Making it Through Your Nurse Practitioner Program from an NP Who’s Been There

My time as a nurse practitioner student in Vanderbilt’s accelerated NP program did not go as expected.  I have always been a good student, completed my work efficiently and generally had little difficulty meeting the expectations of my professors.  My nurse practitioner program, however was incredibly time consuming and at times unexpectedly overwhelming.

Between logging clinical hours, writing care plans and studying for tests, I had time for little else than school work.  My usually time-saving shortcuts didn’t work out.  Furthermore, I was overcome by the amount of medical information I was expected to learn to be prepared as a practicing nurse practitioner.  The feeling possible failure in my future career was unsettling.  I was sure I wouldn’t know enough by the time graduation arrived to be successful in my first NP job.

I frequently receive e-mails from NP students struggling with similar issues.  Fortunately, with a lot of hard work and a few strokes of luck, I made it through my nurse practitioner program and was rewarded with a fulfilling career.  Here are some words of advice on making the most of your nurse practitioner program so you can do the same.

1. Have Reasonable Expectations of Your Performance

The phrase “sink or swim” pretty much sums up the nurse practitioner learning experience.  Your clinical preceptors expect you to have a greater level of medical knowledge than your courses have covered.  You feel like you are expected to know how to treat nearly every medical diagnosis day 1 of your clinical rotation.  When you sense these stressors mounting, do a reality check.  

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Your preceptors are likely physicians who have gone to years of medical school.  Even if you are taught by an NP or PA, they likely have many years of clinical experience; there is no way you can match their level of practice- not yet.  Clinical learning is a frustrating process and goes slowly.  Like me, even after you graduate, you will still need to get some experience under your belt before you feel confident and competent in your work.  Keep your personal expectations reasonable and the crushing feeling of the demands of your NP program will begin to lift.

2. Make the Most of Your Clinical Experience

The best thing I did during my nurse practitioner program was to work hard in my clinical placements.  I asked smart questions rather than bothering my preceptors with trivial inquiries I could look up on my own later.  I was proactive- I asked to learn how to do procedures like suture and drain abscesses.  As a nurse practitioner you will need to know how to perform procedures, the best time to learn is during your training rather than on your first job.  Although my medical knowledge was lacking, I worked hard, showed up reliably and demonstrated a commitment to learning.  This ultimately led to excellent job recommendations helping me find a job within one week of my NP program graduation.

3. Stick With It

“Stick with it” is the most valuable advice I can give to help NP students as well as nurse practitioners new to their practice.  Nurse practitioner programs are tough and demanding.  Having meaningful interactions with patients each day at work can be waring testing your resolve.  Persevere through your nurse practitioner program; it will lead to a rewarding, fulfilling career.  Rise to the challenges presented by your inexperience.  The learning curve will eventually level and you will feel more confident in your practice.

Just remember, your nurse practitioner program is a temporary challenge.  Commit to excel over the next few years.  You will be glad you gave it your best effort.

NP’s, Do you have any words of advice for nurse practitioner students on making it through an NP program?  Share by commenting below!


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1 thought on “Making it Through Your Nurse Practitioner Program from an NP Who’s Been There”

  1. Great post! It’s well written and is very true. Hard work does pay off in the end. And I totally agree about the asking questions part. Asking intelligent questions instead of asking for the sake of asking just annoys others and makes you look dumb! This is definitely a must-read for those NP newbies who are wondering if they should ‘stick with it’!

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