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What is a Nurse Practitioner?
If you want to learn more about becoming a nurse practitioner, you’ve come to the right place! Nurse practitioners are registered nurses who have gone on to receive an advanced degree in nursing, such as a masters or doctorate. This means that their scope of practice is much more broad than typical registered nurses. They can prescribe medications, diagnose patients, order tests for patients and create care plans. There is a lot to know about the road to becoming a nurse practitioner, so let’s jump right into it!
What does a nurse practitioner do?
Nurse practitioners share many of the same responsibilities as doctors. They can work in a range of settings, including hospitals, clinics, emergency rooms, nursing homes, and more. Within these settings, NPs are licensed to perform physicals, order tests and interpret results, as well as give patients referrals to specialists. You may even find that your primary care provider these days is a nurse practitioner.
It’s important to note too that nurse practitioners are a growing field. The demand for medical professionals, especially in rural and underrepresented populations, is ever growing and nurse practitioners are helping to fill those gaps. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that nurse practitioner jobs will increase by forty five percent over the next ten years.
How to become a nurse practitioner
Okay, now let’s look at a brief overview of what becoming an NP may look like if you pursue this path right after high school, or are starting your higher education journey from square one.
|Graduate high school and begin pursuing a bachelor’s degree in nursing at an accredited university
|Pass the NCLEX exam to become an RN and practice as a nurse
|Return to school to complete a Masters of Nursing Science or Doctorate of Nursing Practice
|Pass your board exams to become a Certified Nurse Practitioner and begin practicing
This timeline is just an example of one of the many paths that you can take. So, let’s get into all the other paths and what it might look like if you’re not a recent high school graduate.
While the information above is valuable, it’s not where everyone will be starting from. Some people already have bachelors or associates, or even master’s degrees in other fields. Where do those individuals start? Look at our list below, and identify where you fall. In each section you’ll find information about what your next steps to becoming an NP will look like!
…You’re just graduating high school or are early on in your college journey
If you are about to graduate high school or early on in your college career, you’re in a great place to start your journey to becoming a nurse practitioner! Because you will need to receive either a MSN or DNP, you’ll need to first obtain a bachelors. So, look into BSN programs, or even BSN to MSN programs which may allow you to complete both degrees in one program!
…You’re an RN with a bachelors in nursing degree
Once you have your bachelors in nursing, and you’ve passed the NCLEX, the exam all nurses must pass in order to receive the title of RN, you have the choice to pursue a higher degree, or take some time to practice. Some programs may require that you gain experience as a nurse before applying. Check with the programs you’re applying to see what their requirements are. Some people may choose to just go for their MSN, but keep in mind that there are also MSN to DNP programs that allow you to complete both your masters and doctorate in one program.
…You have a bachelors in anything
If you already have a bachelors in something, don’t worry thinking that you’ll have to start all over with a whole new bachelor’s degree. You can take part in accelerated MSN programs that allow you to complete a masters in nursing in as little as two years. Take a look at Johns Hopkins entry into their nursing program as an example! For many programs, you will not need a background in nursing to participate, though you may need to complete a set of prerequisite course work to help prepare you.
…You’re an RN with an associate in nursing degree
If you don’t have a bachelors, but you are an RN, you should look into programs that are specifically designed to take you from your RN to MSN, or RN to BSN, which can then lead to your masters. These programs begin with helping you complete the course work you need for your bachelors, and then moves you right into your masters.
…You have an associate degree in anything
If you have an associate degree, you should look into what classes you’ve already taken that may transfer well towards a bachelors in nursing. You may be able to complete your bachelors in anything and then participate in programs like the Johns Hopkins one we mentioned above, however, if you already know that nursing is what you’d like to go into, it may not be worth spending any more time on coursework that is not directly related to what you want to do.
…You’re an LPN
If you’re an LPN you’ll likely have a bit longer of a road to becoming a nurse practitioner, but that by no means makes it any less possible, especially because you’ll certainly have one thing others may not: clinical experience! You can pursue lots of different routes, but like we said above, if you know nursing is what you want to go into, it may not be worth spending your time pursuing any other degrees. The next best step you can take is likely to pursue your bachelors in nursing. After your bachelors you can go back to practicing, or look into programs that take you closer to being a nurse practitioner. There are LPN to BSN programs available, so be sure to check them out!
How long does it take to become a nurse practitioner?
How long it takes to become a nurse practitioner can vary quite a bit depending on the route you take. Some individuals may take several years acquiring clinical skills before they pursue an advanced degree, while others may prefer to complete a dual program which allows them to complete both their BSN and MSN in one program. At a minimum, you will spend roughly 6-8 years in actual classes obtaining all of your education from start to finish. However, that education may be broken up. You may spend four years pursuing a bachelor’s degree, but then take several years off to work as a registered nurse, and go back to school for 2-3 years later on to finish your education.
After you complete all of your schooling, you will need to complete a certifying exam in your specific area of practice. There are many options for certification exams, so be sure to do your research to understand which is best for you. Throughout your career you’ll need to meet certain requirements for continuing your education as well.
How do nurse practitioners compare to other medical professionals?
Nurse practitioners rank above registered nurses, but below MD’s and DO’s. The scope of practice for nurse practitioners can vary depending on the state that they are practicing in. If you are considering becoming a nurse practitioner, be sure to look into the guidelines for the state you live in or intend to practice in.
Having your school paid for
If you are currently working as a nurse, or have just finished your BSN, you should be aware that some hospitals, clinics, or other organizations might actually be willing to pay for your additional schooling to become a nurse practitioner. If you’re currently job hunting, ask potential employers what their policy is surrounding this, or if you’re already employed, speak with a supervisor. Paying for school can be a huge hurdle, but that shouldn’t be the thing that stops you from trying. Explore all your options!
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Frequently asked questions about nurse practitioners
What’s the difference between a nurse practitioner and a doctor?
Is a nurse practitioner higher than an RN?
Is it okay to see a nurse practitioner over a doctor?