Nurse practitioners are licensed, independent medical clinicians with expertise in a chosen specialty. They assess, diagnose, and treat illness by prescribing medicine, ordering and interpreting laboratory, imaging, and diagnostic tests, conducting patient counseling, and promoting overall patient health and medical care. There are nearly 220,000 of us, and that number is growing rapidly, with an estimated 20,000 new graduates every year.
So, what does it take to become a successful nurse practitioner? What are the training and educational requirements? Which qualities do our most masterful colleagues possess? Can I work as a family nurse practitioner for a family practice?
Empathy is the ability to be sensitive to and share in the feelings of another. It means understanding another person’s condition from their perspective. It’s what your parents meant when they said, “Try to put yourself in his or her shoes.” Some research using fMRIs has found that around 20 percent of people possess a special awareness to others’ emotions, which leads to a deeper ability to feel someone else’s feelings
Empathy is a key characteristic of a successful nurse practitioner. It allows us to feel what our patients are feeling and respond in a manner consistent with someone who genuinely cares about their well-being. Empathy is a powerful quality that enables us to be compassionate, kind, and authentic.
Feeling not-so-empathetic? That’s OK! Empathy is a muscle you can build through practice. An article published on the Berkely University blog identifies six habits of highly empathetic people. First, they possess an insatiable curiosity about strangers. They challenge their own prejudices and discover commonalities between themselves and people very different from them. These people also listen more than they talk and seem to be naturals at inspiring mass action and social change. By being conscious of these traits, you can choose to think and act in ways that better cultivate empathy.
Enthusiasm refers to intense and eager enjoyment, and it tends to be accompanied by a big grin and a list of questions. In my experience, the nurse practitioner students who are the most successful are the most enthusiastic and thus inquisitive. They must know everything there is to know and experience every opportunity they have. It was Socrates, the Greek philosopher, who believed that the poets’ inspirations came from enthusiasm.
Enthusiasm is an important characteristic for nurse practitioners. The most successful nurse practitioners are enthusiastic about their specialty, their patients, and their profession. They are eager to learn and eager to teach. They carry this joy throughout their career and it drives them into clinical, management, policy, and technology roles. They are proud to be nurse practitioners.
Don’t fret if your enthusiasm feels drained! Sometimes you need a break. To build more enthusiasm, start by taking 15 minutes every day to do something you love. Make sure you are getting enough sleep, exercise, and healthy foods. Every day, make a mental list of what’s going well in your life and create an action plan to address what is not. Consider meditation and make friends with other enthusiastic people. Their passion will rub off on you!
Tenacity is determination, perseverance, and resolve. It means the persistent pursuit of one’s purpose. In the words of Louis D. Brandeis, “Most of the things worth doing in the world had been declared impossible before they were done.” Successful nurse practitioners are tenacious. They never give up, whether that’s in the fight for independent practice or the insurance preauthorization for their patient’s medication.
To become more tenacious, consider joining the American Association of Nurse Practitioners or another local organization and participate in their lobbying efforts. I can’t think of a better way to practice perseverance. While 21 states and the District of Columbia have granted nurse practitioners full practice authority, there are still 29 states that need us to band together and persevere. In fact, I’ve encountered the most tenacious nurse practitioners during lobby days.
Creativity encompasses the use of imagination, inventiveness, and original ideas. While it is often applied to artists who create paintings and sculptures, it also applies to those who generate ideas, solve problems, and communicate well with others. Creative individuals tend to be curious, playful, open-minded, and nonjudgmental. They may possess a deep domain of knowledge, and they seem to always find an unusual solution to a challenging problem.
The most successful nurse practitioners are highly creative in their ideas, problem-solving abilities, and communication. They seek innovative methods and solutions in their patient care, and they are early adopters of new technologies. They are flexible and often described as “idea generators.” Creative nurse practitioners are tactful in their communication and tailor their patient education to each individual.
Want to become more creative? Start asking more questions and generate a list of all your ideas. Think about what is not working well, and then imagine solutions to these problems. Creativity is just like any other skill; it takes practice. Practice being open to new ideas and new technologies. Be willing to try new things, and watch as many TED Talks as you can.
Integrity is the quality of being honest, ethical, and trustworthy. In the words of Albert Einstein, “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.” And, I’d argue, that every patient encounter is an important matter.
According to the 2016 Gallup Poll, Americans identified nurses as the most honest and ethical profession for the 15th straight year in a row! Nurse practitioners are naturally viewed as trustworthy; however, we must continue to demonstrate this trait to each and every one of our patients. Possessing integrity means putting the patient first and standing up for their rights, even if you have to defend them against your boss, your employer, the insurance companies, the pharmaceutical lobby, or the national government.