Is It Worth Getting an NP Degree?
In 2020, one month shy of her nursing one-year anniversary and during the COVID-19 pandemic, Billie Hector, RN, BSN, was accepted into SUNY Downstate's family nurse practitioner (FNP) program.
Two years later, Hector finds herself on a beautiful day under a tent right outside of Brooklyn's Coney Island boardwalk and beach. She is seated among hundreds of other healthcare graduates waiting to receive their diplomas.
Hector's journey was nothing short of overwhelming, hectic, draining, and exhausting. But was it worth it?
"Yes!" She advises nurses to pursue a nurse practitioner (NP) degree as long as they know why they have decided to become an NP.
The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) reports that 88.9% of NPs are certified in primary care, an area in healthcare with a great need for healthcare providers. Not only is there a physician and nursing shortage, but the American population is aging and living longer with chronic health conditions.
Hector will be providing primary care services to patients while giving back two years of service to NYU Langone Medical Center, where she currently works. Their tuition reimbursement policy requires it, but it's a small price to pay. She didn't have to take out private loans or pay out of pocket for her schooling.
The Nursing Journey
Hector's seven-year nursing journey started with a phone call from her sister. She informed her the deadline to apply to a licensed practical nurse (LPN) program was approaching. The time was now or never.
"I applied, and got in, and that began my journey," Hector says.
In 2015, Hector worked as an LPN in a long-term rehabilitation nursing facility. While working there, she enrolled in an LPN-registered nurse (RN) associate degree program in New York City.
After working and going to school for two years, Hector graduated in 2017. But her educational journey didn't stop there. She then began working in a medical-surgical unit at Jamaica Hospital while enrolled in an online associate degree to bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) program. In 2019, she graduated with her BSN, left Jamaica Hospital, and began to work in a medical-surgical unit at NYU Langone Medical Center.
Finally, in 2020, Hector enrolled in the FNP program at SUNY Downstate. On May 12, 2022, she graduated with her master's as an FNP.
Although Hector's route to becoming an FNP seems long, many nurses take this route for several reasons. Some nurses start as LPNs to make sure working in the healthcare field is for them or because it is an affordable option.
But many start because the opportunity is there and they seize the moment, just as Hector did.
What I Wish I Knew About FNP school
As with anything in life, things are not always what you expect. Hector entered her master's program at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The students were informed that they would begin the program virtually.
Hector was looking forward to attending classes with her fellow classmates and soon-to-be colleagues. She was excited to explore campus life and study at the library with medical and nurse practitioner students.
Although going to school virtually was a disappointment, Hector soon realized attending class virtually was a blessing in disguise. Not having to commute to campus gave Hector a little bit of a break.
"I wasn't fully prepared for the physical and mental stress that would soon be endured working full time during a pandemic and attending school full time," Hector says. "I was tired."
FNP school was very demanding. Hector had weekly assignments, biweekly exams, and mandatory class attendance.
She also didn't expect the amount of research she would have to do as an FNP student. A certain amount of continuing medical education credits were required in every course. While this was a great learning resource, "it started to become really challenging working full time, attending class, reading, studying, and researching topics," Hector says.
Time management is something all nurses have to become skilled in before starting nursing school, working as a nurse, and earning a master's degree. Hector says if she knew so much research was involved in her FNP program "[she] would have ensured that [her] time management [was] handled better."
But Hector took this challenge and promised herself that hard work, dedication, and commitment would get her through the next two years. It paid off.
What an FNP Student Schedule Looks Like
Although some nurses choose to work full time and complete their master's programs part time, Hector worked as a full-time nurse and full-time student throughout the program.
"I wanted to go to SUNY Downstate because it's a good school, and affordable, but they only offered a full-time program," Hector says.
Her full-time work schedule required three days of work with three weekend shifts. Clinicals required two days of clinicals and class was every Thursday.
"Thursdays would usually be my study, reading, and research days before and after class," Hector says.
On her days off, Hector went to clinicals and sacrificed her weekends when she wasn't working. She would go to the library to study or have study sessions with other classmates.
There were plenty of late nights and early mornings, too. Hector would try to find time whenever she could. She would stay up late after work and complete assignments, and while eating breakfast in the morning she would proofread her assignments before submitting them.
Preparing for Your New Role as an NP
A nurse must have a complete mindshift when they become an FNP. As an FNP you are now responsible for:
- Treating patients
It's a role that with time you become more confident in your decision-making and less nervous to call for help.
Hector is preparing for her new role by completing a capstone this summer that consists of a review for FNPs by Barkley & Associates. Once her capstone is complete, Hector plans on taking the Fitzgerald review course before taking her FNP boards.
How to Fund an NP Program
- Competitive pay and benefits
- Positive work environment
- Career goals
- Personal goals and reasons
NYU Langone Medical Center has tuition benefits after one year for full-time employment, Hector says. As long as you have good academic standing in all courses with a grade of C+ or better, your tuition will be covered.
There are other funding options for NP programs. Nurses can seek:
- Financial aid
There are also loan repayment programs like the Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program. This program pays up to 85% of unpaid nursing education debt in exchange for two years of service in a critical shortage facility.
Seven Words of Wisdom From a Recent NP Graduate
Like with anything new in life, getting advice from someone who just experienced it can add value to your own experience. Here are Hector's seven words of wisdom for nurses thinking about advancing their careers as NPs.
1. Know Your 'Whys'
Before applying to NP school, you should work at least a year as an RN in the department or field of choice you plan on pursuing your NP in.
"During this year, dig deeper into the reason why you are doing things and try to understand the pathology of diseases and how the medications work," Hector says.
2. Know Pharmacology
When administering medications, Hector advises to always research why you're giving it, the side effects, peak, onset, and duration.
Always work closely with interdisciplinary teams.
4. Learn Empathy
Hector believes not to simply focus on what pertains to you solely as a nurse. It is important to see the big picture. At the end of the day, you are there to care for the patient.
"Try to understand what your colleagues are going through with their patients and try to remain empathetic to family members and patients as well," Hector says.
5. Create a personal plan
Hector advises to create a plan with family, children, spouses, and any other support team on time management.
"Discuss with your support team the expectation your school has for you and the expectation and plan of your support team to help you through," Hector says.
6. Remain confident, positive, and resilient
"There will be some challenging days, stressful days, disappointing days, and tiring days, but don't forget the reason why you enrolled in the program," Hector advises.
You must have a self-care routine for nurses.
"Get adequate rest and remain active in taking care of yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally," she says.
The AANP reports more than 355,000 NPs are licensed in the United States. Hector will join this group of advanced practice registered nurses ready to improve access to care for those who need it most.
"Believe in yourself," Hector says. "Always remember you were accepted because someone believed in you. Believe in yourself that you will graduate!"
Meet Our Contributor
Billie Michelle Hector, RN, BSN, CMSRN, FNP Graduate
Billie Michelle Hector has been a nurse for seven years, two years as a licensed practical nurse and five years as a registered nurse. She has a background in long-term geriatric care and acute medical-surgical. Today she is a senior staff nurse with a medical-surgical certification and currently works at magnet hospital NYU Langone Medical Center.
You might be interested in
An Open Letter to the Class of 2022 Nursing Graduates
7 Steps for Success as a New Nursing Grad
NurseJournal.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.
Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?
Whether you’re looking to get your pre-licensure degree or taking the next step in your career, the education you need could be more affordable than you think. Find the right nursing program for you.