Becoming a nurse can be a life-changing career decision. It requires schooling, practical experience, and a commitment to the physical and mental health of your patients. Deciding to become a nurse, however, is often the easy part. Once you enter the world of medical professionals, you’ll learn that there is not just one type of nurse to aspire to become.
Nurse practitioners, for example, differ from registered nurses in many ways, like patient responsibility and level of schooling. If you’re interested in starting your professional medical career as a nurse, it’s important to understand the distinctions between types of nurses and why you should consider both positions before deciding your career future.
What Is a Nurse Practitioner?
Nurse practitioners differ from other registered nurses in that they are advanced practice registered nurses. This means nurse practitioners complete more schooling at a graduate level to attain their position. As a result, nurse practitioners have more independence when dealing with patients compared to registered nurses. In some states, an overseeing physician may not even be required.
While the main focus of nurse practitioners is diagnostic care and treatment, they also focus on preventative health maintenance. This means they can work with patients to prevent illness and check in on important information regarding each person’s health. Nurse practitioners differ from physicians because their care is more holistic — as nurses, they gather information on the patient to fully understand all aspects of a patient’s mental and physical health.
How to become a nurse practitioner
Working as a nurse practitioner may seem like a great job, but it’s important to understand the typical path to attaining this role. Generally, candidates start out pursuing a career as a registered nurse then complete additional schooling to become a nurse practitioner.
Step 1: Become an RN
Before you become a nurse practitioner, you have to become a registered nurse. Earning your RN license is the first step you need to enter the world of medical professionals and later become a nurse practitioner. To become an RN, you’ll have to complete some schooling. If you’re serious about becoming a nurse practitioner, it’s advised that you complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree.
Step 2: Earn a BSN
Whether you do this before or after you attain your RN license, it’s important to have this baseline level of schooling. Advanced schooling for nurse practitioners means you’ll have to apply to programs that may require a BSN as a prerequisite.
Step 3: Gain Clinical Experience
An early step toward becoming a nurse practitioner is gaining valuable medical experience in the field you wish to specialize in. This means taking time to gain exposure and understanding of the medical field as a whole, and then determining what areas you’d like to focus your career on. If you can spend the time learning as much about one area of interest as possible, this will only help you in your journey toward becoming a nurse practitioner in that defined area.
Step 4: Choose a Specialization
Once you have a cursory understanding of the whole medical field, you can home in on an area of specialization. Areas of specialization include mental health, gerontology, neonatal, emergency, pediatrics, and family care. Each area requires a different level of skills and understanding. You can hone these skills as an RN and gain a better understanding of what certifications and programs you need to complete to make the jump from RN to nurse practitioner.
Step 5: Earn an MSN or DPN Degree
The most important step on the journey to becoming a nurse practitioner is completing the correct type of schooling in the area of specialization you wish to focus on. The two types of degrees are a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DPN).
A DPN is a more in-depth and extensive program, which can provide deeper knowledge on an area and may open the door for leadership positions. An MSN, on the other hand, is a great way to become a nurse practitioner through solid schooling and may get you to your goal faster. Keep in mind that different states have different requirements for schooling, so make sure you do some research on which program will suit you best based on your state.
Step 6: Obtain Certification From a Specialty Nursing Board
This is the second type of certification you’ll need to become a nurse practitioner, after you earn an RN license. These certifications will come from organizations specific to your specialization. These organizations can include places like American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB), American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN), Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB), American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), and National Certification Corporation (NCC). Generally, applications to these boards usually require evidence of clinical work, standardized test scores and evidence of completing relevant coursework.
Step 7: Obtain NP State Licensure
The final step toward becoming a nurse practitioner is acquiring a state license. Requirements vary by state, but make sure you complete the previous six steps in order to acquire a license. Depending on your state, your license may need to be renewed after a certain period of time. Make sure you check your state’s specific NP license requirements before you apply.
Becoming a nurse practitioner is a long process, but it’s one that’s worth it if you truly love the medical field. By becoming a nurse practitioner, you can take on more responsibility for patients, gain an in-depth knowledge of your chosen field and serve in various nursing leadership positions in hospitals and other medical organizations.
If you’re looking for something more out of your medical career, becoming a nurse practitioner can provide you with the breadth and depth of knowledge you desire. Whether you’re new to nursing or are already a licensed RN, setting the goal to become a nurse practitioner can change the course of your medical career.
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