Essential “To Dos” from before graduation through your first NP job

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There’s a lot that needs to be done after you graduate from NP school. Often, many of these things aren’t discussed very clearly in school, making you feel overwhelmed after you graduate. What adds to the confusion and stress is that the timeline for various required tasks is not streamlined— there can be long delays between certain requirements as they are reviewed by outside agencies. So being aware of what needs to be done and by when can help you proactively stay on top of all your requirements.

There are generally 7 steps you need to take from before graduation through your first job as an NP. We’ll discuss each of the essential “to-dos” to successfully and efficiently hit all your requirements to enter practice smoothly.

Nurse Practitioner Transition into Practice Timeline

1. Create a Board-Certification study plan

In your final semester of school as a nurse practitioner student, you should be deciding which board certification agency you want to get board-certified under. You might not have an option to choose—some NP specialties like Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner students will all take the ANCC (American Nurses Credentialing Center) because there are no other options. But other NP specialties, like Adult-Gerontology Primary Care students, can choose between the ANCC or the AANPCB (American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board). Take the time to decide which agency you will be certified under and if you don’t have an option, know which agency you will be required to certify under.

After you have decided which agency you will certify under, you should create a study plan which includes how long you want to study for and when you plan to take your board exams. If you’re planning on taking a board certification prep course, map out your study plan, so you stay organized.  

2. Apply for your NPI number

Many students don’t know that they can obtain their National Provider Identifier (NPI) number while still a student. An NPI number is required for all providers to obtain, and getting it while still a student is convenient and removes one thing you need to do after you graduate from the list of your To-Dos. You can apply for an NPI number here. NPI numbers are usually obtained within 10 days of electronic application submission.

There’s no one specific time you should get your NPI number. You can get it a few months before graduating, right after graduation, right before you land your first job, or just after. Know that you will need an NPI number to practice and that it is free to obtain.

3. Apply for Board-Certification

Applying for board certification is sort of a pain. The application process requires you to submit many different pieces of documentation, such as proof of official transcript (directly from your school) showing you have completed your program, among other documents. These documents don’t need to be submitted all at once, but they do all need to be submitted before the board certifying agency will review and process your application.

Required documents vary by the certification agency. The ANCC, for example, requires you to submit a ‘Validation of Education’ form that is completed by your school’s program director and shows proof of completion of required classes.

4. Schedule your exam

After your application has been reviewed, your certifying board will permit you to schedule a test date. Do this as soon as possible, with your study plan in mind because testing sites can fill up. Make sure you have accounted for your study plan and are ready to test by the time you have scheduled the test date.

5. Apply for state licensure

After you have passed board exams, you will be eligible to obtain your state licensure. State licensure allows you to practice as an NP in your state. Without having your APRN license, you are unable to practice as an NP. Just being board-certified does not allow you to practice. Remember this! It can take several weeks for your license to be processed, and processing time varies by state.

6. Apply for DEA license

Once you have your APRN license, you are eligible to apply for your DEA license. A DEA license grants you the ability to prescribe controlled substances as a prescriber. Know that you are not required to prescribe controlled substances as an NP. Some employers want you to have the ability to prescribe controlled substances but know this is a preference and that it is up to you to decide if it’s a license you want to obtain and a class of medications you want to prescribe.

A DEA license is a federally regulated license that is renewed every 3 years. As of October 2020, the cost of a DEA license for an APRN is $888. The cost was increased from $731. Before October 2020, the fee was last increased in 2012. So, know that the fee doesn’t change every 3-year cycle, but it does creep up over time and isn’t a small expense.

7. Start first job and engage in private supervision with an experienced clinician

At this point, you are board-certified. You have your APRN license, your DEA license, and your NPI number. The next steps involve starting your first job and officially entering practice. The journey does not end here as there is a lot to learn as you enter practice.

Finding an experienced clinician to regularly review complex patient cases and answer your clinical questions can help build confidence and competence. Read this post to learn why all new NPs should be working with an experienced clinician for private supervision.

So those are the 7 essential “To-Dos” to be aware of your final semester of school to transition successfully into practice.

If you want more structured guidance on everything you need to know and do to successfully transition into practice with confidence and support, check out my course that walks you through all the steps to take from before graduation through your first job.  

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