For some, becoming an NP (nurse practitioner) is the next step from being a RN (registered nurse). Or others, it’s their goal all along. NPs can be independent providers, delivering both nursing and medical care. NPs can even open up their own clinics.
Many RNs – and even people who are still in school to be an RN – wonder how long they should wait before continuing to nurse practitioner school. As with most big career decisions, there are many considerations. I decided to make a video and write this post to help break down some of the factors that go into making this decision. Hopefully, it will help some of you decide what’s right for you.
There are two roads to becoming a nurse practitioner: getting a Master’s of Science in Nursing degree, or Doctor of Nursing degree. Sometimes, you need at least a year of experience working as an RN to be accepted. Some programs let you go straight to nurse practitioner school, without having to be first employed as a nurse. In those programs, as long as you are a Registered Nurse, you can continue the program. I think that can work as long as you dedicate yourself to working part-time to gain experience while you are in school. But if you know you want to be a nurse practitioner, why wait? One advantage is that the material is still fresh in your mind and you still have your study habits. Some people report difficulty in going back to school after a long time.
Some people say you should wait five to seven years before going back for nurse practitioner school. During that time, you should be working and gaining experience. Personally, I was working as a nurse for three and a half years before I continued on to grad school. This was necessary for me as I had an associate’s degree. I had to complete my studies to earn my Bachelor’s before I was able to continue on to grad school. That time was crucial to gain experience of things that can’t be learned from a book, such as how to talk to doctors and the best way to relay messages back and forth. I might not have had as much experience as others in nursing practitioner school, but what I learned was invaluable.
It’s important to look at work experience not just as a requirement set up by schools, but as a useful tool. As an NP, you will have a population focus. The more experience you have working in the field, the easier your decision in what to specialize in will be. Move around as much as you can to gain experience working in different areas. Personally, I worked in the ICU and then as a Psych nurse before becoming a nurse practitioner. Working in different places will help you get an idea of what you want to focus on and where you work best. It’s a great opportunity, so make use of it.
In addition, things like communication skills, leadership skills and seeing the in and outs of hospitals and different medical roles just can’t be learned from a book and memorized. Things like keeping a clear head and positive attitude during stressful times can only be learned from being in certain situations day-to-day. At the end of the day, you have to make the choice that feels right for you. I can talk about what worked for me – but I have no idea if a different path would have been better or worse. At the same time, different things work for different people. If some people say you should wait at least 5 years, but you feel ready after two – who is to say that is the wrong choice? Listen to your heart and follow the path that’s right for you. Check out the video for more on the topic.