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Nurse Practitioner, Which Way Will You Go?

I didn’t grow up saying, I want to be a nurse practitioner. To be honest, I had no idea that there was such a career. What I did know is that I wanted to be in healthcare. I wanted to help people. I loved science. I loved medical stuff. I thought that I wanted to be a doctor until I decided that I wanted to be a nurse. (Why I Became a Nurse) Then I was determined to be a nurse practitioner. See Why I Became a Nurse Practitioner. In order to become a nurse practitioner, the registered nurse must attend graduate school. I completed my Bachelor of Science in Nursing at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. For nurse practitioner school, I chose to go to the University of Alabama at Birmingham. I also had to choose a concentration. I chose the Family Nurse Practitioner concentration because I was fascinated with care across the lifespan and I liked the idea of having the option to work with different age groups. My certification allows me to care for patients throughout the life span from infants to the elderly.

However, I work in the subspecialty of hematology (blood disease) and oncology (cancer) with adult patients only. Read Mom Had Cancer and Mom Died From Cancer for details about how I landed on this specialty. Other specialties include Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, and Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner to name a few. To obtain one of these degrees, an additional 2-4 years of study is completed that includes robust course work, clinical rotations/preceptorships, and a residency. Upon graduating, a national board certification exam must be taken and then a license must be obtained from the board of nursing of the state of practice.

I was giddy with excitement and anticipation as I prepared for my national board certification exam. I was also nervous. I hate standardized tests though I had become used to them to some degree. By the time I took my exam, I had been a graduate for 4 months. If you recall from Nurse Practitioner, What An Adventure, that I gave birth to my youngest son just before graduation. Therefore, I was taking care of a newborn and studying at the same time! Hard is an understatement, but I’m nothing if not determined. Thank God for my father in law who generously and graciously helped watch my baby to allow me study time. I stayed at a hotel the night before my test. My husband took care of our boys and I was able to get my mind right for the task ahead. That may have been the longest test in the world and even though you find out right after if you pass or fail, those 10 minutes or so felt like 100 minutes. I had a good feeling about my performance, but you don’t know for sure until you know for sure. The guy who handed me my results gave no indication of whether I had passed or failed. His poker face was solid! I guess that is a part of the training. Relief does not even begin to explain what I felt when I saw that I had passed. Another milestone behind me! Being officially board certified, I could now work as a nurse practitioner once the Alabama Board of Nursing granted me my license.

As you know I chose to work in the subspecialty of hematology and oncology. Other subspecialties include neurology, gastroenterology, and rheumatology to name a few. Though there are additional certifications that can be obtained in many of the subspecialty areas, much of the additional training comes through the physician who is the specialist. In my case, this is the hematologist/oncologist. Additionally, specialty and subspecialty specific organizations and nurse practitioner organizations provide additional education including continuing education units. My favorite conference for my subspecialty is through an organization called APSHO (Advanced Practice Society of Hematology and Oncology). For several years my NP bestie/colleague, Rachel, and I go to this jammed packed conference together to invest in ourselves through continuing education.

So what can I do as a nurse practitioner? With my advanced clinical training, I am able to assess patients by reviewing medical histories, performing physical examinations, and ordering or performing various diagnostic tests. I am also able to diagnose and treat various conditions and illnesses. The treatment prescribed may include prescription medication, therapy, or referral to a specialist. Additionally, I provide health and disease prevention education and disease state education.

Nurse practitioners are able to practice independently or in collaboration with other health care professionals including physicians. The type of practice depends on the state in which the NP practices and the specialty. As an NP in hematology and oncology, I work in collaboration with the hematologist/oncologist. As a team, we manage our patients along with the other clinical staff.

It’s National Nurse Practitioner Week and I am striving to educate and empower you regarding health cares best secret weapon...the nurse practitioner.

This is post number three in the Nurse Practitioner Week series. Stay tuned as it comes to a close.

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