Am I Smart Enough to be a Nurse Practitioner?

Written By: Lauren Jacobson MS, RN, WHNP-BC

There is a difference between intelligence and education. When you ask yourself “am I smart enough to be a nurse practitioner?" What you should be asking is "do I have the drive to excel in nurse practitioner school?" There is no IQ test needed to become a nurse practitioner and people from all sorts of educational and clinical backgrounds go into this field. You are smart enough to be a nurse practitioner, you just have to take the right steps and put in the work. Here we will go over the academic steps needed for you to become a nurse practitioner.

Undergraduate Degree and Direct Entry Prerequisites

Becoming a nurse practitioner involves a lot more than just your brains. Being inherently smart does not guarantee that you will make it to becoming a nurse practitioner, you have to have the determination to endure the schooling and clinical requirements to get you there. First, regardless of your background, you will need to earn a bachelor's degree.

There are many pathways to becoming a nurse practitioner. Check out our guide to get a feel for how long nurse practitioner school is and what pathway is right for you. In your undergraduate degree, whether it is in nursing or another field, many nurse practitioner schools will want to see a GPA of at least 3.0. If your GPA is less than this, contact the schools you are interested to see what steps you can take to boost your chances of getting in. Sometimes taking additional colleges level classes and getting good grades, or working in the healthcare field can augment your resume.

If you are planning to apply to a Direct Entry Master’s Program (meaning you have a bachelor's degree in a non-nursing field and are applying to nurse practitioner school) you will need to show that you have taken certain college courses that you would have otherwise completed during a bachelor’s in nursing program. These include tough classes like anatomy and physiology, general chemistry, genetics, microbiology, organic chemistry, and more. Again, you will want to show that you have earned a 3.0 at minimum in these courses. To learn more about admission requirements for nurse practitioner schools see our guide.


Getting through Graduate School

Once you have gotten into your nurse practitioner school, whether it is a master’s or doctor of nursing practice, you have completed the first step towards becoming a nurse practitioner. During your training and education, you will need to study extensively and pass your exams as well as excel in your clinical experiences. Are you still wondering if you are smart enough to be a nurse practitioner? Look at the curriculum examples below from some nurse practitioner schools and decide for yourself if this is a challenge you wish to take on.

• George Washington University: Master's in Nursing- Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner
• Vanderbilt University: Doctor of Nursing Practice

Nurse practitioner school is no joke. If you are putting in the work and struggling, reach out to your professors and classmates. Often some students or professors can tutor you and for some people group study can be particularly helpful.

Passing your Boards

Even after you finish graduate school your educational journey is not over, you still need to pass your nurse practitioner certification exam (boards). Each nurse practitioner specialty has its own certification exam that you need to pass. Your school will take some time to prepare you for this during your education and at the end. If you start getting concerned about if you are smart enough to be a nurse practitioner when your boards come around, perhaps consider a review course. Various organizations such as Fitzgerald Health and Education Associates have been offering nurses review courses for their board exams for years. Do some research and see which one best meets your needs. Once you have passed your boards, you are exam free for a while!

Continuing education

As a nurse practitioner, you will be a lifelong learner. The state that you are licensed in as well as your certifying body will likely require you to complete a certain number of continuing education hours before renewing your license and/or certification. This can involve taking additional courses either online or in person, reading certain articles and taking a quiz on it, or attending conferences. While this may be daunting, don’t worry too much. Continuing education is not as challenging as getting through graduate school or passing your boards. Check with your state and certifying body for details, and don’t forget to ask about funding for continuing education during your interview process!


Am I smart enough to be a nurse practitioner? Try asking yourself if you have what it takes to be a nurse practitioner instead. Yes, you have to achieve various levels of education and pass exams and clinical competencies during your journey to becoming a nurse practitioner, but remember that your role is much more than how smart you are. Clinical judgment comes with time. When you finish nurse practitioner school you will be equipped to be a safe learner, meaning that you will continue to learn and hone your clinical skills on the job. One of the most important parts of providing high-quality patient care and being a good nurse practitioner is your willingness to engage in ongoing education, being compassionate and intuitive, and recognizing that the patient and their knowledge of themself is an integral part of their health. A collaborative provider-patient relationship and a dedicated hard working nurse practitioner will go much further than a high IQ alone.

Lauren Jacobson MS, RN, WHNP-BC
Lauren Jacobson is a registered nurse and women’s health nurse practitioner who is passionate about global health and gender-based violence prevention. She is Editor and an Advisory Board Member for the Global Nursing Caucus and volunteers with Physicians for Human Rights as a medical evaluator for asylum seekers.