A Complete Guide to How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

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Introduction to a Nurse Practitioner Career

Nursing is one of the most important professions in the health care sector and the nurses basically run the hospital. Although there are many other professional that are more highly trained than these caregivers, none does as much work as they do. They do everything from basic things such as cleaning patients with special needs to taking care of those in ICU. However, your career in nursing does not have to stop at the registered nurse capacity as there are many ways to advance and get a better pay and more responsibilities. The most common and perhaps the best career growth path for these professionals is becoming nurse practitioners. An NP as they are more fondly known is an experienced caregiver that has pursued masters or doctoral in nursing and may specialize in one of the many fields such as oncology and neonatal care. The NPs are very skilled and well educated, and so they are the only types of nurses that are legally allowed to run their clinics where they can consult and even write prescriptions. However, their responsibilities will depend on the specialty that they pursue and work environment.

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Nursing Practitioner Job Description

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If you are a nurse or a fresh high school graduate who wants to know how to become a nurse practitioner the first thing is to understand some of the roles and responsibilities that you will be tasked with before taking this career path. Knowing the responsibilities will help prepare you for the career and also in making the decision to pursue it. Although the roles will depend on the particular specialty that you take the following are the general things that you should expect to do as an NP.

  • NPs perform thorough evaluations and examinations on patients at their clinics or in a hospital setting. In this role, they do everything that you would expect a physician to do and in most cases you would hardly know that they are not doctors.
  • The professionals are also tasked with diagnosing conditions and diseases and initializing the right treatment for them. Their advanced education in a master or doctoral level and many years of experience as registered nurses are what equips them with the skills to identify different diseases and recommend treatment.
  • Due to their high level of competencies, they can also perform minor surgical operations in their clinics or assist other medical professionals in performing major procedures in hospitals.
  • Most are also counselors and educators that offer emotional support to patients suffering from different conditions and also to their affected families.
  • In some situations, they are also allowed to provide a prescription. However, this will only be possible for those who work in collaboration with physicians.

 

Education Required to Become a Practitioner

To become a nursing practitioner, you have to have at least a Master of Science in Nursing. However, some also pursue nursing to a doctoral level to become DNPs. Before getting to this level, you should also have a BSN and many years of experience. A BSN forms the foundation for a career as a nursing practitioner, but this is not to say that one cannot become an NP without a non-nursing bachelor’s degree. If your first degree is in a different field, the process of becoming a practitioner would be slightly different and longer than an already practicing nurse. All in all, the education requirement for becoming an NP is doing your masters in nursing and then getting advanced certification.

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How Many Years Does It Take TO Become an NP?

It takes between two and three years to pursue an MSN and so if you are already a practicing nurse this is the time that it will take to get to an NP level. However, for fresh high school graduates, it will take eight or more years before they get to this level. First, one has to take a four-year undergraduate nursing degree to become a registered nurse. Once you are a registered nurse, a couple of years of experience on the job are vital before you can enroll in your two or three-year master’s program. However, you can take a shorter time than this if you pursue an accelerated nursing program that takes between 12 and 18 months. The time that it takes to complete the course and become a practitioner will depend on how committed you are, availability of financial resources as these are some of the most expensive courses and also the schools and programs that you take. What is most important is not how long you take to get there but the quality of training that you have and so you should never compromise on this by going to institutions that offers substandard education just to speed up the process of becoming an NP.

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Qualities and Characteristics Required for Becoming an NP

  • You have to be very hard working and willing to push yourself further as it will be quite a challenge to get to this level. Since you will probably also be employed as a nurse somewhere, you have to juggle between work and class and so total dedication will be required for both.
  • To become and NP you should be a quick decision maker and have excellent judgment. When working in your facility, you will be faced with numerous situations that will require you to make judgment and decisions fast. And unlike in a hospital setting you will not always get the privilege of a second opinion from another medical expert and so it is all up to you and getting things wrong is not an option.
  • Physical endurance is also a must have during your training and also after. Nurses have few and very short brakes that come to an end abruptly every time they are needed and so it is a very exhausting job. After your shift you also have to go for your MSN classes and so physical endurance is what will see you through the day.
  • As an NP, you will be the bridge between doctors and patients or their families and so you have to have excellent communication skills. Being able to evaluate situations or diagnose a condition is not enough as you also have to communicate this to other medical experts for intervention.
  • Practitioners also have more responsibilities than registered nurses and sometimes they are also tasked with administrative roles. All this need you to be very responsible as it is the only thing that will ensure you can get the job done. Before becoming an NP, you should make sure you are capable enough to take on the burden that comes with the job.

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Steps to Becoming a Nursing Practitioner

Most people are always wondering how to become a nurse practitioner but dividing it into simple steps makes things easier to understand.The process of becoming an NP in the USA is very long, but it is also very rewarding and hence worth all the effort and time. It has different phases, and each one of them is as important as the other, and so it cannot be skipped. Below is a summary of the steps that you will follow when becoming a practitioner.

  • Step 1: Graduate from High School. The journey to becoming an NP starts all the way back in high school for most people because unlike other professions nursing requires a lot of passion. Even at high school, the student already knows that he wants to become an NP, and so they will excel in chemistry, biology, psychology, statistics and any other related fields. Some will also go further and volunteer in hospitals so that they may get recommendation letters to use in the college application.
  • Step 2: Pursue a BSN. A BSN lays the foundation for you in this career, and so it is a shorter and better path to becoming an NP than taking other things like an associate degree in nursing. It will typically take you four years to complete your BSN and it is highly recommended that you take it in an accredited nursing school. Finding an accredited school should also be effortless as almost each state in the US has one or a couple of them, and so you only need to do some research.
  • Step 3: Become a Registered Nurse. Once you have successfully finished your training (and all the clinical hours) and graduated from college the next step is to become a registered nurse. For this, you need to provide your college certificates as prove of education qualification and then sit for NCLEX exams and pass. Some states will require you to undergo some certification with their respective nursing boards.
  • Step 4: Garner experience. As a registered nurse you can now seek employment in a hospital or in one of the many other facilities that employ nurses so that you can get experience before proceeding to do the masters.
  • Step 5: Enroll For an MSN. With one or more years of experience you will now be a step closer to becoming a nurse practitioner and so you should enroll in an MSN program. The nursing master’s program will take anything between one and a half years and four years depending on the school or program that you choose and mode of study.
  • Step 6: Get Certified. Once you graduate from your MSN program the last step in becoming an NP is getting certified. The timeline here varies from one state to the other, and the body that certifies you, but it does not take long as you only need to provide documents to prove your qualifications, pay the fee and seat for an examination. When you pass the certification exams, you become a certified nurse practitioner. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners provides information on all the relevant certification you need and so you can get the details on their website.

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The Different Specialties

If you are planning to become an NP, it is important to know that there are several specialties that you can choose to pursue and get certification. These specialties will make you more skilled in working in a specific area in the hospital or dealing with issues concerning a particular group of people such as children or women. All specialties are rewarding both careerwise and financially, and so your passion is what should influence your choice. You can choose to specialize when taking your MSN or do specialization after completion of your program. Some of the most popular specialties for practitioners include the following five.

  1. Adult-Gerontology NP: To become an AGNP you need to pursue a specialization that takes between 15 and 24 months depending on the institution. Here you can become a generalized gerontology practitioner, or you can be a sub-specialty in acute care or primary care. After the studies, you can get certification from the American Nurses Credentialing Center.
  2. Family NP: This is one of the most common specialties and it is probably also one of the easiest to pursue. The studies for this specialization take about two years (in some schools it can take up to three years), and you can get certification from ANCC or the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.
  3. Neonatal NP: You can become an NNP in just 12 months, and this makes it one of the shortest specialties that you can take as a practitioner. However, the National Certification Corporation that most people who want to venture into this profession prefer offers a three-year certification program for MSN graduates.
  4. Pediatric NP: With PNP you can choose to pursue it as your area of study during your MSN program and so you will not need to do any other course upon graduation. This profession deals with the care of children and adolescents. The Pediatric Nursing Certification Board is the organization that offers these practitioners with a certification that is renewable annually.
  5. Emergency Room NP: An emergency or trauma care NP is prepared to deal with different types of emergencies and the course usually takes about two years to complete. The certification can be given by various bodies in the USA, but the most common one is the ANCC.

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How much does it Cost to Become an NP?

The cost of education is always going up especially in the healthcare sector, and it is one of the primary reasons why most registered nurses will not even think about advancing to become NPs. Becoming a registered nurse is already very costly even with all the grants and sponsorships offered by the government and other nursing organizations. If you add the cost of an MSN and the specialization programs, things become more expensive. If you are already a practicing nurse, then the NP program will cost you an average of $18,000 for in-state tuition since each credit costs about $400. If you are taking the program online, then you should expect to pay an average of $22,500 and $45,000 if you are pursuing your NP program in one of the private nursing schools. This course is quite expensive but if your employer has a tuition reimbursement scheme and you also get some grants or sponsorships you will have an easier time getting through the program.

NP Degree Requirements

You must have at least a BSN or its equivalent to enroll for a nursing practitioner in any school in the USA, but this is not to say that those with different degrees cannot become practitioners in nursing. Many schools have put in place bridging programs that are meant to enable people with non-nursing or associate degrees to get to the NP level. However, apart from just the degree, there are several other requirements that a student must fulfill to enroll in any of these programs. Although the conditions vary from one university to the other and also from state to the state the following are some of the general requirements that are applicable in most places.

  • The nurse or prospective student must have a couple of years experience in a hospital or similar setting. Some schools will only say that the nurse should have experience, but they do not specify the length while others will specify. Most schools require at least 12 months of nursing experience. For specialty like Neonatal Nursing Practitioner the student must have worked in this particular field and have recommendations to show the same from his or her supervisors.
  • You must be a registered nurse, and so you cannot avoid taking NCLEX exams and go straight to the MSN program. Apart from this, your registration should be up to date, and so it might be necessary to make sure of this before applying to avoid rejections.
  • Most schools will also not admit you if you have any issues with the nursing regulatory bodies or the authorities about professional negligence or its equal. If you have had any problems in the past that may dent you professional credibility or capabilities, then you should deal with them before applying for this course. Most institutions are very strict with the standard of admission because these nurses often have more responsibilities and play advanced roles than the registered nurses.
  • In most schools the applicant will also be required to have a certain GPA that in most cases should be between 3.0 and 3.2 in their undergraduate nursing program. However, most schools will overlook this requirement for nurses who have been in practice for many years as their experience will prevail over their undergraduate GPA.

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How to Choose a School for Your Nurse Practitioner Program

Knowing how to become a nurse practitioner also involves knowing how to choose the best schools for this course. It is one of the most common postgraduate nurse courses, and so most of the top nursing schools offer it and so the problem will not be finding a school you can enroll in but one that will provide you the best training. Considering the following factors and many more will help you find an institution that will leave up to your expectations.

  • Specialty. Although most colleges and universities will try to offer all or most of the NP specialties there is always that one or a couple of them that they will be good at training. Just like for all the other courses few universities can excel in the provision of all specialties and so you should choose an institution based on what you want to do as your specialty. Unless you wish to do a general MSN program, then specialize later on choose a school that not only has the particular course you want to specialize in but is also know to offer high-quality training in that. There are reliable nursing websites that often rank schools using the different classes, and so you can easily get this information.
  • Program Duration. Working and studying at the same time is as difficult as it can get and so the faster you can finish the program and graduate the better. An MSN can take anything from 12 to 36 months and in most cases the difference is not only the specialty but also the structure of the course. Some nursing schools will structure their program in such a way that the workload will be more for students, but they will finish way much faster. Here you have to make a choice between having a lot of school work to deal with or less work and complete the program in a couple of years. An experienced nurse is already used to pressure at work and so it should be easy to handle school work meaning the best university is the one that will help you complete training the fastest.
  • The cost of the Program. The fact that a majority of students taking this course are employed does not mean that cost is not an issue. Becoming a nurse practitioner is an expensive venture by all means, and so you have to prepare yourself adequately. Apart from this, you should also look for institutions that have affordable tuition fees. For this to be possible, you should avoid private universities as they are the most expensive. And if you must attend one take their online programs as they are cheaper than taking the conventional classes. Public nursing schools in your state will be the most affordable for you, and you can also benefit from financial aid from the state government.
  • Accreditation. Even if a university or college is world class it is vital to ensure that their NP programs are accredited as this will save you a lot of trouble. To simply state it you will not receive certification and hence also no license to be a nursing practitioner in any state if the relevant certification bodies have not accredited the institution you went to. There are many universities in the USA, and new ones are coming up almost on a daily basis, but it is important to know that very few of them are accredited nursing schools. To ensure that you only get the best schools take some time and do research on the accreditation status of the schools you are considering to join.

Top Schools to Enroll For NP Programs

  1. University of Michigan, MI. Has been ranked over the last few years as one of the top schools in the USA for nursing courses with the NP included.
  2. The University of Pennsylvania, PA. Apart from also being ranked among the top nursing schools they also offer most NP specialties such as pediatric and women’s healthcare.
  3. Johns Hopkins University, MD. It came second in a 2015 News & World Report list of the best nursing schools in the US.
  4. Columbia University, NY. Their school of nursing is well known for research, and this provides their students with unique opportunities.
  5. University of California, CA. Apart from having one of the top nursing schools it also boasts of close to 100% student retention.

 

Why you Should Consider Online NP Programs

The internet may provide you with the solution on how to become a nurse practitioner.Many things may be standing between you and your ambitions to pursue a nurse practitioner program. Most are personal reasons and they vary from one person to the other, but the two most common ones are the lack of time and resources (more specifically finances). Holding other reasons constant the internet can help you solve time and funding issues. Studying online offers you more convenience than any other mode of learning primarily for working nurses. By taking online programs, you will be able to choose the best time for you to take classes and you will fit them into your schedule and not vice versa. With the nature of a nurse’s profession you never know what to expect and in some days, you will end up working well beyond your shift time and hence this may mean missing classes if you take the conventional mode of study. Regarding cost, an online NP program will on average cost you half as much as you would pay for the same course in a private nursing school.

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Licensing and Certification

You cannot be allowed to practice as an NP in any state without certification and a license. The two central institutions tasked with certification in the US for NPs are American Nurses Credentialing Center and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioner. After completing your education, you are required to register for the national certification exams with one of the two so as to become a certified practitioner. The two can also certify you according to your specialty, but there are also others that deal with particular specialization of NP such as pediatric and neonatal. No one single license can enable you to work in all the states since each one of them has an independent nursing body that gives permits. To get a license to operate in a particular state, you have to fulfill not only the academic qualifications but other special conditions as may be required by individual states such as undergoing a background check. If you wish to become an NP note that both certification and licensing have to be updated annually, and you can lose any of the two, in particular, circumstances.

Career Path, Job Outlook, and Salary

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Nurse practitioners are in a very high demand and few others if at all any nursing specialties come close to them as far as job availability is concerned. Although some of the demand is from the acute nurse shortage in the USA, another cause is the approach to medicine that these professionals take. NPs devote more time in the preventative type of medicine through counseling to encourage healthy living and so as many people realize the benefits of this their demand has continued to rise. And so for those thinking of taking this career path, many opportunities await them. Also, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment for NPs is expected to grow by 31% by the year 2024. This statistics helps to show that the reputation of nurse practitioners to offer quality care will continue to open up more job prospects for them. The median salary for these professionals according to the BLS is $95,350, but the actual salaries will vary depending on the specialization, level of education, type of employment and also experience.

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