Tuesday, September 4, 2012

How to become a Nurse Practitioner

Frequently at work other nurses ask me about my journey through my nurse practitioner program. They want to know what it is like, how hard it is, and is it worth it. I tell them it is worth it and yes, it can be hard at times. For some nurses this is just our small talk, and for years they have asked me the same questions. However, a few are really interested and I can sense they are feeling the way I was a few years ago. If they are serious, I will encourage them that this is the time to apply and go into a Nurse Practitioner or CNS program. Their next worry is about the admission process.

There are some tricks to increase your odds of being accepted. However, the first thing is start your paperwork, goal statement, and lining up those people who will write your reference letters. In the end, waiting will be the toughest part. As for the reference letters, they should be from influential people related to the health care field you want to enter. Preferably, from doctors, alumni, managers and other nurse practitioners etc, and not your nurse lunch buddy from the renal unit.

Have some volunteer or other experience to put on your application that reflects your area of interest. They notice if you are applying for a community health specialty, and the closest thing in your background is working at Kmart. That does not match your goal, so go volunteer at a free clinic or somewhere with people. Just because you might have a family, does not qualify you for a family nurse practitioner. Working with kids, seniors or under served people not related to you.      

Those are some important things, but what is really important if you want to be in school next fall and not saying I should have again for another year, then you need to be flexible.
 There are many graduate nursing programs and schools around the country, so you need to apply to more than the one in your hometown. Chances are the school closest to you is smaller with only a couple specialties, like family nurse practitioner (FNP) and nurse educator. A small school near here admitted 12 FNP students last year. Other universities will offer more areas of study for a nurse practitioner and may have clinical nurse specialist (CNS) programs. A good option if you want to stay in the hospital setting.
Then there are the large universities and institutions that offer an extensive number of specialties for nursing students. An example of these larger and better-known schools would be the University of California San Francisco, University of Washington and the University of Pennsylvania. Yes, there are other big schools like Johns Hopkins University, but I think these are the biggest and have upwards of 15-20 different specialties beyond a BSN degree. The one I attend has approximately 600 nursing students in the Masters, PhD and DNP programs. Meaning instead of 10 new students a year, they admit more like 150-200. I explained this to a nurse at work, who was thinking it would be easier to get into a smaller program. People need to apply to these larger schools.  
The other most important thing to increasing your odds to being accepted at a larger school is to think outside the box. Having talked to faculty and individuals working in the admissions office, do not be like everybody else and think specialty.  
Your admissions office might be able to give you hints, but the most heavily applied to areas in my school and probably most are of course the hardest to be accepted, these include:
Family Nurse Practitioner: I understand this is by far the most heavily applied to area and hardest to get into. For some reason everybody wants to be an FNP, they remind me of the old family practice doctors and they treat just about everybody. This was not for me, because although I like kids, I do not want to deal with their parents.
The Nurse Midwife/Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner
Pediatric Nurse Practitioner.
Acute Care Nurse Practitioner; most schools require at least a year or two of ICU or ER experience to even apply. Even so, they get more applications than spots available. Most of these student want to stay in the hospital setting.   
Doctors have been specializing for years and I think you will see more of this in the NP programs, so look at other specialties that interest you. Apply for an Adult Nurse Practitioner with a specialty in Occupational and Environmental Health or a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. Apply for a CNS in Oncology or Cardiovascular care. If you really do not want to have direct patient care you can go into research and get your PhD. Adding a minor to your specialty like forensic science, palliative care or global health can only help.
Again, the biggest thing is to apply. No matter who wins in November there is a growing need for nurses with advanced degrees. I remember in the fall of 2009 thinking I am too old and it will take too long to go back to school. Well, I am done soon and anyone starting next fall will be done before the 2016 person is sworn-in.

If you have never been a nurse and have a degree in another area, there is always the MEPN option if you want to be an NP, CNS or other specialty.

So how do you become a Nurse Practitioner. Apply

*This was all my opinion and if you have any questions ask. I only guarantee that if you do nothing you will not get in.