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What I Wish I Knew in Nurse Practitioner School

Wednesday, January 9, 2019   (3 Comments)
Posted by: Suzanna Rickman
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What I Wish I Knew in Nurse Practitioner School
By: Jonathan Fordyce

By now you’ve more than likely been to clinical once and asked yourself how you’re ever going to see as many patients as your preceptor does. You’ve also probably had your first big pathophysiology test that was a brutal reality-check that yes, you are in fact, now in graduate school. And most importantly, you now probably are beginning to understand the wealth of information you’re required to know, understand, and interpret as well as the responsibility that comes with being a nurse practitioner. As a recent graduate from UT Austin’s family nurse practitioner program, and now a practicing NP, I’m here to tell you—your chosen career path is worth it. NP school is tough, as it should be. And like most esteemed professional achievements, it does require hard work, sacrifice, and resilience. With that said, here are my recommendations for surviving the next two years, succeeding in your program, and coming out of school ready for your new professional role.

1) Make the Most of Your Clinical- Your clinical experience is truly what you make it out to be. This cannot be emphasized enough. Write down the rare diagnoses, abnormal lab work, or vague physical exam findings, research them when you have the chance, and try to make sense of the whole patient. Practice presenting succinct histories and physical exam findings to your preceptor. (Spoiler alert: as a practicing NP, you’ll still be doing this when you consult an MD or another multidisciplinary team member.) And most importantly, practice coming up with your own differentials and treatment plans. Do not let your clinical be simply a shadow experience. Challenge yourself to see the difficult and complicated patients, write the detailed and thorough SOAP note, and ask questions of anything you may not understand. The NP you become will thank you one day for making your clinical experience a worthwhile part of your education.

2) Subscribe to an EBP Peer-Reviewed Journal- Whatever your nurse practitioner specialty, find a reputable journal and make a habit of reading (or listening if you’re podcast savvy) at least monthly. These journals are excellent at highlighting clinically relevant information and explaining how it impacts clinical practice. NP school is a great setting to learn the details and the “why” of how we do things. Clinical-focused journals, however, are a great source to learn the “how” of things and often give excellent summarization of very broad concepts. Whether it’s a helpful clinical algorithm, opinionated letter to the editor, or significant research finding, you’ll start to understand the grey areas in medicine and grow your knowledge of topics outside of, or previously covered, in your NP curriculum. A little bit of extracurricular reading here and there over several months, adds up!

3) Involve Yourself with Professional Organizations- I know the thought of paying membership dues on top of tuition and books can be difficult to justify at first. But hear me out—professional organizations like TNP not only offer scholarships but are a great way to network with practicing NPs. Practicing NPs are potential preceptors, mentors, and yes, even possibly job connections one day. In addition to offering frequent continuing education opportunities, many professional organizations offer discounts on helpful clinical tools like Prescriber’s Letter, UpToDate, and even reputable board review courses. More importantly, these organizations work to defend, broaden, and define your scope of practice. As an NP one day, this will undoubtedly impact you. Consider joining a committee and seeing what you can do to help further our profession. It doesn’t just end with TNP; there are national, state, and even city NP organizations that deserve your membership consideration.

4) Cut Down on RN Work- I understand everyone’s financial situation will be different and the decision to take out loans for graduate school is not easy. I will tell you from personal experience though, I noticed a marked difference in both my academic and clinical performance in NP school between my first year as a part-time RN and my second year as a full-time student. Furthermore, NP school is about learning a completely new clinical role with a new scope of practice. I probably don’t have to tell you that jumping between the RN role back to the NP role is difficult. I’m certainly not saying that work and school simultaneously can’t be done; but, I am saying, that if you have the means or opportunity, I encourage you to cut back on your RN work and focus on your new professional role. It can make a substantial difference in what you get out of your studies and clinicals.

5) Get to Know Your Classmates- There is truly strength in numbers. Having good friends in NP school helps for two reasons. For one, having someone to commiserate with over the workload and stress of school can be really therapeutic. No one quite understands what you’re going through than another student in your program. Sometimes it’s just simple words of encouragement from a classmate or knowing that you’ve got a friend to get through that three hour pharmacology lecture with that can carry you through a long day. Secondly, your peers have their own strengths and RN experience to draw from. Studying with and helping one another in your studies can help you understand difficult concepts more thoroughly and realize the multiple methods and solutions to patient management.

6) Self-Care- You heard it in nursing school and it’s no different in NP school. Taking care of yourself and unplugging from NP school is vital to your well-being. Set at least half a day, or maybe even one night a week, to close the laptop and books, do something fun and, simply put, forget school. Those of you that enjoy exercise, I encourage you to make time to keep it up. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed in graduate school and especially when studying medicine. Finding healthy ways to relieve school stress and reconnect with friends or loved ones will sustain you for the long run.

I hope my words have offered at least some new insight or ideas on how to survive and make the most of your NP program. I wish you all the best in your studies and the start of your new career. And remember, above all else, our profession is one of continued learning. Don’t ever be afraid to question yourself, check clinical references or guidelines, or consult when you’re uncertain.


Sherri Gast says...
Posted Tuesday, February 12, 2019
Thank you for the insight! I especially like "avoid just being the shadow experience."
victtoria turner says...
Posted Wednesday, January 16, 2019
I appreciate your insight! There are many students who need to hear this. Thank you for taking the time to share your experiences!
Peggy Francis says...
Posted Wednesday, January 9, 2019
Well said and well written Jonathan - great advice. Welcome to the profession. I look forward to seeing your name in publication more as you advance in your career! I would also encourage any new graduates to take advantage of TNP's Entry to Practice conference in June.

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