Transitioning from RN to Nurse Practitioner: What You Need to Know

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A nurse practitioner meeting with parent and child patients

The shift from people working as registered nurses (RNs) to nurse practitioners (NPs) has been described as complex, stressful, and exciting. As autonomous caregivers, NPs face new roles that present unfamiliar challenges and potential stumbling blocks. Even former RNs who attended the top nursing schools can face imposter syndrome, the fear that others will discover them as frauds despite years of experience and training.

Those considering transitioning from RN to nurse practitioner can help fill a dire need in the health care system. Projected job growth for nurse practitioners is 52% between 2020 and 2030, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. While the role can be challenging, it can also be very rewarding, offering NPs the chance to become leaders who have a positive impact on the lives of others.

Tips for Transitioning from RN to Nurse Practitioner

The NP workforce is essential to meeting the increasing challenges of health care access nationwide, such as ongoing nursing and physician shortages. With their experience as RNs and advanced education, NPs are positioned to improve health care outcomes.

Multiple studies have looked at the struggles of first-year NPs and produced guidelines for a smooth transition. The following are some suggestions:

1. Consider a Postgraduate Residency Program

A postgraduate residency program can ease the transition to becoming an NP. These programs are designed to help individuals gain experience, foster confidence in their abilities, and prepare them to make immediate contributions.

While there are some employee-sponsored postgraduate residency programs, the number is limited. Some of the leading NP education programs, including the ones offered by Duquesne University’s online post-master’s certificate programs, offer certification programs in a wide range of nurse practitioner specialties.

2. Set Realistic Goals for New Jobs

As licensed independent practitioners who provide primary care in acute and long-term settings, NPs are expected to use the scientific process and national standards of care for managing patients, setting patient care priorities, interacting and leading collaborative health and medical efforts, and acting as patient advocates, and more.

While the leading graduate nursing programs prepare students for the challenges that come with a transition from RN to NP, new graduates also can be overwhelmed by the challenges of the position in real-world applications.

In seeking a new job, ask about the patient load, work hours, available administrative and clinical support, and job expectations. Ensuring job requirements are commensurate with skills is important for success and satisfaction.

3. Overcome Insecurities and Fears

Anxiety about beginning professional work as an NP can be overwhelming, prompting what is commonly called imposter syndrome. This condition refers to feelings of inadequacy in a new role. While not listed as an official psychological diagnosis, it can still have profoundly negative effects.

For NPs, a combination of achievement pressure and a lack of experience can trigger imposter syndrome. Experts recommend sharing your feelings with supportive and encouraging mentors, making realistic assessments of personal abilities, and curtailing the use of social media.

4. Remember Why You Became an NP

The goal of NPs is, in part, to treat patients holistically and compassionately with the skill that comes with autonomous practice. NPs are not doctors but fill primary care needs nationwide. Researchers have found that the best NPs are empathetic, enthusiastic, tenacious, creative and trustworthy.

On its website, the American Association of Nurse Practitioners says NPs “deliver a unique blend of nursing and medical care, assisting patients in making better lifestyle and health care decisions.”

NPs have more opportunities than ever because in most states they are legally permitted to operate without supervision from physicians. They practice preventive care; help patients manage chronic medical conditions; and provide high-quality, cost-effective services.

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

Students transitioning from an RN to a nurse practitioner role must have completed a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree program, passed the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN), and completed a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree program.  Most states require NPs to successfully complete the American Association of Nurse Practitioners Certification Program (AANPCP) exam or the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) Family Nurse Practitioner exam.

Students enrolled in an MSN program can also choose to concentrate on a specialized area of practice or patient demographic. Duquesne offers MSN specializations in Adult-Gerontology Acute Care, Executive Nurse Leadership and Health Care Management, Family Nurse Practitioner, Forensic Nursing, Nurse Education and Faculty Role, and Psychiatric-Mental Health.

RNs who already have an MSN degree can learn specialized skills as well. Duquesne offers post-master’s certificates in Adult-Gerontology Acute Care, Executive Nurse Leadership and Health Care Management, Family Nurse Practitioner, Forensic Nursing, Nursing Education and Faculty Role, and Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner.

Make a Difference as a Nurse Leader

Duquesne has been a leader in online nursing education for years and has been recognized by U.S. News & World Report as the No. 2 school for nurse education in 2022. It has also been ranked among the Top 10 “military friendly” and “military spouse schools” for 2022-23 by Victory Media.

The university’s online MSN and online post-master’s certificate programs allow RNs to advance their careers in accordance with state and federal core competencies and assist in the growing need for qualified providers nationwide. Learn how Duquesne can prepare you for advanced practice roles in a critical field.

Recommended Reading

How Nurse Leaders Can Address Discrimination in Nursing

Trends in Nursing Education: What to Expect for the Future

What Are the 6 Principles of Trauma-Informed Care?


American Association of Nurse Practitioners, Standards of Practice for Nurse Practitioners

Community Catalyst, Primary Care: Expanding the Use of Nurse Practitioners

Healthline, “Understanding the American Nursing Shortage”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners

USA Today, “Here’s How to Solve the Looming Shortage of Doctors: Nurse Practitioners”

Verywell Mind, “What Is Imposter Syndrome?”