The role of a nurse practitioner (NP) varies by state, specialty, and facility. Many nurse practitioners are directly responsible for patient care. In office settings, an NP might see patients in a similar capacity as a physician, although the NP usually works as part of a physician-led healthcare team. The journey to become a nurse practitioner includes years of education and hands-on training.
Individuals embarking on a nurse practitioner career must begin with a certified four-year nursing degree program. Such programs provide the necessary education and training to pass licensure tests that are required to become a registered nurse (RN). In some cases, nurse practitioners have to keep current RN licensure as a prerequisite for NP licensure. Even if RN licensure isn't required, it may be beneficial to obtain the credential. Nurse practitioners have several years of school left after completing their four-year degree, and the ability to take part-time nursing work can help pay the way.
After graduating from a four-year program, nurse practitioner candidates must get a master's degree. This could take two to four years to complete, depending on your program selection and if you attend fulltime. Both four-year and master's degree programs include classroom, lab, and hands-on healthcare education opportunities.
To work as a nurse practitioner in any state, you must pass licensure requirements for that state. Getting a license usually involves completing an application, paying a licensing fee, providing documentation of prerequisites, and passing one or more exams. The American Nurses Association publishes information about various licensing requirements, and you can visit government health and nurse-related sites for the state where you plan to work. Exam fees can range from $100 to $500, and licensure fees range from $30 to $80. It's important to have clear goals about where you want to work, because not all licenses transfer across state lines. You may have to relicense if you move out of state.
Once you fulfill all requirements and obtain an NP degree and license, the only thing left to do is find employment. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, there is a growing shortage of doctors in the United States. Some job experts believe a physician shortage will open the field for nurse practitioners, who can offer similar services to patients. Studies have shown that patients are also more open to treatment by nurse practitioners, especially if the alternative is a long wait to see a physician. Such facts aren't a job promise, but the growing healthcare need in the nation does mean qualified nurse practitioners should be able to find work almost anywhere.
A career as a nurse practitioner requires years of preparation and hard work. If you want to be involved in direct patient care within a field that offers job security and competitive salaries, it's probably worth all the effort to become a nurse practitioner.
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