13 Tips on The Path to Becoming a Nurse Practitioner

Copyright Wolfgang Zwanzger

Earlier this week,  a young woman interested in becoming a neonatal nurse practitioner (NP) reached to to me on Twitter  (@MedhealthEd) seeking tips and advice In  pursuit of this career path. This blog entry is for anyone interested in entering advance practice nursing. Before I do that however, I’d like to commend Jamya for seeking advice and information. One of the smartest things anyone can do is ask questions of those who have already walked a similar path. Jamya already has one of the essentials covered: Reach out, network, and connect.

1. Be professional-Always.  NP students and NPs represent a group of individuals who have marched, protested, and fought long and hard for the ability to care for patients and manage their illnesses at this level. Errors in judgement-in and out of the clinical setting, and questionable behaviors are often held up in arguments against the role of advance practice nurses and damage more than individual reputations, but also reflect negatively on the profession. Questionable tweets, Facebook postings, photos, email addresses, text messages, etc. can have negative consequences on the  individual and on the profession.

2. Be organized-Always. The work of  becoming an NP is tremendous and involves both classroom (didactic) and clinical work. You must be organized and develop routines for assignments, reading, studying, etc., from day one and stick to your regimen despite distractions.

3. Live a healthy life-Always. Eat healthy, exercise, get 8 hours of sleep, limit alcohol, and go out with friends and family. In other words, have a social life. NP programs will take up most of your life; don’t let it take all. It sounds basic, but you need a clear, well-rested brain to be at your best. Studying for marathon hours, cramming and the like won’t help you. Remember, what you study and learn in an NP program is not solely for passing tests; it’s also for passing the national certification exam for your NP license and for treating future patients.

4. Understand the NP role in the global sense: In other words, understand the role based on how and why it was developed and where NPs fit in the healthcare model. Then learn about how NPs function based on their work settings. How independent can an NP function in private practice, in a hospital, in a particular service, in a stand alone clinic? Can a nurse practitioner in your state have an independent practice or is physician collaboration a requirement? Reach out to NPs who work under these different models to enhance your knowledge of what you will face at the end of your program, how you would like to work, and can you work that way in your state or will you need to relocate.

5. Early in your NP program decide on a topic or topics  for which you have great passion.  Whether you enter a DNP or MSN program, you’ll probably have a capstone project or thesis at the end. If you build your topic throughout your NP education, you’ll have the foundation for your final project when the time comes. By the time you get to your final semesters you’ll have tons of material from previous work. For example, I’ve always been fascinated by the concepts of  healthcare and globalization. My choice of electives supported this: I took courses in international health and development, comparative health care policy, grant writing with a focus on writing grants for organizations that provide foreign aide (this was at the doctoral level, but the same principles apply). The focus of my study was stress and discrimination experienced by internationally educated nurses working in the United States. My prior work helped to support my study.

6. Find a mentor: Someone with whom you can dialogue with about the program, your goals, stumbling blocks, life, etc.; someone who can show you the ropes, make suggestions, offer advice, and keep it real as far as being supportive, yet offer constructive criticism.

Copyright PathDoc

7. Find a few graduates from each potential program you’re interested in and discuss the pros and cons of their programs, what they wish had been done or handled differently, where they believe the program fell short, and what they believe was outstanding about the program, and of course, would they recommend the program from which they graduated.

8. Find a program where you will be comfortable and where the faculty is supportive.

Too often we are so pleased to be accepted by an institution, we forget that the acceptance should be mutual.

That means that as a potential student, you should ask questions and interview faculty much the way you’ll be interviewed. What are the strong points of the program? How are preceptor sites assigned? Will you be responsible for finding your own preceptors? What is the faculty’s level of accessibility outside of the classroom? Ask about the types of capstone or thesis projects students are expected to complete in their final year (s). Are faculty members up to date in their use of electronic/digital formats (Word tracking vs. pen and paper)? How does the faculty utilize social media with respect to the program? NP programs are tremendous personal and financial investments. Do your best to find the program that’s best for you.

9. Be assertive but professional. Advance practice nursing is not for the meek. As an NP you’ll need to stand up for your patients to insurance carriers, physicians, case managers, etc.,  and you’ll need to stand up for yourself. You can be both assertive and professional. Your NP program is a good place to start.

10. Don’t procrastinate-Ever. It’s too easy to fall behind and then have to play catch up. If at all possible, try to stay a little ahead. Example, every time you receive a syllabus read it from beginning to end, clarify any ambiguous points with your professor, and start gathering articles or seeking sources even if the assignment isn’t due for weeks.

Don't procrastinate
Copyright Marekuliasz

11. Break your goals in to small, measurable, and achievable accomplishments. Everything will become less daunting.

12. Know why you’ve decided to pursue this goal and stay on course. Every NP student asks the same question in the beginning, throughout the program, and even as the end approaches: Why have I done this to myself? Will it be worth it?

It’s definitely worth all that goes into achieving this goal.

Many say the will; few take the first step, and fewer cross the stage at graduation.

13. Always remember that taking care of patients is a rare privilege and a tremendous responsibility. Your education provides a firm foundation for understanding complex conditions, providing care, diagnosing, and prescribing. Your patients will be your responsibility, and you will be accountable to your patients first and foremost. As a student in a nursing program and an NP program, and as a certified and licensed practitioner, alway do your best.






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