How Do I Become an Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner?

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There are a number of different specialties that a nurse practitioner can choose to pursue, depending on what his or her interests are — from mental health and psychiatry to women's health or pediatric nursing. One of the broadest credentials a nurse practitioner can earn is in a branch of adult-gerontology: either acute care or primary care.

An adult-gerontology nurse practitioner (AGNP) in acute care works with patients throughout their adult life who suffer from acute illnesses or injuries. An AGNP in primary care also works with a broad patient population that includes adults of all ages, but does so on a more ongoing basis. This position includes more health promotion and check ups than acute treatment.

The paths to becoming either type of AGNP are quite similar, but certainly require a degree of dedication and academic prowess in addition to a strong desire to help patients live the healthiest lives possible.

Certifications and Requirements to Become an Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner

In order to become an AGNP, nurses must first become Registered Nurses (RNs). This involves completing an undergraduate degree in nursing and applying for licensure from a state board of nursing. Although nursing licenses are regulated at a state level, in every state nurses should expect to take the NCLEX exam in order to obtain an RN license. Prospective RNs will also be subjected to fingerprinting and a criminal background check before they can begin to practice.

In addition to being an RN in good standing, AGNPs must have a board certified credential from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) in either adult-gerontology acute care or adult-gerontology primary care. This credential allows nurses to earn their nurse practitioner license from the state where they intend to practice. Nurses in states where NPs are allowed prescribing privileges will also need to apply for a DEA number if they plan to prescribe controlled substances.

Steps to Becoming an Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner

Not every nurse will follow the same steps to becoming an adult-gerontology nurse practitioner, but this is the outline for the career path for many nurses in this specialty, allowing for a large degree of flexibility in order to accommodate different lifestyles.

  1. Graduate High School (4 years): Graduating from high school is an essential first step to becoming an AGNP, since it a requirement for attending an undergraduate program. Those who are unable to complete a traditional high school program can pursue a General Equivalency Degree (GED).
  2. Attend an Undergraduate Program (2 to 4 years): Becoming an RN is prerequisite to becoming a nurse practitioner, and required an undergraduate education. The most common track is for aspiring adult gerontology nurse practitioners to pursue a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree. However, those who are unable to complete a 4 year degree at this time can earn an associate degree in nursing and still become an RN, postponing their BSN studies. Students should ensure that the program they attend is approved by the state in which they plan to practice, since that can affect future licensing.
  3. Practice as an RN (duration varies):Upon completing an undergraduate program, students are eligible to apply for RN licensing. This process requires sitting for the NCLEX exam as well as submitting to a background check and fingerprinting. Exact requirements vary by state, but this general process is similar across the country. Once certified, nurses should expect to practice as an RN for some span of time before applying to graduate school. While this is not strictly required, it is quite common, with the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) finding that RNs spend an average of 10 years in practice as RNs before pursuing an NP track. This provides valuable time to determine whether the NP career is right for the nurse, as well as which specialty they are most drawn to.
  4. Attend Bridge Program (1 to 2 years if necessary): For those nurses who were unable to complete a four-year undergraduate program initially, it will be necessary to attend an RN to MSN bridge program. These accelerated programs allow registered nurses to earn their bachelor of science in nursing degree at the same time as their master of science in nursing degree.
  5. Attend Graduate Program (2 to 3 years): It is at the graduate level that nurse will have to choose to specialize in adult-gerontology. Nurses can choose to pursue either an MSN or a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree. The duration of either program will depend on how much time the nurse is able to commit. Many programs are offered online so that nurses can continue to work as an RN during their studies. Again, students should ensure that the program they choose is recognized by the state where they want to practices.
  6. Earn AGNP Credential: In order to complete the AGNP process, graduates of an MSN or DNP program must earn their adult-gerontology credentials from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). AGNPs can earn their credential as either an Acute Care AGNP (AGACNP-BC) or a Primary Care AGNP (AGPCNP-BC). The ANCC website has further details about specific eligibility requirements in terms of courses, but generally speaking applicants must have completed their graduate studies, have an RN license in good standing, and must sit for an ANCC sponsored exam. Upon completion of the application and exam, nurses will have to submit official educational transcripts for verification. Alternatively or additionally, adult-gerontology ACNP candidates may choose to earn an ACNPC-AG® credential from the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, and adult-gerontology PCNP candidates may choose to earn an A-GNP certification from the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB).
  7. Apply for NP License: States govern their own nurse practitioner licensing process. Once nurses have earned their AGNP credential, they can apply through the state board of nursing for the NP license. Like the RN license, this generally requires a background check and fingerprinting along with proof that the nurse has completed his or her preceptorship during the course of his or her graduate degree.
  8. Apply for Prescribing Privileges: In some states, nurse practitioners are able to prescribe medications to their patients. The process of obtaining prescribing privileges is separate from NP licensing. Nurses should check with the state board of nursing or a local nurse practitioner organization to determine the process for themselves.
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