5 Things You Need to Become a Nurse Practitioner

Becoming a nurse is one of the most challenging yet rewarding career paths that one can decide to take. Not only do you work directly with patients by administering healthcare and assisting them with their needs throughout the duration of their treatment, but you also acquire education and skills that can allow you to take your career to new heights.

There was once a time when it was assumed by the general population that most nurses worked as registered nurses (RN) in a hospital setting assisting physicians in administering care. However, the role of nurses has evolved greatly over the years to a point where some nurses with incredibly high credentials are even able to practice independently of physician supervision. Some nurses also opt to pursue specific specialties in their careers and work in particular areas of medicine.

These nurses generally earn advanced degrees and become certified as nurse practitioners (NP). The roles of NPs in the world of healthcare are varied and diverse. You might wish to practice as a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) and see patients independently of a physician or you might wish to go into pediatric nursing and work as part of a pediatric care team within a hospital. There a great many jobs in the realm of advanced nursing to choose from for any RN aspiring to take their career farther. However, the road to becoming an NP is a long one and requires that you obtain a few specific skills and certifications in order to be qualified.

If you are thinking about becoming an NP and would like to learn more about what it takes to follow this career path, here are five things that you will need in order to become an NP regardless of specialty.

1. Education
Nursing is the sort of job that requires those within the profession to acquire a certain level of education. While someone can become an RN by earning either a four-year degree in the form of a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree or a two-year degree called an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), anyone looking to become an NP will need to earn a graduate degree as well. This is because the jobs that NPs perform are incredibly complex and demand a vast amount of medical knowledge and practical skill.

For many nurses, the thought of earning a graduate degree while continuing to work as an RN is an intimidating thought. The good news is, though, that there are a great many options that are both flexible and efficient for any nurse looking to further their career. As you look into the various nurse practitioner programs out there, you will need to know what specific degree you should earn in order to pursue the career path that you want.

For instance, if you wish to work as an FNP in your own practice, you are going to need to learn about what the specific requirements in your state are for credentials. Some states allow nurses to practice with very few restrictions as an FNP. However, you might need to earn a doctorate degree in order to enjoy such freedom of practice.

A Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree is a longer type of program than a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree program. There are also a great many specializations that an NP can work in with only an MSN. Make sure that you know specifically what you need to apply and work for so that you can make the most of your career as an NP.

2. Experience
The job of a nurse practitioner is one that requires one to be able to evaluate, diagnose, and offer the right course of treatment for a variety of illness and injuries. Because there is no telling exactly what each patient will bring to the table on a day to day basis, an NP must essentially be prepared for anything. While the education of an NP goes a long way to providing them with the resources and knowledge necessary to do the job well, there is no substitute for experience when it comes to practicing medicine. This is why obtaining the right amount of experience is a requirement when looking to become an NP.

The first thing that you will want to consult is your state’s requirements of the amount of experience necessary to become an NP. Some states require far more time than others. Next, you should look into the specific program that you are applying to for your education. Some programs will not accept applicants with fewer than 2 years’ experience working as an RN while others are designed to be of a more accelerated nature. This means that you might very well be able to enter into a degree program on the merits of your RN status and BSN alone.

Ultimately, there are more NPs who opt to work as RNs for a few years before continuing on in their education than not. This is because there is so much value to the experience you gain working in direct patient care as an RN that can positively impact your future as an NP. The thing to keep in mind, though, is that no two paths to becoming an NP are the same.

3. Specific Skills
As in any job, there is a specific set of skills that all NPs should look to acquire and develop if they hope to have a successful career in their chosen field. This is because the job of an NP is filled with so much responsibility. There are individuals that you will work with who will look to you for leadership and patients who will be turning to you for the most comprehensive healthcare. While your education and experience will prepare you in terms of your academic and practical knowledge, there are certain skills that you will need to develop in and of yourself.

Firstly, one of the most imperative skills that you will need to have in your skillset as an NP is that of excellent communication. Your ability to communicate effectively and efficiently to those with whom you work, your patients, as well as the families of your patients is going to play a critical role in your ability to administer the best healthcare. As an NP, you will be working in any of a number of healthcare settings. You might be working as part of a greater team within a hospital or as the leader of your own team in a private practice. Regardless of the setting in which you choose to work, your ability to communicate with those working under, with, and above you is going to be of the utmost importance.

Another key skill that you will need to work hard to develop is that of leadership. When you spend time working as an RN, this is a skill that, while important, doesn’t always take priority. This is because you are working under the guidance and supervision of a physician as well as your manager. Teamwork is a more pivotal skill at this stage in your career. However, as an NP, your role will change entirely.

NPs are given much more responsibility in terms of how they can administer care, among other things. You might be responsible for coordinating an entire team of healthcare providers who look to you for guidance and instruction on how to proceed. In such instances, the ability to function as an adequate leader is something that is incredibly important. There are even some cases wherein you might be called upon to make difficult decisions that could prove to be life-altering for your patient. In those moments, your ability to act as a leader who is in control of the situation will be crucial.

Other skills that you will need to master before assuming your role as an NP in the world of healthcare pertain more to the manner in which you will deal with your patients as opposed to those working for and with you. For instance, the ability to exercise empathy as a nurse is an important skill to have.

As your career progresses, you are going to need to be able to see things from the perspective of your patients. This is because healthcare providers can easily become jaded with time the more they experience in their jobs. However, a patient might very well be seeking critical healthcare for this first time in his or her life. Your ability to exercise empathy and see the situation from their perspective is going to be incredibly significant in your efforts to administer adequate care.

4. State Licensing and Certification
Once you have acquired the necessary experience and education in order to qualify you to become an NP, you will need to obtain the appropriate licensing and certification. There are a couple of factors that will determine precisely what you will need to do in order to become fully certified. For starters, each state has its own set of requirements in place that are dictated by the state’s board. This means that you will need to learn what the requirements are in the state that you wish to practice.

The other factor that will need to be taken into consideration is the specific area of medicine that you are looking to practice. There are national bodies responsible for issuing certification to NPs across a variety of specialties. For instance, if you have studied to become a nurse midwife, a type of NP that works with expectant mothers throughout pregnancy, labor, and delivery, you will need to obtain certification from the American Midwifery Certification Board. Without this step, you will not be able to obtain your state licensing to practice as a nurse midwife.

You can expect to take a certification exam administered by the governing body that you are seeking certification from in order to become an NP. These exams are designed to ensure that you have acquired the necessary knowledge and experience to practice as a fully competent and adequately prepared NP. The subject matter will pertain, for the most part, to your chosen specialty, although you should also expect to be tested on your general medical knowledge. With your completed degree, your exam passed, and all other boxes checked, you will be able to obtain your licensing and certification as a fully qualified NP.

5. Continuing Education
Anyone who works as a type of healthcare provider will tell you that your education does not end with your graduation and certification. Rather, the nature of healthcare in general is such that new information and discoveries are being made on a regular basis. This means that you will not be able, or allowed, to function as a healthcare provider unless you participate in continuing education courses.

The purpose of continuing education in healthcare is to keep providers and professionals up to date on the most recent information pertaining to medicine. Continuing education is so important in fact that most state boards require a certain number of credits to be earned within a set amount of time. If you fail to earn the required amount of credits, then you place your license in jeopardy.

There are a variety of ways in which you can earn your continuing education credits so as to maintain your license. There are courses that you can enroll in online that will provide you with enough credits to fulfill your continuing education requirements. However, there are also seminars and events that you might be able to attend that meet the criteria for continuing education as well.

It is a good idea to stay informed about the events that are being held and sponsored by various professional nursing organizations as well. If you are a member of one of these valuable organizations, you might be able to attend an event with that organization that would count towards your continuing education credits. In this way, you can get the most out of your continuing education.