Nurse practitioners are highly-educated professionals whose job looks very similar to a doctor. In many cases, nurse practitioners are primary care providers for people in a variety of specializations.
In fact, even when a doctor is the primary care provider, it’s not uncommon for a nurse practitioner to have the most contact time with patients in a practice.
Because of the expertise required to serve as a primary care provider, nurse practitioners require extensive training. Unlike earning an RN distinction, which can take as little as 21 months, nurse practitioners all have advanced degrees. 😀
They typically earn a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing degree first, before moving on to their Master’s or Doctorate in Nursing. The entire process can take 6-10 years.
Beginning The Journey — The BSN
The first step in any nurse practitioner’s journey is earning the Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing degree. This is a four-year degree awarded at many institutions of higher learning.
It’s also, for some people, a difficult task. Fortunately, a little preparation can help make the process easier to complete.
Coming Out of High School–If you’re a high school student looking to begin your career in Nursing, there are a few things you can do to make the process easier.
First, you’ll want to make sure that you take four years of mathematics. While most nursing programs do not require advanced Calculus study, they do require statistics. That means getting through your calculus programs at the high school level will be a major advantage.
Also, it’s a good idea to take as many Biology courses as your high school offers. The Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing track often requires six courses in Biology, so background knowledge in that discipline will help.
Also, some colleges will allow higher level high school courses to count for credit. Either way, extra Biology will help the aspiring nurse on their path.
Moving From an Associate’s Degree–Nurses in the field often work after earning their Associate’s Degree in Nursing.
These folks enjoy the advantage of having completed their general education requirements already, and therefore won’t have to take the core curriculum.
They will, however, have to complete the Nursing-specific courses in the Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing track as well as the clinical experience. 😀
The major obstacle for working folks who want to make the switch is money.
Working full-time and going to school is often difficult.
The best preparations that these folks can make is to save a little money before beginning the schooling. Also, working with employers to ensure that their schedule will support the time spent in class and clinical is suggested.
Making the Choice — Master’s or Doctorate?
Before graduate school is even an option, some programs require that candidates spend time in the workforce as a nurse.
This is a great idea for the aspiring nurse practitioner, since it gives them perspective regarding the job and their professional desires.
Even if a graduate program does not have this requirement, it’s a good idea to experience the nursing profession firsthand before making such a major decision.
At that point, candidates will have to choose between Master’s programs or Doctorate programs.
Both choices have distinct advantages that make them better suited for people with specific situations and goals.
Choosing the Masters–Master’s Degrees in Nursing are designed to help the general nurse move into more specific, technical fields. Some of the programs available include:
- Nurse practitioner
- Certified nurse anesthetist
- Clinical specialist
There are also a number of split programs designed to incorporate administrative and business training. These degree paths are often chosen by folks who want to move into public health administration or nursing director positions.
The major benefit to the Master’s Degree in Nursing path is that it doesn’t take a tremendously long time to complete.
Many programs can be successfully navigated in two years. This is ideal for folks who are unsure of what specialty they would like to pursue, or who are not intending to move into a highly technical specialty area, such as Psychology or Neurology. 😀
Choosing the Doctorate–Unlike the Master’s option, the Doctorate of Nursing can take up to six years to complete.
The program is much more intense, but future earning potential is higher due to the advanced training and knowledge acquired through the process.
For nurse practitioners, the Doctorate in Nursing offers a few benefits that the Master’s Degree in Nursing does not. First, the additional training allows the aspiring nurse practitioner to become an instructor in nursing theory.
While this is certainly possible with a lower degree, the doctorate is preferred.
Fortunately, for those on the fence, it is entirely possible to earn a master’s before making the decision to move forward with the doctorate.
That way, nurses can decide which path is right for them as they experience the available opportunities at each level.
The final factor in the nurse practitioner course path is the specialization. In order to provide care, practitioners must have specialized training in a specific discipline. There are many options for this focus, such as:
- Women’s health
Hopefully, a desire to practice in a specific field has driven the decision to become a nurse practitioner. In those cases, this choice is simple. If not, the candidate will need to take a deep look at what type of medicine they would like to practice. This choice should be made deliberately, as it will impact the rest of the practitioner’s professional life.
Becoming a nurse practitioner is a great option for people looking to increase their earning potential or their professional satisfaction at work. The training can take a long time, but the rewards are clearly worth the effort.