How to Choose the Best Nurse Practitioner Program for Your Career Goals

First Posted: Feb 07, 2020 10:06 AM EST
How to Choose the Best Nurse Practitioner Program for Your Career Goals

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Choosing to attend graduate school is not an easy decision, especially if you've chosen a career in nursing, where there are so many different pathways to decide upon. If you're set on studying to become a nurse practitioner, you've made a great choice - this role comes with many significant benefits, including high demand, a competitive rate of pay, and flexibility and autonomy in the role. 

Choosing a nurse practitioner program, however, is not easy - there are hundreds of different programs to choose from, each offering unique benefits, specialties, and opportunities. The program that you choose will have an impact on your future career as a nurse practitioner, so it's important that you think carefully, do your research and ask searching questions in order to ensure that you make the right choice for you and your future career. With that in mind, we've put together some important questions to ask yourself to help you make the best choice of nurse practitioner program based on your career goals. 

Which Setting Would You Like to Work in?

Deciding on the setting that you'd like to work in - whether clinical, office-based or research-based - will help you decide whether you should apply for an acute care, or primary care program. A degree focused on primary care is the best choice if you wish to work as a nurse practitioner alongside a doctor or hope to independently run your own clinic. Family nurse practitioners tend to work in clinics and in the community rather than hospitals. On the other hand, if a hospital setting is more your thing and you want a career working in the ICU, for example, acute care is the more suitable choice. 

Which Patients Do You Want to Work with?

The kind of patients that you work with will be decided by your choice of nurse practitioner program. Consider these scenarios and opinions and ask yourself which one resonates with you the most. 

  • I'd rather work with adults than children - Pediatric nurse practitioner

  • I do not want to work with children - Adult/gerontology nurse practitioner

  • I am happy to work with patients of all ages - Family nurse practitioners

  • I want to work with babies - Neonatal nurse practitioner

These are just some examples of the multiple patient specialties that you will be able to work with. There are many more degree options to choose from - for example, geriatrics or a specific type of medicine such as oncology, so think deeply about the type of patients that you want to work with - taking into consideration not just factors such as their age or gender, but the type of medical conditions that you will be treating. Use your answers to the above scenarios to help guide you in the right decision of choosing either primary or acute care for your chosen specialty. 

Will You be Studying Full- or Part-time?

Another factor to take into consideration is whether you would prefer to study part- or full-time to become a nurse practitioner. If you are currently working as a nurse or other healthcare professional and wish to continue this while you study, then a part-time program may be the best option for you, as the nurse practitioner training can be highly demanding and difficult to fit around a current full-time career. 

On the other hand, if you want to reach your goal of becoming a nurse practitioner as quickly as possible and have time and money to spare, or are able to work part-time while you study, a full-time program may be the best option for you. You might also want to consider the option of studying a full-time program online, such as this BSN to FNP program that offers the flexibility to be completed part-time with you in charge so that it can easily be fit around a demanding schedule. The good news is that, as a nurse, you're already used to demanding situations and are probably already quite skilled at just figuring it out when needed. 

Online or Campus-based?

As mentioned earlier, online programs are available for those who wish to study to be a nurse practitioner, or you might want to go for a hybrid class, which involves some online and some classroom-based work. There are still all on-campus and all-online programs available, so you will be able to choose the best option based on your needs. In order to make sure that you're making the right choice it's a good idea to consider:

  • Your work situation - will you be working full or part-time as a student?

  • Your family situation - do you have children or other family commitments that will be hard to juggle around studying?

  • How quickly do you want to graduate from the nurse practitioner program?

  • Do you need to study at flexible times?

  • Would you prefer to interact with your peers in person?

  • Would you prefer to interact with your professors in person?

  • Do you prefer studying alone or in a group?

  • Do you have the right technology for studying online and if not, can you access it?

  • Would studying for a nurse practitioner program at your chosen school mean relocating, and are you in a position to relocate?

Bear in mind that whether you choose an all on-campus, all-online or a hybrid program, you'll get out of it what you put in. And, the qualification holds the same weight no matter which way you choose to study for it. 

Do You Have Relevant Experience?

Not all nursing experience is created equally, and once you've chosen the right nurse practitioner program for you, it's time to think about how strong of an applicant you really are. There are a lot of factors that will be taken into consideration when you apply including your GPA, letters of reference, admissions essays and your previous experience - which might hold you back if you cannot demonstrate any experience that's relevant to your chosen specialty. For example, if you've been working mainly as a pediatric nurse and want to pursue an adult/gerontology nurse practitioner program, it's advisable to gain some experience working with adults before you apply. 

As a nurse, one of the best places where you can get relevant experience before applying to any nurse practitioner program is the Emergency Room, so it's definitely worth trying to get a transfer there if you are working in any other department. Working in the ER, you'll see and care for a wide range of patients from birth to death and everything else in between. And, you will be a key part of caring for patients right across the acuity spectrum, from primary to acute care issues, which will help you tremendously, not only when it comes to choosing the type of family nurse practitioner program that you'd like to apply for, but also when it comes to standing out as an applicant. 

Do You Meet All the Admissions Requirements?

Once you have been able to shortlist some nurse practitioner programs that interest you, it's a wise idea to look deeper into the admissions requirements for each, to make sure that you meet - or exceed - them before you apply. Bear in mind that admissions requirements can be quite stringent, so don't be surprised if you need to put some extra work in before you apply. Some factors to consider include:

  • Your GPA: If your GPA isn't the best, this could affect admissions faculty decisions when it comes to considering you as an applicant. The best way to offset this is to pursue other professional training programs in order to demonstrate your commitment to learning and your ability to perform well at the graduate level. 

  • Letters of reference: Consider who you are going to ask for a letter of reference carefully. And, make sure that you are clear on the requirements - every program and school is different, but you may find that certain criteria must be met for a letter of reference to be considered; for example, one or more of your letters may need to be from somebody who holds a relevant doctorate degree, or is a qualified nurse practitioner. Build strong relationships with suitable individuals before making your request. 

  • Your admissions essays: Depending on the program, you may need to write one or more admissions essays as part of the application. This isn't something that should ever be rushed; make sure that your essay stands out by researching the program so that you can clearly demonstrate what you will bring to the table. 

  • Extracurricular activities: Generally, the more that you can do as a nurse, the better. When it comes to the application process, admissions staff are looking for nurses who can demonstrate that they go above and beyond to improve the range of relevant experience that they have gained. Traveling abroad, working as a nurse in the military and becoming a member of professional nursing organizations all look good on your application. 

  • The interview: Finally, there's no such thing as being too prepared for the interview. Prepare to be asked complex questions, demonstrate your skills and have a solid knowledge of the program that you are applying for. 

We wish you the best of luck on your journey to becoming a nurse practitioner!

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