The title of Advanced Practice Nurse (APN), also known as Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN), is a blanket title that covers a wide range of nursing practices. Courses of study and certifications include nurse practitioner (NP), certified nurse midwife (CNM), certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), or clinical nurse specialist (CNS). Most APNs are registered nurses with advanced training and education, and they have similar levels of experience as physicians. APNs must pass national licensing exams in order to practice and must maintain their licenses.

Prerequisites for Becoming an APN

Those who seek the APN certification are RNs who seek further education and a change from working on staff or science students who aren’t interested in staff nursing positions. The difference between the RN and the student is that the RN has already obtained “in field” experience. This difference is debated among widely, as both have strong and weak points when entering the APN field. Some argue that RN experience is vital for embracing nursing as a practice, and others argue that students who advance to the required master’s or doctoral degree for APN service can enter the field with fresh eyes if they continue their education without experience as an RN.

In both cases, the prerequisites for becoming an APN include the highest education possible (MSN or PhD) in nursing.

How to become an APN

The requirements for entry into most APN programs include the BSN, a registered nurse license and one year minimum in acute care nursing experience. On the other hand, a number of advanced practice programs now consider applicants from students in bachelor degree programs. Some schools carry a BSN/MSN degree, which allows students to work toward completing both degrees without a break to practice as an RN. The requirements to remain in this program are stringent, as students must maintain a grade point average of 3.0 or higher in the undergraduate portion to remain in the program. Statistics have shown that BSN/MSN students do just as well through the program, if not better, and pass certification exams at the same rate as traditional APN grads. On the minus side, the BSN/MSN student may lack confidence in clinical skills when compared to those APN students who have had experience as an RN.

Careers Available After Becoming an APN

APNs work throughout the U.S. in a variety of health care environments. Some APNs have their own practices, but most work in collaboration with a physician. Many APNs can prescribe medications, order and evaluate diagnostic and laboratory tests and refer to specialists and other community services to serve their patients. APNs practice in a variety of health arenas, unlike the CNS (clinical nurse specialist), who focuses on a certain specialty. APNs can serve in pediatrics, family practice, geriatrics, oncology, cardiology, midwifery and anesthesia. The NP (nurse practitioner) APN can evaluate and treat individuals who suffer with acute illnesses, chronic diseases and pain. They also can provide preventative health care services such as physicals and immunizations.

The APN practice has become popular for RNs and students, as it offers more autonomy, a more desirable work schedule and — in many cases — a better than average salary. Of the 2.2 million working nurses in the US, about nine percent are APNs.