You're a Certified NP - Now What?
I still remember how much my hands were shaking when I clicked "Submit" at the end of my nurse practitioner certification exam. The exam proctor told me to wait as I listened to a printer nearby slowly decide my fate. The proctor was nonchalant as she handed me the freshly printed piece of paper. "Congratulations," she said. "You passed."
There are few feelings similar to how I felt when I passed my nurse practitioner certification exam. I was completely elated. I was relieved. Most of all, though, I was exhausted. I would be lying if I said that the months after passing my exam were fully productive and filled with checking off to-do list items and exercising everyday. In fact, it was the exact opposite. To sum it up, I spent about 3 months lounging in my couch all day, watching Bachelor in Paradise episodes and eating a lot of junk food. Super productive, I know. But my body was definitely in need of some sort of resting period. Which brings me to the topic of this post.
You're now a Certified Nurse Practitioner, and you want to get the ball rolling, but what do you do now? There are several measures you can take to jumpstart your productivity after getting certified.
You probably weren't expecting "rest" to be at the top of the list. However, you just completed graduate school. You spent the last few years learning challenging concepts and developing your clinical skills. When in those last few years did you really spend time taking a break away from the stress of grad school curriculum, and clinical practice? From my experience, many people end up starting their new nurse practitioner jobs right after graduation. While this may seem like a good idea at first, it can be very challenging to take a vacation once you start a new position. Nevertheless, just because you decide to rest doesn't mean that you have to be lazy or unproductive. In fact, I encourage you rest productively. The difference now is that you are able to dictate your schedule. Use this time after graduation to start creating goals, researching potential employers, and focusing on the next step in your career. However, during this time, it is also important to remember to relax. Productivity is being efficient, but it also means making sure that your own self-care needs are met, so that you can be your best self. When you feel better, you are likely to see a number of benefits.
You've processed a lot of information during your time as a graduate student. You've met a lot of preceptors, patients, and instructors. You've also gone through multiple clinical rotations. Now it's time to reflect and do a bit of soul-searching. Did your experiences as a student change the way you feel about your goals prior to starting school? When I first started graduate school, I had spent several years in the hospital as a telemetry nurse. That being said, I had found my passion in cardiovascular health. I thought that this passion would carry on in my nurse practitioner career. But, I was wrong. During my NP education, I was able to do rotations in a cardiac clinic. The work was interesting, but I did not feel as passionate about the specialty as I presumed. In fact, I found myself more drawn to other specialty rotations I had done. It's great to take note of all of these sorts of conflicting feelings, and remember the experiences you had. What did you like, and what didn't you like? All of this information will be helpful for the next step.
When I say "career prep," I'm not referring to "applying to hundreds of NP jobs aimlessly and seeing what sticks." I'm referring to evaluating the job prospects that you're interested in. You've now done some soul-searching and you're grasping what kind of career would be of interest. Using this information, you can really narrow your employer pool and make more targeted decisions to get you the career that more closely aligns with what you want. Also, think back to when you were in grad school - what resources were available to you, whether in class, in clinical rotations, or at a workshop? I can say from experience that clinical rotations were a key way to not only learn, but to network and increase your employment options. In particular, I kept careful note of the teams working in the clinics, the atmosphere and environment of the work, and how the clinic was run. I also observed how I felt while I was in the clinic - was I eager to learn on days that I went to that particular clinic? Or was I dragging my feet until the end of the day? All of these factors really helped me determine if I could see myself working at that clinic. In the end, I was offered 3 jobs before I graduated. Two of those jobs were from my clinical rotations. You have a wide variety of access to resources during graduate school, whether you realize or not. Be sure to use those resources!
Networking is perhaps the best way to really learn about what opportunities are out there. While you are out of school and taking time off from studying, consider starting your networking plans. Are you involved in any national organizations or statewide organizations for NPs? If so, have you attended any meetings or events? It's time to mark your calendar! You may have heard the saying that "80% of job openings are not advertised." While I cannot confirm if this statement itself is a hard fact, I can tell you firsthand that networking can lead you to a job that (1) you never knew existed, and (2) has not been posted yet. In fact, I've found out about the majority of my job opportunities by networking. When done effectively, networking may lead you to endless opportunities, as I have experienced. I would argue that it is the single most important part of your career prep.
Not surprisingly, I didn't have much time to read for leisure while I was in grad school. So, I took the time post-graduation to really start picking up some books that were related to the career I wanted to be in. There are so many experts out there who have fantastic reading material. I've learned so much information from these authors, and their advice most definitely contributed to my career prep. If there's a topic you're interested in, pick up a book and start reading. Or, you can do what I did and listen to audiobooks during long car rides, while exercising or taking a walk, or even just have it playing in the background as you cook a meal. This doesn't have to be stressful graduate-level reading. This is strictly reading to broaden your knowledge about topics that you are interested in.
You've had a lot to think about up until this point, and you've already been through a lot: graduation, applying for licensure, passing boards, etc. But post-graduation is really YOU time. So go ahead, watch those episodes of Bachelor in Paradise without feeling guilty. You deserve it. Just make sure you spend some time in-between episodes to grab your pen and paper and start brainstorming.