Steps to Becoming an Emergency Nurse Practitioner

If you enjoy the thought of helping others and making a difference to people in your local community, then you may have considered a career in healthcare. The healthcare industry is one that offers the prospect of caring for others with skill and compassion and can truly improve lives. In America, one in eight people are employed in the healthcare industry in a diverse range of fields from medicine to physiotherapy. A career in healthcare tends to be characterized as having no two days that are quite the same. Patients have a wide range of injuries and ailments, and situations can change from minute to minute. If you like the idea of treating patients who are seriously ill in emergency departments and offering potentially lifesaving interventions and treatments, you may consider the role of the emergency nurse practitioner. Keeping a cool head and remaining calm in time-critical situations are key attributes required in this role. This article explores some of the main steps involved to become an emergency nurse practitioner.

Understand the role

As a starting point, it is important to understand the broad scope of the role of an emergency nurse practitioner (ENP) to be certain that it sounds right for you. An ENP works primarily in the emergency department of a hospital. Here some of the most seriously ill patients, from all age groups and backgrounds come for rapid treatment, often under emergency conditions as the result of serious illness, trauma, or life-threatening injuries. The ENP will be expected to assess, diagnose, and treat these patients quickly and effectively, sometimes in time-critical circumstances. Obviously, key skills involve being able to think quickly and clearly whilst under pressure in an environment that can often be emotionally charged and stressful. In addition, ENPs should have effective communication skills and be able to explain treatments and care plans with lucidity to a range of healthcare professionals, patients, and any relatives. Prioritization and multitasking skills should be highly developed to allow dynamic treatment plans to be formulated and to react effectively to changing situations.

Become a registered nurse

There are several important qualifications that must be completed before being able to apply for the role of ENP. Firstly, all applicants should become registered nurses. This is obtained by undertaking a bachelor’s degree of nursing (BSN) or by gaining an associate’s degree. Once graduation is complete you may be required to undertake a further exam to become licensed as a registered nurse although this may depend on the country you intend to practice. Generally, the process of becoming a registered nurse can take between eighteen months and four years. A lot depends on what previous qualifications and experience you hold and if any of these are transferable to the world of healthcare.

Postgraduate degree

Once you have successfully graduated and become a registered nurse the next step is to gain a post-graduate degree. At this point in the process, a registered nurse may decide to undertake some real-world nursing in a hospital or other healthcare setting before continuing education. This can be a valuable platform to gain practical experience in a day-to-day healthcare setting and become highly competent in key nursing skills. Remember that the goal of reaching the ENP level takes time, study, and significant amounts of sustained effort. Depending on your personal preferences you may want to delay further formal qualifications in favor of practical on-the-job experience or you may wish to continue your academic studies. When you are ready for your postgraduate degree, it will normally be a Master of Nursing (MSN) or a related postgraduate degree in nursing. These degrees tend to take between eighteen to twenty four months to complete depending on your schedule and whether you undertake the program on a full-time basis or alongside practical work.

Specialist training in ED

After gaining a relevant postgraduate degree in nursing you will subsequently need to gain comprehensive knowledge of how to work effectively in an emergency department setting. There are three main ways to achieve this. Firstly, it can be done by undertaking real-world clinical practice in an emergency department in the form of continued education and clinical practice. Secondly, it can be achieved via an approved and recognized emergency fellowship program. Finally, it may also be possible to undertake further postgraduate qualifications that are specifically related to the role in an ED setting and provide comprehensive and tailored learning for ENPs.

Take the ENP exam

The final stage in gaining suitable qualifications and knowledge to allow full practice as an ENP is to take the ENP exam. This exam takes three hours to complete and consists of 135 questions that are designed to test a wide range of clinical scenarios within the ED and the resultant knowledge required to treat patients in this setting. The exam is split into two sections (called domain practice one and domain practice two). Domain practice one involves key topics such as medical screening and decision-making skills, and knowledge of legal and ethical considerations amongst other topics. Domain practice two involves the testing of in-depth clinical knowledge on a range of specific disorders such as those occurring in the cardiovascular system and nervous system, to name two. You can find a more comprehensive description of the subjects tested on the ENP exam here.

Future career progression

After finally achieving the status as a fully qualified ENP you will want to spend several years using your skills to treat seriously ill patients in the ED setting. For some ENPs, this will be where they want to stay for the rest of their careers and focus their time and energy. Whilst an ENP can be a suitable endpoint in terms of career progression, it does not necessarily need to be so for practitioners who want to further develop their skills or specialize in other areas. There may be opportunities to move up into more senior roles in public health, the growing field of telemedicine or health education. It all depends on your aspirations and preferred areas of specialization.