Becoming A Nurse Practitioner – Preparing for Your Advanced Degree in Nursing
If you’re considering becoming a nurse practitioner, you will want to prepare for your master’s degree in nursing ahead of time. Graduate school is no easy task, but the best school for nursing is out there to help you advance your nursing career to new levels. Learn what NPs do that sets them apart, how you can earn a nurse practitioner degree at a pace that works for you, which type of specialty is right for you, and how you may be able to complete your education faster.
What Type of Nurse Practitioner Program Suits Your Skillset?
Nurse practitioner degrees are usually obtained through earning a master’s degree or a DNP to become an advanced practice nurse. These degrees come with a diverse range of specializations you can use to advance your career. You will want to choose a nurse practitioner specialty that you find rewarding.
1. Think About What Patients You Work Best With Before Selecting Your Nurse Practitioner Track
Think back to your nursing practice and reflect on the care settings and patient populations you work best with. You can also take into account what you are most passionate about when it comes to patient care. If you want to help people manage debilitating pain because someone you love struggles with chronic pain, for example, you may find the pain management field challenging and worthwhile.
You’ll also want to consider the type of work setting and the type of people your specialization focuses on. For example, you could work with children in a physician’s office, focus on birthing as a midwife in a home setting, help older patients manage problems in adult-gerontology, or become a nurse anesthetists and work with all ages in a hospital.
2. Explore Your Options for Specialization Thoroughly, Don’t Settle!
There are a wide variety of specialty tracks within advanced practice nursing, so before you settle on a school or even apply, make sure you are choosing a field only after you’ve done all your research!
The most common clinical jobs for nurse practitioners include the following:
• Acute care
• Emergency care
Each of these tracks can be combined as well, for instance you can find a program for Acute Pediatric, Family and Gerontology, Primary Care with an emphasis in Pediatrics and on and on. The most important thing is to make sure that you are not just settling for a NP program that seems like it might work. As an APRN, you are going to be investing a good deal of money, time and effort into this degree, so it is essential that you choose something that you are going to be satisfied with for years to come. And remember, your patients are going to be depending upon you to provide them with the best care possible, so make sure you choose a specialty that moves you to do just that!
If you’re not sure who you want to work with, do some more research! Of course, you can also take our personality quiz to find out what nursing specialty best matches your characteristics!
Do You Have the Requirements Nurse Practitioner Schools Want?
Every school is different and entrance requirements vary based on the state, even when it comes to colleges for nurse practitioners. However, there are a few things most graduate schools will look for when it comes to NP school prerequisites, such as a related undergraduate degree and any hands-on experience you may have.
3. Make Sure You Meet the Admissions Requirements Before You Apply to an NP Program
To apply for an MSN or DNP program, you may need to meet the following requirements:
• A Bachelor’s degree in nursing
• An active registered nurse license
• Multiple years of clinical or work experience
• Minimum GPA and GRE scores
However, if you don’t have a background in nursing, you may still be able earn your MSN through an accelerated program that will allow you to graduate faster. Making sure that you are qualified for an advanced practice program should be on the top of your list of things to do when applying to NP school.
4. Read the Fine Print When it Comes to Prerequisites For NP School
I can’t tell you how many nurses have had to retake basic core courses to have them be applied to their advanced practice degree. Many schools require that your basic courses be completed within five years of applying, so that Microbiology class you took in your ADN program may no longer apply. Additionally, be sure your courses are specific enough – for instance, you may need Chemistry or you may need Organic Chemistry, in which case your previous credits may not meet your advanced practice course requirements.
5. Send Your Transcripts Early, And Get a Copy for Yourself
Once you’ve begun the process of selecting a school for your Nurse Practitioner degree, you’re going to need to check your transcripts to be sure you meet admissions and prerequisite requirements. Trust me, there is nothing more frustrating than sending your only copy off to a potential school, and being left to wonder how many English credits you earned in your undergrad program. It’s a good idea to request the official copies you need to apply to your new school with, and get a copy for yourself and your own records at the same time.
Understanding Nurse Practitioner Programs Online
Because nursing is a very hands-on field, finding a nurse practitioner program entirely online is not possible. However, you can work on completing part of your BSN, MSN, or some doctorate-level courses online. In recent years, online options are becoming more popular because they allow you to take classes on a more flexible schedule.
5. Find Out Which Courses Are Actually Online – Before You Enroll
Online courses will typically be offered for lecture-type courses, which can be especially helpful in completing your bachelor-level general education requirements. Some students find online classes to be more challenging, as they require you to manage your time and study on your own. You have to know when to ask for help. But since many online options are targeted toward licensed nurses who already have a handle on actual nursing practice, the content shouldn’t be a shock.
That said, if you have a hard time with online learning, you may want to talk with an adviser to see exactly what pieces of the NP curriculum are going to be online and which you can take in the classroom.
6. Check Into Campus Requirements Before You Enroll in an “Online” NP Program
Some of the top U.S. nursing schools may offer web-based teaching coupled with in-person clinical hours with a partnered site or on the school’s campus, so they meet the same requirements are traditional nursing programs. This is where it becomes extremely important to get familiar with on campus requirements.
After I had already enrolled in my “online” graduate nursing program, I was shocked to find out that one requirement for graduation was a six day course in Washington D.C., which no one had told me about during my months long decision making and acceptance process. Um. What?!
Several schools require on campus visits, seminars and/or advising sessions in order to meet graduation requirements, so be sure that you ask about this before you enroll in classes. If I had known that an out of pocket expense for getting my MSN included six days in D.C. plus travel costs, I may have changed my mind about which school was best for me.
What Do Nurse Practitioners Do That Sets Them Apart?
Nurse practitioners are advanced practitioners that focus primarily on managing health and preventing disease. Like others in the health care industry, they treat varying patients, but NPs can do more with their license than nurses without. Learning about the role you are about to take on from those with experience is a great way to see what sets APRNs apart from other practitioners.
7. Finding the Right Preceptor is Essential to Your Success in NP School
When it comes to NP school you are going to be completing about 500 clinical hours, the majority of which will be directly supervised by a preceptor who is usually a practicing APRN. Finding someone who you respect, can work with easily and who is willing to both educate and offer independent opportunities for learning is key to this aspect of your education.
But many nurse practitioner students find that securing a clinical preceptor is the single hardest aspect of NP school. Especially if you are attending a distance learning program. Many times, you are responsible for finding your own clinical sites in this instance. For this reason, finding the right preceptor is likely the single most important tip for becoming a successful NP student. Start early, be persistent and read up on tips to connecting and networking with preceptors now!
8. Get Familiar With the NP Scope of Practice in Your State
We all know that Nurse Practitioners provide a higher level of patient care than LPNs and RNs. You will train in specialized aspects of care, so you can also focus on diagnosing illness and treating conditions yourself, creating a direct care relationship with your patients. NPs also work with different people, depending on the specialty track, which leads to specialization in advanced procedures as well.
APRNs are able to administer controlled substances in most states and can work in a less restricted practice than non-NPs, meaning they don’t need authorization from a higher up to diagnose patients, order tests, and provide treatment. However, some states will allow more freedom, as most are split between full, reduced, or restricted practice. Reduced practice states may require you to collaborate with another healthcare provider or work under direct supervision. Learning about the NP scope of practice in your own state can help you plan for your education and practice options from the start, which will give you a leg up when it comes time for you to practice on your own.
Clinical Nursing Standards – Choosing Between DNP or Master’s Degree in Nursing
When it comes to deciding between a master’s or doctorate degree in nursing, consider your future career goals. Both higher-level degrees will open new doors and pay higher salaries of nurses, but they vary based on the focus of the work, regulations and your educational end goals.
9. Think About Costs and Duration Before You Decide on an NP Program
Master’s degrees typically take about two years to complete and you will be trained in your chosen specialty to qualify for more advanced nurse practitioner roles. A Doctor or Nursing Practice, or DNP degree, can take about four years and is often considered a more exhaustive degree when it comes to advanced practice nursing.
The main factors influencing the choice to get an MSN or a DNP are often based on how much time and money you are willing and able to invest in your nursing education. Since there are different rules from state to state and between employers regarding NPs with the two different degrees, it is important to know which option is best for you. While the call to require DNP degrees for NPs is still on the table in many nursing education environments, getting an MSN may grandfather you into the NP, even if licensing regulations change. That’s why making the decision should include several factors, including your ability to make the financial and personal commitment.
9. Choose the NP Degree and School that Fits Your Future Goals
A DNP isn’t required to begin practicing as a Nursing Practitioner, but it may offer the option to further your career in a more clinical-centered focus. Both degree options are available with online nursing school options. Where they really vary is that the DNP may be more apt to get you in the door for a nurse management or executive position, whereas a Master’s program may be exactly what you need to start practicing as a primary care provider.
The doctoral degree may also be a better fit if you want to teach or focus on health care policy and administrative tasks whereas Master’s programs are well suited for specialty training and clinical nursing.
10. Speak to An Adviser Early and Often!
What it really boils down to, if you want to be prepared for becoming a Nurse Practitioner, is that you need to stay abreast of the process from long before you begin. Determining your goals, finding your specialty options, and clearly understanding the education requirements and expectations — these are the basis of all the tips for starting NP school, and they can all be met if you’re willing to talk to the people who know the programs best.
We recommend contacting NP schools as soon as you can, asking to speak directly with those advisers in the MSN and DNP programs, and continuing to maintain open communication with them. Your NP school has a vested interest in seeing you enroll and complete your program easily, and most schools have set up the infrastructure to help you be successful. Tap into these resources now to get the best results in your advanced nursing education.
We want to help prepare you to be the most effective and well educated nurse you can be, and we hope you share these tips with others if they have helped you. You can also email us your own suggestions to pass along to other NP students by contacting us a firstname.lastname@example.org.