Tips for Becoming a Successful Nurse Practitioner (NP)

tips for a nurse practitioner

Becoming a helping and healing force in the lives of others was an important goal for Angela Peters. She took that ambition and enrolled in college to become a nurse. She then took her education to the next level and earned an MSN degree to become a adult nurse practitioner.

Today, she is a pain management nurse practitioner at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) at Midwestern Regional Medical Center (Midwestern) in Illinois and is a Chair for the Advanced Practice Professional Council there. She works with cancer patients who are experiencing acute or chronic pain. While treating those who are suffering can be a challenging career path, she finds it a very rewarding one.

"When you are able to gain in-depth knowledge in a certian area, it helps you empower your patients by increasing their knowledge about what they are experiencing."  -- Angela Peters, Nurse Practitioner for Pain Management at CTCA at Midwestern

As you can see, Angela Peters has much she can share about nursing, NP programs and advancing a nursing career. Enjoy our interview as she discusses how students can get the most out of their nursing program. Then put her advice into action and start contacting nursing schools today.

How did you become a nurse practitioner?

I graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a Bachelor in Nursing. I then continued my education at East Carolina University and earned a Master of Science in Nursing degree. This prepared me for board certification and to become a nurse practitioner.

I am board certified as an adult nurse practitioner and in pain management. These certifications have helped me better understand the intricacies of patient care and become more confident in treating their suffering.

Currently, I am enrolled at Easter Kentucky University in the Doctor of Nursing Practice program. I'm hoping it will help take my education, and career, to the next level.

What should a student look for in a nurse practitioner program? What should they know about choosing an NP program?

To choose an NP program, it's important to take the following steps.

  1. Consider Accreditation: Is the program CCNE accredited? Accreditation can be a good indicator of whether the curriculum and facility is up to date and meets industry standards. Graduation from an accredited nurse practitioner may also be an important factor when pursuing a nursing career.
  2. Seek Clinical Practice: Does the school find or assist with finding clinical preceptors or do you have to find one on your own? Finding clinical opportuntiies is an ongoing issue for NP students.
  3. Consider How You Learn to Become an NP: How is the program set up? Do you attend on site? Take online nursing classes? A blend of both? On campus requirements, time commitments and cost are all important factors to consider when searching for NP programs.

What tips do you have for students in a nurse practitioner program?

Current students should be well prepared for clinical courses. Read as much as you can and take the content seriously. It’s not about getting through; it is about preparing yourself for patient care.

Make a binder and organize the information you come across. Create flowcharts and include immunization schedules, and lists of commonly prescribed antibiotics, medications and doses. Include important phone numbers so you are readily able to find and give them to patients, or have a reference for yourself. In general, you should include anything that you would like to have available as a quick reference.

How can students get the most out of their education and set themselves up for a nurse practitioner career?

It's importnat to embrace every experience. Be the first one to assist or watch. And ask questions! Ask to see things, ask to go with, ask to be involved. Put in extra time and take in as much as you are able and allowed. Nursing home rounds were not part of my rotation. However, I knew my preceptor did them on the weekends. I went along to get the experience and exposure. Opportunities like this may be found anywhere. If you keep your eyes open, you can find plenty of ways to get the most out of nurse practitioner school.

For many nurse practitioners, that first clinical rotation can be an intimidating experience. Any tips on how to prepare for nurse practitioner clinicals?

Again, get organized in advance. Have your resources on hand. To prepare for nurse practitioner clinical rotations, I recommend having the following things ready to go.

  • Pharmacology book
  • Pocket guide for physical assessment
  • Medical diagnosis book.
  • Small notebook for notes
  • Stethoscope
  • Pen
  • Penlight
  • Reflex hammer

Are there ways to ease the transition from a nurse practitioner program to a career? What are your tips for becoming a nurse practitioner?

Having your resources available will help. Use apps on your phone, use the resource binder you created for school and use a notebook to write down everything. Be patient with yourself; realize it will take you longer at first to see patients and to chart. Ask questions and know who your resources are for help.

Also discuss clear expectations with your employer. How many patients do I see? How will I reach my collaborating physician for assistance if needed? Who will train me? Ask before you accept a position, so you both know what to expect from your nurse practitioner career.

Can you recommend tools for new nurse practitioners?

Here are my must have tools for nurse practitioners. 

  1. Apps: Epocrates and Medscape are my favorites.
  2. Books: Current medical diagnosis book, a physical exam book (Jarvis or Bates is good) and book for labs and medications. For medications, MPR is good. eMPR.com is a subscription. 
  3. Tools: Stethoscope, pen light, reflex hammer, measuring tape, otoscope, tuning fork, and monofilament test. 
  4. Advanced Practice Journals: Sign up for Clinical Advisor, The Journal for Nurse Practitioners and The Nurse Practitioner.
  5. Professional Organizations: Sign up for at least 2 professional organizations. For example, your state NP organization and your certifying body (AANP or ANCC). Also consider your specialty area if applicable. 

You’ve mentioned that you found it helpful to communicate with the billing department. What did you learn from them?

I highly recommend any nurse practitioner spend time with the billing department. They helped me learn about billing codes and contracts, reimbursements from insurance and prior authorizations. These are all very important parts of patient care.

What are the 3 things they don’t teach you in nursing school?

3 things every NP should know are:

  1. How to prioritize your time.
  2. How to keep your patient on topic and gather pertinent information to use your time wisely.
  3. Negotiation skills when looking for your new positions.

These 3 things aren't covered in nursing school but are very important for a nursing career.

You have an impressive list of nursing degrees and qualifications. How do your NP degrees help you and your patients?

When you are able to gain in depth knowledge in a certain area, it helps you empower your patients by increasing their knowledge about what they are experiencing. Teaching patients and helping them understand what is going on is very rewarding. 

How did you choose your NP specialty?

I chose my nurse practitioner specialty, pain management, because I know that pain can be debilitating for individuals. I thought it would be rewarding, and it has been. I enjoy bringing pain relief to patients. It is challenging, however, very worth while.

How do you keep growing as an NP? Give us a few tips for how nurse practitioners can keep improving at their jobs.

I attend conferences, read NP journals, talk with patients. You will learn a great deal from your patients (ask them about their disease, what works, what doesn’t, side effects of medications, how their disease effects their life, etc.). You should also read and shadow other providers when you are able. If you know there is a unique patient coming in, ask if you may tag along. Present a patient to your collaborating physician, and ask what they may have done different.

And of course, continue to learn by attending classes and workshops, taking advantage of continuing medical education credits, enrolling in a DNP program or earning a nursing certificate.


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