If you’ve worked in nursing for a while and are thinking of taking your career to the next level – or if you’re just starting out in the field and are thinking about your long-term career trajectory – you might be considering Advanced Practice Nursing in the state of California. This subset of nurses includes Nurse Practitioners, Nurse Midwives, Nurse Anesthetists and Clinical Nurse Specialists, among a few others.
Nurse Practitioners (NPs) are among the most common choice for those getting advanced nursing degrees, so many people are curious exactly how you obtain this degree in California.
Below, we’ll talk about the following:
- Why you might become an NP
- What kind of degree you need
- Choosing a specialty for certification
- How and why to get certified
- Application process.
After that, you’re ready to work as a Nurse Practitioner in California!
Why Become a Nurse Practitioner?
Nurse Practitioners have advanced training in diagnosing and treating illnesses. They see patients, assess their health, diagnosis and prescribe treatment options for various mental and physical conditions, and give physical exams to a wide range of ages, from children to the elderly. They focus on prevention, wellness and education of the patients they see.
From this definition, it likely seems like Nurse Practitioners are very similar to physicians, and that’s true. Doctors, however, seek to cure diseases, while Nurse Practitioners seek to heal people. The main interest of many doctors is to identify and learn more about diseases to add to the overall body of medicine, while nurses attend more to the individual patients. This is not to say that doctors don’t try to heal people, simply that nurses have a more people-focused standard of care.
If you are at the start of a healing career and want to explore all options, you might consider a medical degree. On the other hand, if you are interested in helping people heal, stay well and understand how best to treat their bodies, become an NP is likely a good career path for you, especially if you’ve worked as an RN for a while and want to continue in nursing.
Note that in order to become certified as an RN, you must already be certified as a Registered Nurse. If you are not, this is the first step toward become a Nurse Practitioner. Also note that while in other states NPs can work without oversight and own their own practices, this is not true in California; you must be supervised by a physician.
Getting the NP Degree
In order to work as an NP, you must first earn your Master of Science in Nursing. In fact, every ANP career requires a master’s degree. The only exception is the Public Health Nurse, which is an Advanced Nursing Practice position but only requires a bachelor’s degree. In some places, nurse practitioners are required to have a Doctorate of Nursing Practice Degree (DNP), but in most states and medical settings, the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) still works just fine.
You have several options for how to meet the degree requirements, but this is where it gets a little confusing. You do have to hold a master’s degree to get certification, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be from an ANP-specific program. For instance, if you have an MSN in another area, but have worked in your chosen specialty area in another role, you may be able to prove competency and meet the requirements for certification.
The other choices are to earn an MSN in your specialty area at an in-state institution, or to earn credits in an equivalent program that the state board deems equivalent to approved in-state programs.
Choose a NP Specialty
While still in school or beforehand, you will choose your specialty. If you want to help put patients under before surgery, for instance, you would become a Nurse Anesthetist. Here are the specialties:
- Nurse practitioner (NP)
- Nurse-midwife (NMW)
- Nurse anesthetist (NA)
- Clinical nurse specialist (CNS)
- Public health nurse (PHN)
- Psychiatric/mental health nurse (PMH)
Obviously, to become a Nurse Practitioner, you would choose that as your specialty.
Getting National Certification: How and Why
National certification is a process whereby you submit several documents to your certifying agency and pass a competency-based examination based in your specialty area. Once certified, you are approved to work in that specialty area, though not in other Advanced Nursing Practice Areas.
There are a few reasons to get nationally certified. If you want to be a Nurse Anesthetist, you don’t have a choice, but the rest of the specialties can decide whether or not to earn certification at the national level. The main reason is that it fulfills state certification requirements in California. Since you have to take a test anyway to become an NP, it makes sense to get a national certification that will be recognized by other states, should you ever choose to move.
Following is a list of national certifying agencies:
- American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP)
- American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
- National Certification Corporation for the Obstetric, Gynecologic and Neonatal Nursing Specialties (NCC)
- American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN)
- Pediatric Nursing Certification Board
Each certification agency offers certification for some or all of the specialties, so you are free to choose among those that offer your specialty. Once you pass your examination, you must then remit all necessary paperwork to the agency in order for them to process your application.
Submit Your Paperwork
As discussed above, you can either get certified by a national certification agency or through a California agency such as the California Board of Registered Nursing. However, the California Board of Nursing will accept certifications from an array of national agencies. If you are unsure, check on the California board’s website.
Specific requirements for certification vary by agency, but they will most likely include some version of the following documents:
- Completion of Nurse Practitioner Program Form
- Verification of Nurse Practitioner Certification Form
- Two copies of the Verification of Clinical Competency as a Nurse Practitioner Form, one submitted by a supervising nurse practitioner and one by a physician – the latter is used if you graduate from an NP program that doesn’t meet Board standards
- Verification of Clinical Experience Form, used only if you graduate from an NP program not recognized by the Board
- Transcriptions from your Nurse Practitioner program, sent directly from your school to the certifying agency
- Curriculum and course descriptions from any program that doesn’t meet Board standards
- Application fee
- Passport-style photograph (2” x 2”)
That’s it. Then all you have to do is wait for your certification to come back. If you have provided all of the right information, you are now eligible to apply for jobs as a Nurse Practitioner in California.
Best of luck to you!