Why I Decided to Become an NP
There are many reasons why I became a nurse practitioner (NP), but the primary one was simple: I wanted to work independently. I wanted to have my own patients and make collaborating decisions with them about their health.
The job of an NP is an extension to nursing, giving you the ability to not only assess and diagnose but also treat based on your scope of practice and training. After years as a registered nurse, this autonomy is what I wanted.
Most of my nursing practice was in pediatrics, but I decided to become a family nurse practitioner (FNP). As an FNP, you are trained to care for patients of all ages, from infants to elderly patients.
Becoming an NP gave me options to pick the types of patients I would care for and choose from various job opportunities. Many pediatric nurses claim they would never work with the adult population (I was one of them), but I now love working with both!
What My NP Journey Was Like
I made a personal decision to complete my master's in nursing before I got married and had children. I knew if I didn't, it would be difficult for me to go back, and I wouldn't be able to focus my energy on being with my children. It took me three and a half years to finish my master's part time while working full time in the pediatric emergency room.
I secured tuition reimbursement with my hospital, which helped me pay for books and a portion of my tuition. I also worked with my manager to change my schedule to fit my class schedule. Most hospitals provide tuition reimbursement for nurses, and managers are encouraged to work with a nurse's schedule so they can complete their classes and coursework.
The first year of NP school was a bit challenging. I was taking science courses like advanced pathophysiology and my NP practicum. The practicum requires a complete mind-shift from nursing. As an NP, you have to assess, diagnose, and treat your patients, including prescribing medication when necessary. Medical diagnosis and having prescribing privileges are the main distinctions between a registered nurse and a nurse practitioner.
I was lucky enough to land my first NP job with one of the doctors I did my clinical rotation with. It was a great experience, and I learned a lot about primary care and chronic care. I was able to care for patients right in the community and form relationships with them on a personal level.
I then took a job at a clinic. I saw patients with urgent care needs at this clinic, such as viral and bacterial infections and urinary tract infections as well as those who needed vaccine shots, employee physicals, and much more. I was able to connect with my patients on a personal level in this role as well. Although urgent care clinics aren't designed for patients to use as primary care offices, many came back for me to see them over and over again!
NP school tries to prepare you as much as possible to care for patients in the real world. At the end of the day, I truly believe you don't feel comfortable as an independent practitioner until 8-12 months out of school and on your own.
I knew I was comfortable taking care of patients when I automatically knew their diagnosis and treated them without looking it up! As an NP you're always learning, looking things up, and asking for second opinions, but it feels great when you start doing things on your own.
Challenges and Rewards of Being a Nurse Practitioner
I think one of the biggest challenges to being an NP versus a medical doctor is how the public views us. Many doctors and even some nurses don't know our scope of practice. Past patients or people I've worked with referred to me as the nurse when clearly I am the nurse practitioner. I think they believe it makes the patient feel more comfortable, but in reality, it confuses patients and the medical profession.
It is time we normalize nurse practitioners as primary care providers. There should be a public announcement on what we do, how we do it, and that we are here to stay. Public awareness should highlight that NPs can be your child's provider, as well as your parents. NPs can fully care for patients in emergency situations, work as dermatology providers, or even work as providers in plastic surgery offices.
We are not surgeons. We are not doctors. Our training is based on evidence-based practices and the nursing model. NPs have the ability, in some states, to work independently.
My entire NP career has been rewarding. Meeting new people every day and stories I've heard have given me an appreciation for other cultures, nationalities, and sexual identities. As a healthcare provider, you are there to help the patient and treat them holistically, which includes their psychosocial well-being.
I've heard stories of grief and triumph, which allowed me to look at my own life events I am proud of or personal improvements I need to make. Whether the rewards were big or small, every moment is precious to me when working with patients.
Why You Should Pursue a Career as an NP
If you are someone like me who likes a good detective story, then becoming an NP is a great career choice. I say detective because being an NP is about figuring out why your patient took the time out of their day to come and see you. It can be about their illness or wellness check, but it's up to you as the provider to spend some time with them and find out if anything else is going on.
I'm a big believer in preventative care and equipping patients with as much knowledge as possible to make educated decisions about their health. If you are someone who likes nurse teaching, becoming an NP is a great career choice.
Lastly, not only is there a nursing shortage, there is a physician shortage, especially in primary care. NPs are perfectly positioned to take over this role in helping communities, especially marginalized, lower socioeconomic, LGBTQ+, and rural communities. Becoming an NP is a great opportunity for career advancement and an excellent opportunity for innovation.
Advice for Aspiring Nurse Practitioners
Before becoming an NP, remember it's a considerable investment in time and money. If you are prepared for the investment, you will be able to pursue it with a clear mind.
Have a goal and a vision. What do you want your career to look like? Where do you see yourself in five years?
Seek out a mentor in nursing. It is easier to start a position as a brand new NP with a coach or a mentor guiding you through your first year.
Be open-minded about which nursing specialty you choose. Then get your experience and pursue your passion. Lastly, get involved as a nurse, whether it is in legislation, policy making, or volunteering. Volunteering makes lasting impacts in your community and your life, and I believe, makes you a better healthcare provider as well.
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