How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

The field of nursing is far more diverse in regard to career path options than one might think. Some nurses opt to work in traditional nursing roles in hospitals and medical practices, while others choose to go on to work in areas of medicine or research. Other nurses choose to go into teaching to train and guide the next generation of nurses, while others continue in their career and education to become an ambulatory care nurse and a professional nurse practitioner.

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner, Nurse, Lifestyle
How to Become a Nurse Practitioner
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A nurse practitioner has a higher level of clinical experience and knowledge about nursing and the world of medicine in general, so much so that they are qualified to practice independently of a physician in many states. While this isn’t the case for all states, some are in such dire need of skilled medical professionals that they give nurse practitioners the ability to set up practice for themselves, and in some cases, even prescribe medications without the oversight of a physician. 

The fact that nurse practitioners begin their careers straight out of nursing school — working on the frontlines of healthcare — and then carry on to earn at least one advanced degree makes them excellent candidates for the job they are entrusted with. They are fully capable and prepared to take on the responsibility of an independently functioning healthcare practitioner and can provide their patients with the care they need and the understanding they deserve. 

If you aspire to become a nurse practitioner one day, there are a few different paths that you can take. Your level of education will most likely depend on the state you wish to live and practice in, and the experience you obtain will depend on your particular circumstances and area of medicine.

Here is a brief guide to how you can progress your career in order to become a nurse practitioner. 

Earn Your Bachelor’s Degree 

The first step on your road to becoming a nurse practitioner is to become a registered nurse (RN). There are a few different ways to become an RN that vary on the level of education you wish to earn. However, if your hope is to one day become a fully licensed nurse practitioner, then your best route to becoming an RN is to earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. 

A widely popular degree among aspiring nurses today, your BSN will equip you with the knowledge and skills that you need to enter the work force as a nurse with a well-rounded undergraduate education. While it’s not necessary if you wish to work as an RN, many hospitals and places of employment are looking for RNs with a BSN now more than ever. 

Furthermore, a BSN is the only degree that will qualify you for the next steps in becoming a nurse practitioner. This is because a nurse practitioner is required to hold an advanced degree, either a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. The benefits of earning an MSN vs DNP vary depending on your circumstances, though. 

MSN or DNP 

Once you have your BSN and a few years of relevant experience under your belt, you will need to enroll in another advanced degree program. You will either need to earn an MSN degree or a DNP degree. The advanced degree option that you go for might be dictated by the state in which you live and work, or it might be a case of personal preference based on your personal career aspirations. 

Generally speaking, a DNP program will take more time to complete than an MSN. This is because of the nature of the DNP as a doctoral program. It is expected that doctoral candidates acquire a higher level of knowledge and experience and will typically take around three or four years. This amount of time can be less, though, if you already have an MSN degree. 

While both degrees give a nurse the ability to pursue a variety of advanced career paths from education to critical care, the DNP will present you with a wider range of more advanced options. Furthermore, if you live in certain states, you will need to have a DNP if you wish to work as a nurse practitioner. 

It is always a good idea to know what sort of restrictions are in place in your state as well. Some place restrictions on nurse practitioners while others give more freedom to practice. Some even permit nurse practitioners to have their own practice and prescribe medication. 

Earn the Right Experience 

There are going to be certain requirements on experience for your journey to becoming a nurse practitioner. For instance, you might need to work as a practicing RN for a few years before entering graduate school. The clinical experience that you obtain throughout your graduate degree program is also going to be substantial. You might also need to earn certain experience in a particular area of medicine if you want to specialize. 

The reason that experience is so critical in the career of a nurse is because it teaches you firsthand how to work as part of a unit and think on your feet. There are simply some things that can’t be taught in a classroom, and as far as the career of a nurse is concerned, such experience can be the most important kind. 

When it comes to working as a nurse practitioner, you will most likely need to be able to lead a team yourself. The best way to know how to do this efficiently and effectively is to first work as part of a team being led by an experienced medical professional. With the right experience under your belt, you will be prepared to lead your own team one day as a nurse practitioner. 

State Licensure and Nurse Practitioner Certification 

Once you have obtained the right experience and earned the degree level required by your state, you will need to seek licensure. The licensure requirements for each state vary, so it is critical that you know what your state’s requirements are before you take any concrete steps towards fulfilling your dream of becoming a nurse practitioner. 

One standard requirement that is to obtain a national certification. The association with which you obtain your certification might depend on the specialization that you hope to work in. The organization that you become certified through will also vary, so be sure you know exactly what you need to do. You will also need to pass an exam in order to gain your certification and thus your state license to practice as a nurse practitioner. 

Required Skills 

While there are naturally going to be skills that you acquire throughout the course of your education and clinical experience, there are also some skills that you will need to look to develop in and of yourself if you wish to be a confident nurse practitioner. Such skills include, but are not limited to, communication, empathy, and critical thinking. 

Your ability to communicate effectively is going to play a key role in your level of success as a nurse practitioner. Not only do you need to be able to communicate kindly to your patients, but you also need to have the ability to communicate with the staff that you have working for you as well. Your communication skills will be directly related to your leadership skills in the workplace. If you are unable to communicate well with your staff, then you won’t be able to administer the healthcare that your patients need. 

Critical thinking skills are also incredibly important for a nurse practitioner to have. There will be difficult decisions that need to be made during the course of your career. Sometimes these decisions must be made with urgency. Your ability to think critically in such situations is going to play an important role in your career. 

Never Stop Learning 

The nature of the job of a nurse practitioner is one that requires constant learning. While there are going to be continuing education requirements dictated by your state board, you should always look for opportunities to learn more about your field. This is especially true if you wish to specialize in a particular area of medicine. 

The reason that state boards require nurse practitioners and healthcare workers in general to complete continued education requirements has to do with the nature of medicine itself. There are constant breakthroughs in research being made in reference to medicine, and such things can make for groundbreaking changes in patient care. The only way to keep the rate of positive patient outcomes high is to require those in healthcare to stay current with the latest advancements and innovations. 

Your concentration as a nurse practitioner can be in a variety of areas. Some nurse practitioners work in geriatrics, while others work in pediatrics. Others might wish to work in family care by operating their own family practice. While up to 700 clinical hours are required when a nurse practitioner specializes in family practice, the continuing of your education is going to last for the duration of your career.

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