How do I Become a Nurse Practitioner?

If you like working with people and have an interest in the healthcare field and in nursing, you may be wondering how to become a nurse practitioner.

A nurse practitioner is a professional in the healthcare field who holds an advanced degree and, though not a medical doctor, is qualified to provide primary or specialty care to patients. Nurse practitioners hold the classification of Advanced Practice Registered Nurse, which requires graduate-level education. Like medical doctors, nurse practitioners may specialize in certain fields of healthcare, including pediatrics, women’s health and even mental and behavioral health.

Nurse practitioners provide many types of nursing and medical care, including diagnosing and treating diseases; conducting regular physical examinations; ordering, performing and reading laboratory tests; and prescribing rehabilitation procedures and, in some states, prescription medication. Helping patients learn about healthy lifestyle choices and make health decisions is an additional responsibility of nurse practitioners. Nurse practitioners work in hospitals, medical offices, clinics, long-term care facilities, home health agencies and institutions like public and private schools. Some nurse practitioners collaborate with physicians on a regular basis, while others function on a more independent basis and only refer patients to a physician when a diagnosis specifically calls for a physician’s care.

Like other types of nurses, nurse practitioners should have compassion and patience for the patients they treat. Because nurse practitioners frequently see patients with acute or chronic conditions or under emergency care, they must possess the emotional stability to cope with frequent exposure to these situations. Like physicians, nurse practitioners must be good communicators. They should be organized, pay attention to detail, and have strong critical thinking skills so that they can use their medical and nursing knowledge productively.

Aspiring nurse practitioners begin their careers by earning an undergraduate degree in nursing, which qualifies them to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses and complete any other state requirements necessary to earn their licenses as registered nurses (RNs). Some aspiring nurse practitioners spend time gaining work experience as RNs before going on to acquire their advanced degrees. Registered nurses who aspire to be nurse practitioners then complete graduate-level coursework, including a clinical residency, to earn their master’s degree in a field like healthcare management or clinical reasoning and diagnosis. Aspiring nurse practitioners who have completed these educational requirements should apply for licensure as an Advance Practice Nurse (APN) in the state in which they intend to practice. To further expand their skills, nurse practitioners can apply for certification in specialties like pediatrics or mental health from the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Some academic institutions now offer a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree for nurse practitioners who wish to continue their studies.

Healthcare is a consistently strong industry, and the current shortage of primary care doctors provides more employment opportunities for nurse practitioners. If you are compassionate and have an interest in healthcare, knowing how to become a nurse practitioner can help you start a rewarding new career.

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