Studying to Become a Nurse Practitioner – What to Expect

Nurse practitioners tend to earn higher salaries, have more responsibilities, and enjoy more career responsibilities than registered nurses and other nursing professionals.

If you’re considering becoming a nurse practitioner in the future, this article will cover the role of a nurse practitioner, how much you can expect to make as a nurse practitioner, and what to expect from studying to become one.

What is a Nurse Practitioner?

A nurse practitioner is an advanced practice registered nurse that has earned either a masters of science in nursing or a doctor of nursing practice degree, along with additional training and certificates.

As a result of the advanced training that they undergo, nurse practitioners tend to have more authority compared to a general registered nurse, and many enjoy similar responsibilities to a doctor.

Certain states award advanced nurse practitioners full practice authority, meaning that they are able to prescribe medications and do not need the supervision of a doctor.

Nurse practitioners are able to serve as either primary or specialty care providers, typically focusing their care provision on a specific patient population such as children, families, or the elderly.

General nurse practitioner, family nurse practitioner, pediatric nurse practitioner, and psychiatric nurse practitioner are just some of the popular specialties that nurse practitioners choose.

What Does a Nurse Practitioner Do?

A nurse practitioner tends to have larger responsibilities than a registered nurse. They are able to examine patients, diagnose illnesses and conditions, prescribe medication, and provide treatment in much the same way as a doctor.

In 20 US states, they have full practice authority meaning that they are not required to work under the supervision of a doctor.

In other states, nurse practitioners do still enjoy more authority and responsibility compared to registered nurses, but they are required to have a physician sign off on certain decisions regarding patient care.

As more and more hospitals, clinics, and healthcare facilities are utilizing the expertise of nurse practitioners, these healthcare professionals are becoming increasingly essential to medical teams.

Plus, their experience as working nurses gives nurse practitioners a unique approach to the care of their patients, while advanced training allows them to take on additional duties and make decisions that tend to be left to doctors.

In fact, it’s estimated that nurse practitioners can provide around 80-90% of the care that doctors offer.

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

If you have decided that working as a nurse practitioner is the right career path for you, you can reach your goal by completing the following steps:

1. Become a Registered Nurse

Becoming a registered nurse is the first step towards becoming a nurse practitioner. You can do this by either enrolling in a bachelor’s or associate’s degree in a nursing program.

Associate’s degree programs tend to be shorter and cheaper to complete, typically lasting for two years. They are usually available to study at community colleges.

On the other hand, bachelor’s degrees tend to take around four years and are taught at private nursing schools and universities.

Either method will qualify you to become a registered nurse, however, it’s worth noting that many employers do prefer to hire nurses with a bachelor’s degree, and a bachelor’s degree is usually a minimum requirement of getting into the necessary graduate programs for training to become a nurse practitioner.

2. Get a Bachelor’s Degree

If you do not already have a bachelor’s degree in nursing, you may want to enroll in this program

If you already have an associate’s degree in nursing you can find shorter, accelerated programs that allow you to build on the knowledge and skills that you already have in order to gain your BSN.

You can also take advantage of other accelerated BSN programs if you already hold a bachelor’s degree in a different subject.

3. Gain Nursing Experience

Once you have completed your BSN you can either go straight into a graduate program or spend some time getting real-world clinical experience.

It is worth getting a few years of nursing experience under your belt before continuing your education towards becoming a nurse practitioner. This will not only prepare you for the clinical aspects of the program but also make it easier for you to determine what you enjoy and choose a future specialty for your role.

In addition, it also gives you the chance to save money before attending graduate school.

Also, with many employers footing the bill for registered nurses to become nurse practitioners, gaining work experience could mean that you get to continue your studies free of charge.

4. Enroll in a Graduate Program

To become a nurse practitioner you will need to enroll in a graduate program that will typically take a minimum of two years to complete.

Earning a master’s degree in nursing is the easiest route to becoming a nurse practitioner if you are already a registered nurse with a bachelor’s degree.

If you do not hold a bachelor’s degree in nursing, you may be able to find special bridge programs designed for nurses with a different qualification or those who hold qualifications that are not in nursing, to allow you to earn an advanced nursing degree.

You may also consider completing a doctor of nursing practice program which is the highest level of nursing education possible.

If you decide to take this program, expect an intensive few years of study with clinical rotation hours, in-depth coursework, and other nursing-specific studies.

5. Paying for Your Graduate Program

Deciding how to finance your advanced nursing degree can be daunting, but luckily there are many options to consider that can help you offset or lessen the cost burden.

If you are currently employed as a nurse, your employer may be happy to cover all or some of the tuition fees on your behalf.

You can also apply for scholarships, grants, and both federal and private student loans or you can also refinance existing student loans to a lower interest rate to save money.

6. Earn Advanced Practice Nursing Licensure

Each state has its own specific requirements for nurse practitioner licensing.

You should first become familiar with the requirements to become a nurse practitioner in the state that you are planning to work in.

7. Become a Nurse Practitioner

With your degree completed and license gained, you can find work as a nurse practitioner in a wide variety of settings including hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and other medical and healthcare facilities.

You can find work that allows you to continue working on the front-line directly with patients, or take a step back from patient care to pursue an administrative or managerial position.

How Much Do Nurse Practitioners Earn?

The rewarding nature of the job is one of the main reasons to become a nurse practitioner for those who pursue this career, but the salary is also a very attractive factor.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurse practitioners earn a national average salary of just over $115, 000.

On average, nurse practitioners make around $30,000 more than registered nurses on a yearly basis and you can usually earn around double the salary of a licensed practical nurse.

Bear in mind that the salary for a nurse practitioner can vary by location, the setting in which you are employed, the amount of experience that you have, and the specialty that you choose.

Even after starting out as a nurse practitioner, there are various opportunities to specialize even further and improve your career opportunities and earnings.

Career Outlook for Nurse Practitioners

Nursing is already a career that is highly stable and in great demand across the country, but becoming a nurse practitioner means that you can enjoy an even bigger level of job security.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it’s predicted that nurse practitioner jobs will increase by 26% by 2028 at a rate that’s growing much faster compared to other career paths.

And, thanks to the aging population, the need for primary care around the country is expected to increase significantly, with nurse practitioners stepping in to meet this demand, particularly in areas that have been underserved so far.

Choosing the Right Nurse Practitioner Program

There is certainly no shortage of options available when it comes to nursing practitioner programs throughout the country.

If you have decided that it is time to start thinking about getting your advanced degree and moving up the career ladder, there are several factors to consider before you choose the right program for you.

Consider your employer – some healthcare employers have partnerships with various nursing schools and universities and maybe in a better position to fund some or all of your program tuition fees if you choose to study at a certain institution.

It’s also worth considering how you would like to study; if you’re going to be working full-time as a nurse then an online advanced nursing degree could be the ideal option to help you better manage your time.

Nurse practitioners are enjoying growing demand around the country, and this career is very rewarding in several different ways.

If you’d like a well-respected, interesting career with the chance to specialize and advance, it could be perfect for you.

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