I get a lot of questions about my job as an emergency nurse practitioner. Many practicing and aspiring NPs are attracted to the specialty and want to know how I found my niche. It wasn’t easy, but I did learn a few valuable lessons along the way. Depending on where you live, it can seem that NP jobs in the ER are few and far between. How do you navigate the market to land your dream position?
Here are a few essential tips for nurse practitioners looking to break into emergency medicine.
1. Understand the structure of local emergency departments
If you’re looking at hospital websites and job boards and finding absolutely no listings for nurse practitioner positions in the emergency department, there might be a reason. Often, provider staffing in certain areas of the hospital is outsourced to an outside company. For example, my employer is not the hospital where I work, but rather a separate company that contracts with hospitals to staff their emergency departments with NPs, PAs and physicians. I applied for my job with this company, rather than the hospital itself. So, if you’re an NP looking to break into the ER, understand how staffing works at area hospitals. This will help you direct your search to the appropriate employer (don’t forget these secrets to choosing an NP job you won’t get tired of!).
2. Make connections
In some cases it’s all about who you know and working in the emergency department as a nurse practitioner can be one of them. I got an ‘in’ for my first ER NP interview from a physician I worked with in an urgent care clinic. She formerly worked in the emergency department and was able to tell me more about how employment was structured in area departments and direct me to contacts at a few local hospitals. Her knowledge made my job search more effective and gave me a credible reference. Make connections in your area through local advanced practice or other healthcare organizations. You’ll need to put yourself out there (here’s a recipe for doing so effectively) to figure out the employment landscape and get your foot in the door.
In most job markets, ER jobs for nurse practitioners can be difficult to come by. The specialty is widely popular and typically pays much higher than the average NP salary. So, if you want to land a job you’ll need to be proactive and persistent. I interviewed with ER directors for about a year before I landed a job. My resume was polished enough to get me in the door for an interview but I lacked clinical experience in the specialty. So, after a rejection, I reconnected with the medical director every few months to reaffirm my interest in working for the group should a spot open up. Eventually my efforts paid off and a position became available at a time when the department felt it was well positioned to support a motivated but inexperienced NP – me!
4. Obtain relevant experience
Typically, emergency departments are looking for NPs who can hit the ground running. But, how are you supposed to gain such experience if no one will hire you without it? New grads and specialty-switchers don’t despair! Urgent care is a great step between primary care or another specialty and the emergency department. While the acuity level of urgent care patients isn’t as high as in the ER, you will hone your procedural skills and become more comfortable treating the kinds of illnesses and emergencies you’ll encounter in the emergency setting.
5. Apply for the right jobs
The flexibility to conduct a nationwide job search is certainly a positive for NPs seeking employment in the ER. But, use caution if you’re inexperienced. Emergency departments across the country vary significantly in the way they utilize NPs. In rural locations, for example, ERs may expect NPs to work as the sole provider in the department or even the hospital with little or no backup and few resources. These aren’t the right jobs for inexperienced NPs (and even some with experience). Set yourself up for success by applying to work in hospitals that have adequate support given your comfort and skill level.
Are you interested in working as an emergency nurse practitioner? Have you had difficulty finding a job?
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