How Can I Become an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse?

Explore the career requirements for an advanced practice registered nurse. Get the facts about job duties, education requirements and licensing to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Nursing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse?

An advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) is a highly trained nurse who is qualified to provide a broad range of medical services, including patient diagnosis, medical test analysis and medication prescription. APRNs can choose from several specializations in a variety of settings. For instance, nurse practitioners (NPs) provide medical care in primary care settings; they may specialize in working with a certain demographic group, such as pediatric patients, geriatric patients or adult patients. Certified nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) specialize in the administration of anesthesia during surgical procedures, while nurse midwives (CNMs) offer reproductive healthcare for women before, during and after childbirth. In addition, advanced practice nurses may conduct research in a particular field of interest or perform administrative duties.

The following chart gives you an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Required Master of Science in Nursing
Education Field of Study Nurse practitioner, anesthetist, midwife, or clinical specialist
Key Responsibilities Take patient records; diagnose various health problems; perform physical exams; perform diagnostic tests
Licensure Required Registered Nurse (RN) license; APRN credentials vary by state
Job Outlook (2014-2024) 31%*
Median Salary (2015) $104,740*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Would I Do as an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse?

APRNs have graduate-level education in specialized areas of healthcare, such as acute care, pediatrics, gerontology or women's health. APRNs can perform many of the same functions as physicians, and they're often viewed as a cost-effective alternative. Thus, as an advanced practice registered nurse, you might diagnose illnesses and provide the appropriate treatment.

There are four categories of advanced practice registered nurses: nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, nurse-midwives and clinical nurse specialists. Depending on your specialization, you could work in a hospital, clinic, educational institution or other healthcare setting.

What Education Do I Need?

Before enrolling in a master's program, you'll need to begin your nursing education with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). In a BSN program, you'll study the fundamentals of nursing and gain experience in a supervised clinical setting. After completing your nursing training, you'll be eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to become a registered nurse (RN) and legally practice in the U.S.

In a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program, you'll focus on a certain area of healthcare. These programs, which typically take two years to complete, also combine classroom study with clinical experience. Some dual degree programs award both BSN and MSN degrees after you've completed the accelerated curriculum format.

What Licenses or Certifications Do I Need?

To become an RN, you need to pass the NCLEX-RN, which you are eligible to take after completing a BSN program. Each state defines the scope of practice allowed for advanced practice nurses, so be sure to check with your state's board of nursing for specific requirements. You may need or choose to seek certification as an APRN. The American Nurses Credentialing Center offers many areas of specialization, including certifications for nurse practitioners and clinical nurse specialists (www.nursecredentialing.org).

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Another high-level healthcare position is a job as a physician assistant. Like APRNs, physician assistants need a master's degree and a license. They work closely with doctors to diagnose and treat patients. Individuals who want to focus their careers on direct patient care may also consider jobs as occupational therapists. These professionals help injured, disabled or elderly patients with daily activities. They must also hold a master's degree and pass a licensure exam.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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