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Here’s How You Can Join Their Ranks

The nurse practitioner (NP) plays a vital role in our healthcare system. In many ways, these healthcare professionals occupy the same space as physician assistants (PAs). While the scope of practice laws differ from state to state, most NPs diagnose illnesses, administer medical tests, and design treatment plans just like PAs do. In many cases, they also work under physician oversight. However, NPs and PAs are different in a few crucial ways.

For instance, PAs study biology and pathology, while NP training focuses on patient care. NP programs also require their candidates to have nursing experience before entering graduate school. By contrast, PA schools don’t include clinical experience as an admission requirement. PAs must also work under a doctor’s supervision, while NPs in nearly half the states can practice independently and prescribe medications.

Whether working on their own or in partnership with a physician, experts predict that a growing need for primary health care services will drive demand for new NPs across the country. In fact, experts predict NP positions will grow by 26% between 2018 and 2028, which is higher than many other specialty medical fields. It’s no surprise, then, that many people are curious about how to enter this rapidly growing profession.

Start by Obtaining the Right Degrees

Today, NPs can begin practicing after earning their Masters in Nursing (MSN) degree. However, before entering a graduate program, candidates must have completed a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or earned an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) that funnels candidates into a bridge program culminating in an MSN.

MSN candidates must also have completed the NCLEX exam and obtained a nursing license. Some programs include additional requirements like a minimum GPA from previous coursework and a minimum score on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

Very soon, aspiring NPs will need more than an MSN to start practicing. In 2018, the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF) decided that by 2025 the entry-level standard for nurse practitioners would be a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).

Choose a Practice Specialty and Complete a Course of Study

Unlike medical school, where aspiring physicians train to be generalists, NP candidates begin studying a speciality right out of the gate. This allows candidates to focus on a specific area of care or a particular age group. Common NP specialties include:

  • Acute care.
  • Adult care.
  • Adult gerontology acute care.
  • Adult gerontology primary care.
  • Pediatric primary care.
  • Psychiatric mental health.
  • Family nurse practitioner
  • School nursing.

The classes aspiring NPs take during their program are determined by the specialty they choose. Much like nursing school, NP training focuses on treating the whole person, rather than just the illness. For many nurses, it’s beneficial to wait a few years before beginning an NP program. Clinical experience in a variety of nursing settings allows candidates to discover what kind of work they enjoy doing before choosing their speciality. Depending on the track aspiring NPs choose, it could take three to six years to complete a DNP program.

Obtain the Appropriate Certification

Once an NP candidate has completed their schooling, they must pass a national certification exam before starting their practice. Their chosen specialty will determine if they’re certified by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners Certification Program (AANPCP), the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB), or the National Certification Corporation (NCC).

Each organization has its own requirements. However, NP candidates must all achieve a few standard benchmarks before seeking certification, including:

  • A candidate must have completed an MSN or DNP program or be within six months of graduation.
  • A candidate must hold an active RN license.
  • Completion of at least 500 hours of faculty-supervised clinical experience.
  • Completed coursework in health promotion and maintenance, disease management, differential diagnosis, physiology, pathophysiology, advanced health assessment, and advanced pharmacology.

Once a candidate has obtained their certification, they’re free to begin practicing independently or under the supervision of a partner physician.

You’re Now On Your Way

While the path to becoming an NP is long and challenging, those who complete their training enjoy many benefits, including:

  • A Higher Salary: The average annual salary for an NP is $111,840, much higher than the average RN who earns $77,470 per year.
  • More Autonomy: NPs work with more independence than nurses do and even more than many PAs. This autonomy promotes increased job satisfaction and more fulfillment in their work.
  • High Demand: Experts predict strong growth for NP positions, so most graduates will have many employment opportunities.
    In addition, NPs work every day to help their patients live longer and healthier lives. That’s a goal well worth pursuing.

If you need help finding your first job after graduating, Physician Assistant Solutions can help. Over the years, we’ve placed hundreds of PAs and NPs in positions where they can make a real difference. Contact us to learn more.

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