-time study, or two to four years of part-time study. For students who already possess an MSN, and want to pursue a post-master’s certificate in the FNP specialty, full-time programs generally take around one year to complete, while part-time programs may take up to two years. There are also Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs designed for students who want to earn FNP certification along with their doctorate (detailed further in the sections below).

After successfully completing a graduate nursing degree program, RNs will need to pass a national certification exam administered by either the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB) in order to become a certified FNP. Both require students to have completed at least 500 supervised clinical practice hours as part of their graduate program. The requirements for state APRN licensure vary from state to state; however, earning national certification is typically a prerequisite. To learn about the different paths one can take to become an FNP, and how much time each entails, see below for more information.

Pre-RN Licensure to Family Nurse Practitioner

For those with no formal nursing training, the first step to becoming an FNP will be completing a diploma program or undergraduate degree in the field and earning RN licensure. An ADN, BSN, or Diploma in Nursing will qualify students to sit for the RN licensure exam, known as the NCLEX-RN, administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Once they have successfully passed the exam, students must then apply for an RN license through their state’s board of nursing.

An entry-level nursing diploma can generally be earned from a hospital-based nursing school in around one year of full-time study. Completing an ADN program will take a bit longer, typically between two and three years for students pursuing the degree full-time. There are also part-time ADN programs available, which might span anywhere from three to four years of study. Students interested in earning their BSN while becoming an RN can typically do so in three to four years of full-time enrollment, or longer on a part-time basis. It is important to note, however, that some BSN programs require students to already possess RN licensure or even a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field, as well as complete certain prerequisite courses before enrolling. To learn more about these RN to BSN programs, refer to the “Registered Nurse to Family Nurse Practitioner” section below.

Students with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree can also opt to pursue an accelerated MSN-FNP program or Master’s Entry Program (MEP). These types of programs typically have highly selective admissions; however, they offer non-RNs the chance to earn both their BSN and MSN in around three years of full-time study (these programs are often only offered on a full-time basis).

Once students have earned an ADN or BSN and obtained their RN license, they will next need to complete an MSN or DNP program in order to pursue certification as an FNP. Depending on the particular undergraduate degree they possess, RNs can choose from several paths to earn a graduate degree in the specialty. For more information on graduate degree options for prospective FNPs, such as RN to MSN, RN to DNP, BSN to MSN, and BSN to DNP programs, see the sections below.

Registered Nurse (ADN and/or Diploma) to Family Nurse Practitioner

For licensed RNs who already possess an ADN or Diploma in Nursing, becoming an FNP entails earning a graduate degree in the specialization, and then obtaining national certification and state licensure to practice. RNs can enter directly into an RN to MSN program, and earn their master’s degree in as little as 30 to 36 months of full-time study, or 36 to 48 months of part-time study. This degree path can offer RNs the chance to earn a BSN and an MSN through one continuous program in less time than it would take to earn both degrees separately. However, it is important to note that while some programs confer both a BSN and MSN, others only award an MSN degree. Additionally, as mentioned earlier, RN to MSN programs may have different admission requirements depending on the school and the particular program’s structure. Some require an ADN, while others accept applicants with either a nursing diploma or an ADN. (Students should note that some schools who refer to their programs as RN to MSN programs also require applicants to have earned a non-nursing bachelor’s degree in addition to their ADN. On OnlineFNPPrograms.com, we classify these programs as Bachelor’s to MSN programs.)

Another option for RNs looking to become an FNP is to first earn a BSN, and then complete a graduate degree at a later date. RN to BSN programs take significantly less time than traditional BSN programs, due to the fact that students will have completed much of the required coursework as part of their ADN program. In fact, RNs may be able to earn their BSN in as little as one year, and then go on to enroll in a BSN to MSN or BSN to DNP program when they are ready to pursue FNP certification. To learn more about post-baccalaureate FNP programs, see the “Bachelor’s Degree to Family Nurse Practitioner” section below.

Finally, for RNs interested in pursuing FNP certification alongside a doctorate in nursing, there are RN to DNP programs. While these are relatively rare compared to other DNP degree paths, they are a great option for ADN-trained RNs who want to pursue a DNP without first completing a separate BSN and/or MSN program. Typically, it takes over four years of full-time study for RNs to earn their DNP on this track, and as many as six years if they enroll part-time. RN to DNP programs may grant students a BSN, MSN, and DNP as they progress through their studies, or simply culminate in the DNP degree. Some also require students to possess a non-nursing bachelor’s degree in addition to their ADN, or even complete a bridge year before beginning the MSN curriculum.

Bachelor’s Degree to Family Nurse Practitioner

The path to becoming an FNP for RNs who already possess a bachelor’s degree is relatively straightforward. Students will need to earn a graduate degree in the specialty, sit for a national certification exam, and finally, obtain licensure in their state of residence. The length of this process depends largely on what field students earned their bachelor’s degree in. For those with a BSN, a traditional MSN program typically requires 15 to 25 months of full-time study to complete, or 24 to 40 months when pursued part-time. Earning an MSN may take slightly longer for RNs who have their bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field, as they often must complete one or more bridge courses before starting on the MSN curriculum. Full-time students can generally complete a non-nursing bachelor’s to MSN program in around 20 to 25 months, while part-time programs may take anywhere from 25 to 40 months.

Alternatively, BSN-trained RNs can opt to pursue their DNP and FNP specialization in one program, earning certification alongside their doctorate. BSN to DNP programs give students the opportunity to pursue a DNP without first completing a separate MSN program. Many award both an MSN and DNP upon completion, or even grant students their master’s midway through the program, once all of the MSN requirements have been fulfilled. Post-baccalaureate students can expect to complete a DNP FNP program in roughly three to four years of full-time study. Part-time programs are also available, and may take as many as six years to complete.

Master’s Degree to Family Nurse Practitioner

RNs who already possess an MSN in a different nursing specialty, but now wish to pursue certification as an FNP, have two options available to them: they can either earn a Post-Master’s Certificate in the focus, or pursue a DNP that includes an FNP specialization. Earning a Post-Master’s FNP Certificate can take as little as 12 to 16 months of full-time study, or 16 to 24 months of part-time study, and will qualify graduates for national APRN certification exams. These programs typically assume that students have already completed some, if not all, of the core MSN curriculum as part of their previous master’s program, and thus include primarily FNP specialization courses. Those who have not completed the required foundational courses may need to take additional classes to fill the gaps in their education. As such, the amount of time it takes to complete a post-master’s program will vary from student to student, and depend largely on a gap analysis of previous graduate school transcripts.

There are two different paths master’s-prepared RNs can take to earn a DNP and FNP certification, depending on the particular focus of their MSN. Students who already hold an APRN certification in different specialty area, and want to pursue a second certification as an FNP, can enroll in an MSN to DNP with a Second Specialty program. These programs require an APRN certification for admission, and are essentially a combination of a DNP program and a post-master’s FNP certificate program. MSN to DNP with a Second Specialty programs require approximately two years to complete on a full-time basis, or two to three years on a part-time basis.

MSN to DNP with a New Specialty programs are designed for nurses who hold a master’s degree in a non-APRN nursing field, such as clinical nurse leader or nursing administration, and want to pursue their doctorate along with their first APRN certification. While these programs are very similar to Second Specialty programs, they typically require additional core nurse practitioner courses, and thus may take slightly longer to complete. Often, MSN to DNP with a New Specialty programs accept APRNs as well, and may even allow them to waive certain core courses (effectively making them equivalent to Second Specialty programs for APRN-trained nurses). Students should note that not all schools use these naming conventions for MSN to DNP FNP programs; therefore, it is important to look at admission requirements to determine if an APRN certification is required for enrollment.