How To Become A Nurse Practitioner
STEPS TO BECOMING A NURSE PRACTITIONER
1. BECOME A REGISTERED NURSE
If you want to be a nurse practitioner, the first step on that path is to become a registered nurse (RN). You will first need to earn an associate or bachelor’s degree from an accredited learning institution, or a degree from a licensed vocational training program. You should be aware that it is becoming more common to get a four-year college degree before becoming an RN, and many employers now require that.
Some programs let you earn the RN and bachelor’s degree together, while others simply offer the RN program for those who already have a bachelor’s in a non-medical area. Another path is for students to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN) before becoming an RN. In order to obtain a license in either of these categories, students must pass a standardized medical exam at the end of their program.
2. EARN A BACHELOR’S DEGREE
The quickest and most direct way to a career in nursing is to enrol in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or a related medical program after high school. Some nurses, however, choose to go straight to work after receiving their LPN or associate degree in nursing, and they go back to school for their RN after several years of work experience.
Bachelor’s programs in nursing typically include a lot of clinical experience, along with practical courses that teach communication skills, supervision, management, research, community health issues and related areas.
Another path is for registered nurses to participate in a program that bridges them from an RN to a BSN. This can take varying amounts of time, depending on whether the nurse goes to school full time or part time. There are various LPN-to-BSN programs available.
3. GAIN EXPERIENCE
Which path is the right one? That depends on the needs of each student. Some experts feel that the best way is to go in a straight line from the BSN program all the way up to the Master’s level. Others disagree, claiming that program is weak on the clinical aspect, and that it’s better to work on the front lines of health care before getting an advanced degree or certification
Practical experience is extremely important in nursing. On the job training is important for learning how to handle a variety of patient problems, how to adapt to different medical environments, and how to fit in with a medical team in a clinical setting.
4. EARN A GRADUATE DEGREE
The final educational step on the road to becoming a nurse practitioner is to earn a graduate degree. Many graduate schools will not accept students for these programs unless they have had a few years of nursing experience. Others allow students to gain RN work experience as part of the program while they are pursuing their graduate degrees. In either case, hands-on RN experience is an essential element of the process. One important benefit of clinical experience is that it allows the student to become familiar with a range of specialties that he or she might find interesting as a career path.
Nursing schools have different requirements, and some graduate schools accept RNs who have only an associate degree. Another twist is that some graduate programs will accept students who have a bachelor’s degree in a health or science related field, rather than the Bachelor of Science in Nursing that many require.
These days, the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is the minimum educational requirement for becoming a nurse practitioner. However, there is a trend toward requiring students to go all the way for a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree, although at this point the MSN is the more common degree.
A person could also earn a master’s degree in nursing and then a PhD in a related field, and this is a good option for those who want to make a career in healthcare administration, nursing education or research. These kinds of graduate programs provide more detailed training in medical ethics, diagnosis, and anatomy, among other subjects.
The standard curriculum for a nurse practitioner involves the course of study for an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), with specialized NP education and training. It may target a specialty such as family and primary care, women’s health, geriatrics or psychiatry.
The program covers a range of subjects including anatomy, physiology and pharmacology, as well as field-specific classes that explore pediatrics, family or primary care, gerontology, health systems management and more. The master’s (MSN) degree will have 18 to 24 months of full-time study, while DNP programs usually require a two- to three-year full-time education commitment.
5. OBTAIN STATE LICENSE AND CERTIFICATION
Nurse practitioners cannot work without a license. Each state has its own licensing requirements, and students should research those requirements before starting a program of education and training. It is important to look up a state’s list of approved graduate-level nursing programs in each jurisdiction. Remember that nurse practitioner licensure candidates must hold a master’s degree in nursing and a valid state RN license, and also pass a national certification examination.
There are various professional organizations that offer certification for nurse practitioners by specialty. These include the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board, the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (a subsidiary of the American Nurses Association). The requirements for certification are an RN license, a degree from an accredited institution, and a minimum amount of supervised clinical hours.
6. PURSUE FURTHER SPECIALIZATION
If a nurse practitioner wants to specialize, there can be additional credentials and certifications needed, especially for Advanced Practice Registered Nurses. Opportunities for advancement increase with education, certification and work experience in one or more specialties. Whether you specialize or not, as a nursing professional you should be a lifelong learner, since simply maintaining your required certifications demands that you obtain a certain amount of continuing education credits throughout your career.
Examples of specialization as an APRN include Acute Care Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (ACNP), Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AG ACNP), Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) and Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP).