Maybe you had your first experience with a nurse practitioner (NP) at your local GP’s office, during a hospital stay, or during a school immunization program. These days, it’s fairly easy to cross paths with a nurse practitioner – they seem to be everywhere! Have no fear…this article will help you learn how to become a nurse practitioner.
The nursing profession as a whole has grown by leaps and bounds over the last several decades. With this growth, the profession has seen an explosion of professional opportunities. Nurse practitioners play a varied and invaluable role across the healthcare continuum, and over time, the role has evolved to include such advanced practice roles like prescribing medication, diagnosing conditions and initiating treatment plans, and in some specialties, even performing certain procedures like administering anaesthesia or doing minor surgical procedures is a possibility. While scope of practice varies slightly from state to state, most NPs enjoy a great deal of autonomy in their professional lives.
But lets not get ahead of ourselves. With that autonomy comes responsibility, so whether you’re just beginning to contemplate the nursing profession or are already a nurse looking to become an NP, there are a few things you need to know before you start down your new career path.
Make sure that you really want the job
Yes, we know this sounds a bit basic, but surprisingly, its a step that a lot of people sort of gloss-over in the excitement of starting down a new career path. But if you’re looking into how to become a nurse practitioner, it’s imperative that you understand what you’re getting yourself into.
If you are not yet a nurse
If you are not already a nurse and have not spent much (or any) time around patients, now is the time to introduce yourself to a clinical environment. The reality of nursing is not always what you see on TV or read about in books, so it’s important that you see what a day in the life of a nurse is firsthand to ensure that the profession is a good fit for you. There are a few excellent ways to achieve this:
- volunteering at a local hospital
- shadowing a nurse for a few hours at his or her job
- working as a nursing assistant
If you are already a nurse
Becoming a nurse practitioner is not like getting a promotion from your current nursing position. It is an entirely different job with a different set of skills. Naturally, having been a nurse for many years is invaluable experience that will help you make the transition, and you may even already have an area of focus in mind. However, as with anyone starting down a new career path, you will want to familiarize yourself with some of the different aspects of the profession. The following things will help you to do this:
- Shadowing a nurse practitioner who is already working in the specialty that you wish to pursue.
- Preparing yourself to be a student again. You will have new time commitments in your life, and will have to find ways to carve-out time for study, writing, and clinical rotations.
- Understanding your role: there is a great deal of literature out there on the transition process from being an expert RN with years of experience to a novice NP. The change can be an unnerving one, so it pays to prepare!
Find a nursing program that works for you
So you’ve found a specialty that interests you. Now it’s time to get your school game on. The nursing profession in the United States is regulated at both the state and national levels by a set of educational guidelines that you must meet in order to practice, so get ready to buckle-down, because this is where the real work starts!
All Nurse practitioner programs will require that you have earned your Bachelor’s of Science degree in nursing (BSN) prior to application, so if you are just starting out in nursing school, be sure to choose a program that either offers a BSN, or has a RN to BSN bridge program. Many schools even offer “fast track” programs for students with degrees in other areas who want to go on to earn a Masters of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree and become nurse practitioners.
After graduating with your BSN, you will need to pass the National Council Licensing Examination, or NCLEX. This is the board exam for all registered nurses in the United States, and your nursing school will likely offer you resources and help in preparing for the exam. Once you have passed the NCLEX, you are ready to start practicing as a nurse!
It is wise to get at least one year’s experience as a working nurse before going on to become a nurse practitioner. In fact, most programs require at least a year “in the field” before applying.
Once you have earned your BSN and have focused-in on the specialty you are interested in, it’s time to apply to graduate school. To become a nurse practitioner, you’re going to need that Masters degree!
How to Become a Nurse Practitioner – Common nurse practitioner programs/specialties and where they practice
- Women’s Health – clinics, GP practices
- Adult Gerontology – hospitals, care homes, clinics
- Pediatric – hospitals, GP practices, clinics
- Family – GP practices, clinics, community outreach
- Neonatal – hospitals
- Psychiatric – hospitals, clinics, community outreach
- Emergency – hospital ER
- Acute Care – hospital medicine and surgery, ICU
Interested in other nursing specialties? Check out our articles on ’20 Different Types of Nurses (and Why You’d Want to be One of Them)’ and ‘Top 10 Paying Nursing Specialties’.