Most APRN master’s programs take two years.

Most APRN master’s programs take two years.

If nursing is your delight and you’re ready to take a stab at moving up in the world, one way to do so is to make the move from RN to APRN. You might like the sound of that, but you'll probably have to explain to your best buds that an APRN is an advanced practice registered nurse. Get ready to hit the book because you’ll have to go back to school.

Advancing to the Next Level

An APRN has a greatly expanded scope of practice compared to the average RN, even if that average RN has an advanced degree. The APRN’s duties include extensive physical assessment, medical diagnosis, ordering diagnostic and lab tests, and prescribing medicine -- most of the functions a physician performs. Some APRNs even deliver babies and administer anesthesia. To get there, you must complete a minimum of a master’s degree, obtain a new nursing license and -- in most states -- be certified in your specialty.

Picking and Choosing

You’ll find four flavors of APRNs beyond the plain vanilla RN. Nurse practitioners can be the nursing version of a family doctor or specialize in a field such as orthopedics or cardiology. Clinical nurse specialists are -- as the title implies -- clinical experts in a particular area such as pediatric care or a disease such as diabetes. Nurse midwives provide prenatal and gynecological care. They can’t perform cesarean sections, but can do pretty much anything else for a pregnant woman. Certified registered nurse anesthetists -- as you might expect -- deliver anesthesia, but they are also specialists in pain management.

A Different Kind of Training

Although each of the other four APRNs is trained with a single focus, nurse practitioners are trained both for the specialty they will practice and for a work setting. An NP might specialize in adult, adult-gerontology, psychiatric or pediatric care. Your work setting could be primary care, acute or critical care. An APRN's certifications also match her training. Because of this specialized training, it’s a little unusual to find an adult primary care NP, for example, working in a pediatric intensive care unit. Nurse anesthetists, on the other hand, can be found in any area of anesthesia practice -- inpatient, outpatient or even dentists' offices.

Make the Leap

How you become an NP depends on your current educational preparation. If you have a diploma or associate degree, you start by upgrading to a bachelor’s. You can do this in the standard fashion by repeating or taking any additional classes you need to qualify. Once you have a master’s you can go on for a doctorate, although this is not required to practice as an APRN. If you already have a bachelor's or master’s in nursing, you can go straight into an APRN program. After graduation, you’ll need to upgrade your license, as APRNs have a different license than RNs. Finally, you must take and pass the certification exams, and you’re ready to practice.

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About the Author

Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.

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