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Chronic Pain Nurse Practitioner: Education Requirements and Career Info

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a chronic pain nurse practitioner. Get a quick view of the schooling requirements as well as details about career information, job duties and licensing requirements to find out if this is the career for you.

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Nurse practitioners are advanced practice nurses able to diagnose patients and prescribe medications. After completing a registered nursing program, these nurses continue their graduate coursework in a nurse practitioner program. These master's programs allow for a focus on chronic pain or other related topics.

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Essential Information

Nurse practitioners specializing in chronic pain analyze contributing pain factors, discuss treatment options and educate patients concerning long-term pain maintenance. While nurse practitioners can and do prescribe pain medication, many focus on other preventative and therapeutic treatment options to deal with the long-term effects of chronic pain. Nurse practitioners must complete a bachelor's degree program in nursing, followed by a master's degree program for nurse practitioners. A registered nurse license and a state license to practice as a nurse practitioner are necessary.

Required Education Completion of bachelor's program in nursing and nurse practitioner master's program
Other Requirements RN licensure, nurse practitioner licensure; work experience with pain management or acute care
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 35% (all nurse practitioners)
Median Annual Salary (May 2015)* $98,190 (all nurse practitioners)

Source: *United States Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Overview for Nurse Practitioners

Different from nurses, nurse practitioners can treat patients as either a primary or specialty care provider. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, (BLS), most nurse practitioners work in physician's offices (www.bls.gov). One of the key differences between a nurse practitioner and a registered nurse deals with the fact that nurse practitioners can prescribe patients medication.

On a day-to-day basis, nurse practitioners are expected to diagnose patients in order to teach them about the maintenance and treatment procedures required for proper care. For instance, a nurse practitioner working in the neonatal unit would instruct parents on how to watch for particular warning signs with infants, how to properly distribute medicine at home and what dietary habits parents should enforce with their newborns.

The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) notes that nurse practitioners generally focus more on preventative methods of care rather than only focusing on curing symptomatic ailments (www.aanp.org). AANP specifies how nurse practitioners are trained to examine all possible contributing factors for a more thorough diagnosis. In cases of diabetes, for example, nurse practitioners look at a patient's dietary practices, exercise habits, genetic proclivity and other factors to help educate patients on ways to better treat the condition.

Education Requirements

Before becoming a nurse practitioner, individuals need to become a registered nurse, (RN). According to the BLS, there are three different ways of obtaining an RN license. Individuals can either go through an associates degree program, bachelor's degree program or a certificate program. Most people choose the associates program to become an RN due to the shorter duration of time it takes to complete. Nevertheless, to be a nurse practitioner requires that students first obtain a bachelor's degree in nursing.

To get into any nursing program requires certain prerequisites. Each program is different, but most require anatomy physiology, biology and math classes that are equivalent to basic algebra. Once in the program, students can expect nursing classes about assessing health concerns, professional nursing skills, research methods, community care and nurse management. Students must participate in clinical labs where they work with patients to gain real-world experience in nursing. Upon completing the RN program students must pass a state exam to be licensed.

Going into a nurse practitioner program is like going into a master's program. Individuals can choose particular areas to focus on, such as a nurse practitioner degree in acute care or mental health. Nurse practitioner degree programs generally take two years. Advanced coursework includes human pathophysiology, various levels of primary-care practices, pharmaceutical sciences, diagnosis procedures and decision-making methods. Students are also required to complete a certain amount of supervised clinical labs with real patients. Upon completion of the program, nurse practitioners must pass a state licensing exam in order to practice medicine.

Information for a Focus in Chronic Pain

There aren't as many nurse practitioner programs specifically on chronic pain, but there are several programs that are closely related. Pain management, nurse anesthesia and acute care each deal with different aspects of chronic pain. Some institutions even recommend a psychiatric focus for nurse practitioners dealing with chronic pain patients due to high levels of depression and other mental health problems common with chronic pain sufferers.

Some nurse practitioner programs offer additional coursework that acts like a concentration focus in chronic pain treatments. Many of these programs offer elective units that can be added on as supplemental units to the nurse practitioner program, but most schools consider the chronic pain or pain treatment concentration as a separate program.

Courses dealing with chronic pain focus on analyzing the initial trauma and verifying what symptoms have resulted over time. Classes covering treatment options discuss pharmaceutical options, but many courses also focus on long-term pain management, mental health concerns and holistic treatment options, such as acupuncture, massage therapy and physical rehabilitation.

Licensure Requirements

Each state has different requirements for nurse practitioners, but nearly all states require that nurse practitioners maintain their state licenses. Some states, like California, require that nurse practitioners maintain their license as well as apply for a furnishing number that allows them to prescribe patients medications. This application involves a registration process with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Nurse practitioners should verify what their state requires of them and continually check back as regulations change over time.

Nurse practitioners must maintain both their RN license and nurse practitioner license in most states. In order to renew either license, most states require continued education coursework where nurses and nurse practitioners participate in additional training about new techniques in nursing. Licenses are usually renewed every two to three years, but this duration differs by State.

Other than licensing and renewals, the BLS points out that nurse practitioners should have specific skills not always taught in the classroom, such as being a good listener, having a positive attitude and being able to clearly communicate with others. Since new advances in medicine occur all the time, nurse practitioners should enjoy continuously learning and be willing to try out new techniques.

Salary Stats and Job Outlook

According to the BLS, the median annual salary for nurse practitioners was $98,190 as of May 2015. The number of jobs for nurse practitioners was projected to increase by 35% from 2014-2024, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.

After becoming a registered nurse, nurses can pursue nurse practitioner training through a master's program. Nurse practitioner programs offer concentration areas where nurse practitioners can focus their coursework on chronic pain and related subjects. A nurse practitioner requires a valid license as both a registered nurse and nurse practitioner in order to practice.

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