5 Steps to Becoming an Emergency Nurse Practitioner

I love working in the emergency department. The unpredictability of what each work day holds keeps me on my toes. My erratic work schedule allows for unmatched flexibility. I receive a lot of e-mails from readers inquiring about the process of becoming an emergency nurse practitioner. While the steps vary a little depending on where you are in your nursing career, for most people following these 5 steps will land you a job as an emergency department nurse practitioner.

Step 1: Get Some Nursing Experience Under Your Belt (or Look into Alternative Schooling Options)

Most nurse practitioners begin their careers as nurses, acquiring a few years of experience before moving on to become NPs. This is the path of least resistance if you plan to work in the emergency department as a nurse practitioner. Experience working in the ED will put you a step ahead of other candidates when it comes to finding a job upon completion your nurse practitioner program.

If you want to fast track your education and move directly from your nursing program to your NP program, many schools will allow you to do so. However, it may be difficult to get your dream job quickly after graduation without relevant nursing experience. It’s not impossible, but more than likely you will find yourself working in urgent care for a year or two while you hone your nurse practitioner skills.

Some schools offer NP programs for students who are not already nurses. These programs, known as accelerated or MEPN programs, allow individuals with a bachelor’s degree in a field other than nursing to become nurse practitioners. Like inexperienced nurses, these NPs may need to get some lower acuity experience before moving on to the ER.

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Step 2: Apply to a Nurse Practitioner Program

Regardless of where you fall in your level of nursing experience, your next step is to apply to a nurse practitioner program. Look carefully at application criteria. Some schools may require that applicants take the GRE. Others have a hefty list of prerequisite courses. Research schools you may be interested in attending and take the necessary steps to complete the application requirements.

Many students aren’t sure if they should apply for an acute care nurse practitioner program or a family nurse practitioner program if they plan to work in the emergency department. Unfortunately, there’s no clear ‘right’ answer. Attending a university with an emergency nurse practitioner program is ideal. These programs are essentially dual programs awarding degrees in both specialties.

The problem with choosing your specialty lies in the fact that acute care nurse practitioners cannot treat children. Most emergency departments, however, do treat kids. To get a job in most ER’s, you must be certified to see children. So, obtaining a family nurse practitioner degree is the best option in most cases. While it seems counterintuitive so study primary care if you want to work in emergency medicine, primary care is the foundation for other specialties. Most of what you see in the ER will fall within the primary care realm.

Step 3: Graduate as a Nurse Practitioner, Get Certified and Licensed

Once you finish your nurse practitioner program, you will need to obtain your nurse practitioner certification. This is true of all NP grads, not just those looking to work in the ER. Your certification is obtained by taking and passing a certification exam.

Once you have passed your certification exam, you must become licensed in the state where you wish to practice. This process is similar to the nursing licensure process and can often be done online on your state’s board of nursing website. You will also need to apply for an NPI number and a DEA number (in most states) as these will be required for your first job.

Step 4: Find Your First Nurse Practitioner Job

Finding a job as a nurse practitioner in the emergency department can be difficult. Most employers are looking for experience. If you have nursing experience working in the emergency department, use this to your advantage during the interview process.

If you don’t have emergency department experience and get some resistance in your job search, consider broadening your horizons- for a year or two, anyway. Look for jobs working in urgent care centers or walk-in clinics. This will allow you to begin working as a nurse practitioner, improving your skills. Once you have a year of experience practicing as a NP, reapply to emergency departments in your area. Keep your eyes open for newly posted positions and let employers and recruiters know that when a spot opens up, you want to be the one to fill it.

Step 5: Land Your Dream ER Job

Congratulations! You have officially become an emergency nurse practitioner. If you are a new graduate, or have limited nursing and/or nurse practitioner experience, your first few months on the job may be a bit overwhelming. You will have a lot to learn. Embrace the challenge, work hard, and stick with it.

Where are you on the path to becoming an emergency nurse practitioner? What challenges and successes have you encountered?


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