Once you’ve obtained your registered nurse (RN) license, you meet the qualifications for a number of entry-level positions. Over time, if you become interested in expanding your job opportunities, honing a nursing specialty and widening the scope of your medical authority, consider becoming an advanced practice nurse (APN).
An APN retains all the rights and privileges of an RN as well as some that are normally handled by physicians. They have the ability to provide primary and specialty care, and in many states, they can write prescriptions.
There are a variety of advanced practice roles available to nurses in just about any clinical specialty you want. Here are four common specialties along with general guidelines for entering the field:
Nurse practitioners can perform physicals, administer vaccinations, diagnose and treat acute illnesses and chronic conditions, analyze x-rays and lab tests and provide healthcare information. They have the legal authority to prescribe medications in all 50 states and practice independently without doctor supervision in 23 states.
How to become a nurse practitioner: A nurse practitioner’s background includes a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and certification in your chosen specialty.
Clinical Nurse Specialists
These nurses are trained to provide acute care, mental health services and diagnose and treat conditions in a specific clinical field. They also develop quality assurance standards and serve on the faculty of nursing schools across the country.
How to become a clinical nurse specialist: RNs interested in becoming a clinical nurse specialist must have a BSN and an MSN with a focus on a clinical nursing specialty. They must also pass the National Nurses Licensing Exam and a Certified Nurse Specialist (CNS) exam.
Nurse-midwives focus on women’s health throughout their entire life span. They can perform gynecological exams, prescribe medications including contraceptives, order lab tests, provide prenatal and perinatal care, facilitate labor and delivery and provide newborn care for women with low-risk pregnancies. You can find them working in hospitals, birthing centers and private practice; many serve as home birth attendants. Certified nurse-midwives are legally authorized to practice in every state.
How to become a nurse-midwife: With related clinical experience and some graduate education, you can become certified by a professional association such the American College of Nurse-Midwives. Some organizations require RNs to have a bachelor’s degree in nursing prior to completing a nurse-midwife program.
A nurse anesthetist administers anesthetics and provides pain management for patients undergoing surgical procedures. They also monitor anesthetized patients during surgery and treat any complications. Nurse anesthetists work in hospitals, surgery centers, outpatient medical clinics and physicians’ offices. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics using data from May 2012, the mean annual wage for nurse anesthetists is $154,390.
How to become a nurse anesthetist: Nurse anesthetists have BSN and MSN degrees and experience in an acute care setting such as the ER or ICU. They also take the National Certification Exam to become a CRNA (Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist).