Choosing the Nurse Practitioner Path

Kathy Quan RN BSN PHN

Kathy Quan RN BSN PHN

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A common thread among the current classes of nursing students is either becoming a bedside nurse or choosing the Nurse Practitioner path. Both of course are exciting careers and offer nurses many options to specialize along the way, or to follow a broader path of general med-surg. Thousands of new nurses are needed each year and it’s heartening to see so many young people choosing nursing. 

The COVID-19 pandemic could certainly cause many people to shy away from nursing after watching the news day after day showing nurses exhausted physically and emotionally and repeatedly exposed to the deadly virus. In reality, that’s what nursing does, perhaps not quite as intense for extended periods of time but caring for patients is never easy. Nursing is one of the most rewarding careers ever, but it’s not easy by any means. It’s physically and emotionally one of the hardest things a person can do! Nurses have been deemed heroes in this pandemic and rightly so, but most would say they’re just doing their job.

There will be fallout and issues when this virus is finally contained. A long vacation may not be enough for many. However, the possibility of changing career paths may keep many nurses engaged and renewed. This might be a time for burned out bedside nurses to return to school and pursue advanced practice nursing options. 

Pandemic has changed roles for NPs

With the pandemic demands, roles and responsibilities of nurse practitioners have changed in many areas of the country. Medicare has loosened many restrictions out of necessity. And Boards of Nursing across the US have made accommodations as well. The biggest of these is allowing for more autonomy which of course includes more responsibilities. Many more NPs have been allowed to practice on their own without direct supervision of an MD. The medications that NPs are allowed to prescribe has also undergone changes during the pandemic. Although this has been true in many states for a while now, many others have had stricter restrictions, but have now relaxed this provision to meet the needs created by the pandemic. 

Push for PhD

Along with this, the American Colleges of Nursing is encouraging requirements of a PhD in nursing be tacked on to anyone considering working towards their NP in the future. They began this push in 2004, and the need is exemplified by the needs realized by the pandemic.  Currently a master’s degree with a specialty focus of NP is required. There are many areas of focus including family care, pediatrics, geriatrics, emergency medicine, neonatology, women’s health and mental health. Clinical Nurse Specialists, Nurse Midwives and Nurse Anesthetists are not Nurse Practitioners although they are Advance Practice Nurses and require minimally a master’s degree with focus on these specialties. 

The need for NPs is always growing and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts an increasing need for 28% more NPs from 2018-2028. This was of course defined prior to the current pandemic and will undoubtedly change due to the increased needs seen in 2020. Nurse Practitioners can work independently or in collaboration with physicians. They are allowed to diagnose and prescribe medications (some states limit what they can prescribe) and order diagnostic tests. Nurse Practitioners may also provide primary and preventive care. NPs primarily work in clinical settings related to their specialty, they may also opt for teaching positions or conduct research. 

Path to the NP 

To become an NP, a nurse must first obtain a BSN and pass the NCLEX to become licensed as a nurse. There are a few programs that allow associate degree nurses or diploma nurses to bridge. This RN license will need to be maintained in addition to the advanced practice certification. Continuing education for nurses is required for NPs and Nursing CE has designed courses especially for NPs. Here’s a few to get started:

After becoming a licensed RN, the nurse should gain experience in the area desired for at least a year and then decide whether to pursue the master’s degree or go for the PhD Nurse Practitioner program. Upon completion of the APRN degree, the NP must become certified to meet the state requirements to practice. Information about Certification and examinations is available from a variety of sources such as the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB), the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), and the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB). These certifications will require periodic renewal and continuing education courses to fulfill the state requirements. 

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