Becoming a Nurse Practitioner: A Guide

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Nursing is a highly respected, varied, and rewarding career. Many people enjoy long careers working as Registered Nurses (RNs), but this is not the only option for those who have a degree in nursing. With the right education and professional development, Registered Nurses can choose to advance their career by becoming a Nurse Practitioner (NP). Nurse Practitioners take on a higher level of responsibility, enabling them to access more career opportunities and a higher salary. This guide includes the key information you need if you are considering embarking on a career in nursing and then progressing on to becoming a Nurse Practitioner.

What is a Nurse Practitioner?

An Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) who completes additional training and achieves a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) (or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) can become a Nurse Practitioner.

A Nurse Practitioner can take on several of the same responsibilities as a physician and has authority over Registered Nurses. In fact, in some US states, a Nurse Practitioner does not need to be supervised by a doctor and can diagnose and treat patients and manage a medical practice.

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A Nurse Practitioner usually chooses to focus their care for a particular group of patients, such as being a Family, Pediatric, Gerontological, or Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. However, they can also be a General Nurse Practitioner.

Why become a Nurse Practitioner?

There are several reasons why someone may want to become a Nurse Practitioner, and here we have listed some of the most compelling.

To become a leader in healthcare

Nurse Practitioners’ demand is growing in healthcare environments both within hospitals and clinics and in other settings. Continuing research and the education of new generations of nurses are essential to the advancement of healthcare. Nurse Practitioners will be at the forefront of this movement for years to come.

To enjoy new opportunities

The more education you can gather, the more opportunities you will have access to. Clinical experience and knowledge backed up by academic credentials gives a nurse the chance to pursue the specialty of their choice and to switch paths during their career.

To challenge yourself academically and personally

Working as a Nursing Practitioner is certainly challenging, but it is also stimulating and rewarding. They are learning all the time and playing a vital role in their community’s health and wellbeing. The more responsibility a nurse has, the bigger the difference they can make.

To maximize your earning potential

Nurse Practitioners can earn, on average, $111,840 per year, which is a big incentive when you consider the average Registered Nurse earns $70,000-80,000. It is important to note that the salary will vary depending on the individual’s education, certification, clinical specialty, practice setting, and geographical location. Click here for more information on nursing salaries.

To improve your long-term career prospects

While humans walk the planet, we will always need people with medical expertise to take care of the injured and sick and advise us on living healthy lifestyles. Technology is indeed advancing, but this is only adding to the diversity of the career. Nursing informatics and telehealth nursing, for example, are emerging fields that will change the way our society delivers and accesses healthcare.

To enjoy a varied career

Nurse Practitioners have a wide range of specialties open to them and the option to work in a setting that suits their interests and skills. This means Nurse Practitioners need never feel bored or stuck in their career, as there is always a new path to explore.

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

Train as a Registered Nurse

If you have ambitions of becoming a Nurse Practitioner, your first task is to become a Registered Nurse. There are several ways to train as a nurse, but the two most popular are the Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or the Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing (BSN).

The ADN takes approximately two years to complete at a community college. The ADN is cheaper than a BSN, which takes typically takes around four years to complete at a university or accredited online provider. However, most employers will try to hire nurses with a BSN as it is viewed as the superior qualification. If you want to become a Nurse Practitioner, you will need it to progress on to graduate study.

Nurses who have an ADN can often enroll in an accelerated BSN course which can be completed online.

Get nursing experience

You can go straight from a BSN into a graduate nursing program to qualify as a Nurse Practitioner, but it is often recommended to get some real-life nursing experience first. It is advisable to spend a few years working as a Registered Nurse before beginning your graduate training. This will give you the essential experience you will need as a Nurse Practitioner and will enable you to save money before embarking on more education.

Complete a graduate nursing program

When you have some experience and are ready to begin training as a Nurse Practitioner, you can choose between a Master of Science in Nursing degree (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). These intense training programs take at least two years, with the DNP being the higher of the two qualifications. The training covers a range of nursing topics with coursework and requires clinical placements to be completed.

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Financing a graduate program is often a concern for people, but it is important to know that there is financial support out there for nursing graduates. To reduce the cost of study, you may be able to apply for a student loan, scholarship, or grant. You can also refinance existing student loans to lower the interest rate.

Study for your Advanced Practice Nursing Licensure

Once you have completed your academic study, you need to apply for a Nurse Practitioner’s license in your state. The requirements will vary depending on the state you live in.

Find a position

When you are a fully qualified and licensed Nurse Practitioner, you can apply for positions in your chosen setting. This could be in a nursing home, private clinic, psychiatric hospital, general hospital, or another practical healthcare facility or in a more academic, managerial, or administrative position.

Is it the right career for you?

While it is a career that offers plenty of benefits, being a Nurse Practitioner is not the right choice for everyone. Nurse Practitioners carry a lot of responsibility and pressure, which requires a particular set of personal qualities and soft skills. They need to manage other medical staff, listen to and communicate with patients and their families, display empathy and compassion, and put their extensive medical knowledge into action. A lot is expected of nurse practitioners, but this is part of what makes the career so exhilarating. Here are some of the key personal attributes and qualities needed for success as a Nurse Practitioner.

Mental and emotional stability (and resilience)

Nurse Practitioners encounter people when they are at their lowest physically and emotionally, and some take their anger, fear, sadness, or confusion out on those closest at the time. A Nurse Practitioner needs to be able to maintain a professional approach at all times, even when under immense pressure or emotionally drained by their experiences. All nurses must have access to mental health support to ensure they can manage this job aspect. Nurses also need to listen to and accept criticism, manage stress, and adapt to changing circumstances quickly.

Physical stamina

Nurse Practitioners are often required to be on their feet for long shifts, which can take a toll on their physical health and their energy levels. To perform to the best of their ability, it is important that Nurse Practitioners look after their own health and wellbeing with a nutritious energy-boosting diet, plenty of sleep, and adequate hydration.

Optimistic and proactive attitude

The best nurses are patient advocates, which means they will place the patient’s needs at the forefront, whether they are the first patient of the day or the last. Patients should receive the same care level from both a medical and a compassionate point of view, with plenty of energy and the same dedication to providing the best possible care.

Exceptional communication skills

Strong communication skills are essential in nursing, but this includes being an active listener and being able to convey information. Patients will tell Nurse Practitioners crucial information about their condition and general health, but the nurse needs to ask the right questions and identify the key information. Patients are unlikely to be candid with a Nurse Practitioner who does not appear to care or is assuming the problem before they know the whole story. It is also highly likely that Nurse Practitioners will need to communicate complex and/or upsetting information while also facing a language barrier and distressed patients.

Empathy and compassion

In some cases, a Nurse Practitioner takes on the role of a therapist as patients often divulge very personal information about their physical and mental wellbeing, including their home life and traumatic experiences. To be effective, a Nurse Practitioner needs to be able to show compassion and empathy while maintaining a professional manner and ensuring the patient receives the most appropriate care. This can be a difficult balance to strike, and often comes down to the strength of the individual nurse’s interpersonal skills.

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