Congratulations! You’ve decided to think about going to graduate school to become a Nurse Practitioner! Welcome to the party. When you set out to apply for graduate school and choose the right Nurse Practitioner (NP) program, it may not be long before you realize there are a freaking ton of options out there. There is a lot to consider and it is a decision that you shouldn’t rush. There are several highlights you should be sure to think about before applying.
- DNP or MSN?
There are so many programs out there. Some will do an RN (ASN) to Masters (MSN) track that can help you go through all the steps in between your first, most basic, nursing degree to a Masters. Other programs are from BSN to MSN, where you obtain your bachelor’s degree first wherever you’d like and then begin graduate school. Finally, some programs are a BSN to DNP track, which take you from the completion of your bachelor’s degree to a doctorate. The doctoral degree is going to take longer, while the BSN to MSN will be shorter. Also, what will your future job/career require in terms of degree? Will you need to be a DNP or will an MSN be sufficient?
- Acute Care or Family Medicine? Specialty?
It is really important for you to consider what you want to do when you finish school and are a practicing NP. A lot of people make the mistake of choosing the wrong type of program for what they want to do after school and they end up finding out really late in the game that they made the wrong choice. DON’T BE THIS PERSON!! Acute Care NPs are hospital focused and generally work in Emergency Department or Intensive Care Unit. You often have to have experience in a critical care area for these programs. Family Medicine, or Primary Care, focused NPs can work in a variety of settings. These are most often the outpatient setting, although I have seen and worked with many FNPs in the Emergency Department. FNPs have education on everyone throughout the lifespan, while Acute Care focuses on certain aspects of the population, like adults or geriatrics. If you want to be a specialized NP, such as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, you need to have the correct educational preparation.
- Lifestyle Factors
This one is a HUGE part of the decision-making process for what program you’ll apply to. Do you want to go to school full-time or part-time? Do you learn better in a self-taught and self-paced online environment, or is the brick and mortar classroom better for your learning? Something else to be considered is your dedication and available time for studying. Do you want to spend a lot of time studying or do you need something more manageable? If you don’t plan to put a lot of energy forth into studying, you should probably not go to NP school. Ha, but really. If studying 24/7 and cutting your work schedule back doesn’t sound totally amazing, I probably wouldn’t embark on getting into a CRNA program, for example.
This is kind of a no-brainer. Some programs are going to be hella expensive while others more affordable. You might be paying for a name or it could be they provide more to students than other schools. Do your research and ask around with your nursing friends who are in grad school. Chances are, they’ll know someone at many of the schools you might be curious about or be attending themselves.
- ***Does the program find or help you find clinical preceptors?***
I put stars by this one because holy cow, this is a HUGE thing to consider in my eyes. I never realized or knew how hard it was going to be to find a preceptor for my four clinical rotations until I was already in too deep. I’m not alone in this feeling, either. Take plenty of time to weigh whether or not you’re okay with finding your own preceptor. If not, find a program that does it for you. They aren’t super plentiful, but they do exist out there.
What other tips or advice do you have, or have you heard from others regarding finding the right program? Good luck everyone!
Just Ask the Nurse