License & DEA Requirements for Nurse Practitioners

Nurse practioners work in doctors' offices, hospitals and medical centers.
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In our fast-paced society, time efficiency comes at a premium and many doctors’ offices employ nurse practitioners or physicians assistants to help get patients in and out quickly. As of 2012, nearly 86 percent of nurse practitioners were women, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A nurse practitioner offers the same level of service as a physician, and thanks to regulations from the Drug Enforcement Administration, they can even write prescriptions. Before signing their John Hancock to a prescription, the practitioner must register with the DEA.


    Each state sets its own licensing requirements for nurse practitioners, but all 50 require that a nurse practitioner have at least a registered nurse license. Earning an RN license means earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing and passing the National Council Licensure Examination. All states also mandate that nurse practitioners take specialized nurse practitioner courses. In 27 of the states, a nurse practitioner needs a master’s degree to practice, while in 35 states, she needs national certification. National certification comes from several industry groups and requires passing a certification exam. Some of the states that require certification mandate that the nurse practitioner receive specialized training in a certain field, such as acute care, pediatrics, oncology or family care.


    Before she can write prescriptions for drugs or medical devices, the nurse practitioner must register with the DEA and receive a furnishing number. The DEA assigns the furnishing number, which gives practitioners the authority to write prescriptions after they have met the requirements. An applicant must submit an application form to the DEA that shows she has taken courses directly related to dispensing controlled substances and holds proper certification according to her state’s rules. The DEA also requires applicants to pay a fee when submitting the application.


    Once registered with the DEA, a nurse practitioner may order, dispense or furnish prescription medicine, but only under the supervision of a practicing doctor or physician. A nurse practitioner must also sign a written agreement with her supervising physician that stipulates she is allowed to dispense and prescribe drugs and specifies what drugs that physician allows her to prescribe. Each prescription the nurse practitioner writes must include her DEA number, name, address and professional certification. The actual prescription must also have the nurse practitioner's name on it.

Types of Substances

    The DEA divides drugs and medical devices into different categories, also called schedules. Nurse practitioners who work in a hospital, surgical suite or hospice care can apply for Schedules II through V. All other nurse practitioners can apply for Schedules III through V. Schedule I drugs are illegal substances such as marijuana and heroin. The schedule number increases as the abuse potential of the drug decreases. For example, Schedule II includes drugs with high chances of misuse, such as morphine and codeine, while Schedule V drugs have the lowest likelihood of people abusing them.

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