10 Tips for Becoming an Advanced Practice Nurse

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There are a number of opportunities for advancement in the nursing field. If you aspire to become a nurse leader or an advanced practice nurse, there are several important steps to consider before making your decision:

1. Determine your reasons for becoming an advanced practice nursenurse smiling and holding tablet

Like other nurses, advanced practice nurses are clinicians who are invested in keeping people happy and healthy. It’s often a rewarding career choice for those looking for a hands-on way of helping to save lives through working directly with patients.

In addition, becoming an advanced practice nurse can create unique career opportunities. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, demand for advanced practice nurses of all types — including nurse practitioners, midwives and anesthetists — is increasing at a rate much higher than for most other positions. Additionally, the average annual salary for advanced practice nurses comes out to $104,740, compared to $67,490 for nurses overall.

Advanced practice positions also give nurses greater autonomy. Those interested in taking on leadership roles and working with greater independence are likely to appreciate the many career options available for advanced practice nurses.

2. Get your degree

You should already be a registered nurse before taking the next step into advanced practice. Beyond experience, education is necessary to become an advanced practice nurse. While many nursing education programs require a bachelor’s degree for admission (preferably a BSN), others also accept applicants who have earned an associate’s degree.

For advanced practice nurses, a bachelor’s degree is only the beginning of their formal education. Entry-level requirements for advanced practice include some type of graduate degree in nursing, such as a master of science in nursing (MSN) or a doctor of nursing practice (DNP). These can be achieved through traditional in-person or online learning programs. While the type of program you choose will depend on your own personal situation and preferences, online programs offer a unique experience that allows you to work and learn simultaneously. These programs allow currently practicing clinicians with busy schedules to more easily continue their education. Additionally, accreditation through a reputable organization, such as the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), helps to ensure that you will be receiving a quality education from qualified nursing faculty.

3. Consider your specialty

With so many different types of advanced nursing careers, it’s important to narrow down your focus, ideally before beginning a graduate program. This allows you to find the degree program and clinical experience that align best with your goals.

Students in the online Master of Science in Nursing program at Maryville University can select from the following concentrations:

  • Family
  • Pediatric Primary Care
  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care
  • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care
  • Psychiatric Mental Health

Once you have selected a field, the specialized graduate program can help prepare you for relevant certifications.

4. Plan out your career…

Advanced practice nursing is the type of career that takes years of education and experience to establish. While you don’t have to iron out every detail, having a map of where you’d like to go is important. Plotting out a general timeline can help you keep on top of key deadlines and requirements.

5. … but keep an open mind

One of the key advantages in advanced practice nursing is the wide variety of career path options. While you may decide that the traditional clinician role is right for you, with an MSN you might also end up choosing a career in education, research or hospital administration. Consider exploring these options, especially early on in your nursing career.

6. Find a mentor

The right advanced practice nurse mentor can help you learn from his or her own experiences, which can include key insights not readily found in textbooks. A mentor might be one of your professors, a co-worker or an alumnus of your graduate program. Local mentors can be especially helpful, potentially giving you specific unique guidance for navigating the health system in your area.

7. Look into advanced practice nursing professional organizations

There are dozens of professional organizations for nurses in the U.S., including ones specifically focused on advanced practice nursing and a number of its specialties. Membership to one or more of these can be good for keeping up with the latest developments in your field, as well as providing a potentially valuable networking resource. Of particular note, some advanced practice nursing organizations offer student memberships paired with special mentorship programs.

8. Get as much hands-on clinical experience as you can

Many individuals interested in advanced practice nursing already have extensive clinical experience as a nurse. Along with the experience necessary to first become a registered nurse, aspiring advanced practice nurses benefit from additional hands-on work with patients. This has the two-fold benefit of continuing your training while also strengthening your resume. Early clinical experience is also likely to help with career planning and deciding on a concentration later on.

9. Research local laws involving advanced nursing and health care in general

Licensing requirements for nurse practitioners and other advanced practice nurses can vary significantly between states. It’s important to investigate local laws, especially those pertaining to the state in which you currently live or any other location you are considering practicing in. Such information can be found on each state’s Board of Nursing website. Additionally, those interested in opening their own practices and operating independently as nurse practitioners should keep in mind that only 23 states — along with the District of Columbia — give nurses full practice rights.

10. Apply to the degree program that suits your needs

There is no one-size-fits-all education for a field as diverse as advanced practice nursing, which is why it’s so crucial to carefully research your options. Visit Maryville University online to learn more about your options including a 100% online DNP degree.

The RN to BSN, MSN, Post-Master’s Nurse Practitioner Certificate, and DNP programs at Maryville University are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, 655 K Street, NW, Suite 750, Washington, DC 20001, 202-887-6791.


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook – Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook – Registered Nurses

American Association of Nurse Practitioners – State Practice Environment

American Association of Colleges of Nursing – CCNE Accreditation