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How to Become a Nurse Practitioner in Tennessee

by Carson-Newman … on January 9, 2024
nurse practitioner in hospital

The role of a nurse practitioner (NP) is an advanced practice nursing commitment to provide specialized health care to patients and families. In the state of Tennessee, the scope of practice for NPs is determined by the Tennessee State General Assembly and the Board of Nursing.

If you are currently a working nurse in or around Tennessee looking to advance your career, this blog is for you. This step-by-step guide will explain the necessary steps for how to become an NP in Tennessee.

Nurse practitioner programs in Tennessee are available to prepare current BSN-prepared registered nurses (RNs) for the role of an NP. The educational curriculum and practice experiences prepare NPs to evaluate patients, diagnose and treat health conditions, prescribe medications, order and interpret diagnostic tests, and manage treatment plans.

Educational Pathways to Becoming a Nurse Practitioner

A nurse practitioner program builds upon the foundational Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree many RNs hold. Some RNs have completed Associate's Degree in Nursing (ADN) programs which are shorter in duration, but the BSN is a required prerequisite for progression into graduate nursing education.

Clinical experience is an important component of nursing education and helpful when applying for entry into graduate nursing programs. When returning to school to become a nurse practitioner, working RNs can benefit from their clinical experience because they can assimilate and apply new nurse practitioner knowledge to their existing patient care background.

Registered nurse (RN) licensure and clinical experience are necessary before moving toward greater autonomy as a nurse practitioner, one of the benefits of becoming an FNP.

Steps to Obtain RN Licensure in Tennessee

After graduating with a BSN degree, there are specific steps an RN licensure candidate must take to obtain RN licensure in Tennessee.

The NCLEX is the premier nursing licensure examination, and passing the NCLEX is required for RN licensure in all 50 states. Tennessee is part of the nursing licensure compact, so residents of the state with a Tennessee driver's license have the option to apply for this multistate RN license.

The Board of Nursing outlines these steps:

  • Complete a fingerprint criminal background check (advised six weeks before graduation)
  • Apply for RN licensure by examination through the licensure and regulatory system online portal (advised four weeks before graduation)
  • Register for the NCLEX exam and pay the examination fee to Pearson Vue (advised two weeks before graduation)
  • Request official transcripts to be sent to the Board of Nursing (after your nursing program degree conferral)

Graduate Programs for Nurse Practitioner Specialization

There are three broad degree categories that prepare nurse practitioners. The Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree is for BSN-prepared nurses, while post-master's certifications are for those who have already earned an MSN degree. The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is a terminal, clinical degree that prepares NPs for leadership roles and evidence translation.

For students interested in obtaining this clinical doctorate without a prior MSN, the NP curriculum may also be embedded within a longer program designed to take students from a BSN to a DNP.

When exploring available programs, different nurse practitioner specializations are typically offered within their own distinct MSN curricula or post-master certificate tracks. The coursework required for each specialization has some overlap, particularly in the core curriculum that includes advanced pathophysiology, advanced pharmacology and advanced health assessment.

Beyond these courses, NP programs include additional topics of study and mandatory clinical hours appropriate to the area of specialized practice. Examples include:

  • Age-specific training for working with populations such as geriatrics, obstetrics, pediatrics, and neonatal care
  • Research methods for evidence-based practice
  • Nursing informatics and medical ethics
  • Residency experiences and simulation labs

Accredited nurse practitioner programs prepare quality graduates through a combination of didactic coursework and clinical rotations, sometimes called clinical practicums or preceptorships. During this required field experience, students work in a supervised NP role in one or more health care facilities and grow in their ability to execute advanced practice competencies with real patients.

NP with patient


Choosing a Nurse Practitioner Specialty

When choosing a nurse practitioner specialty, consider what NP specialty areas align your personal interests with the patient population and health care needs. For example, if you enjoy working with infants and children, you might specialize in pediatric primary or acute care or even choose a neonatal nurse practitioner specialization. Those who enjoy working with older adults may choose to work in home health care, assisted living or hospice.

You might also select a specialty area based on the type of practice setting where you desire employment. Family nurse practitioners are trained to work with patients and families across the lifespan, and the role of FNPs in underserved communities is notable. 

The AANP Nurse Practitioner Fact Sheet presents a distribution of NPs across all specialty areas that shows the percentage who are certified in each specialty area. In 2022, the top nurse practitioner specializations in the U.S. were:

  • Family NP (70.3%)
  • Adult Gerontology Primary Care NP (8.9%)
  • Psychiatric Mental Health NP (6.5%)
  • Adult Gerontology Acute Care NP (6.1%)

Earn Your MSN-FNP Part-Time For Less than $30k

State-Specific Requirements for Nurse Practitioners in Tennessee

Within the United States, there are three general categories that describe the NP practice environment. These categories are:

  • Full practice - NPs are permitted the greatest level of autonomy in nursing
  • Reduced practice - at least one aspect of NP practice is reduced by state law
  • Restricted practice - at least one aspect of NP practice is restricted with the requirement of a collaborating or supervising physician

The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) provides a summary overview of state practice environments within the country. Tennessee currently falls in the restricted practice category, requiring a formal agreement with a supervising physician. This partnership helps support advanced practice nurses with collaborative oversight so that NPs can carry out the full scope of practice in accordance with Tennessee law.

Scope of practice for NPs is just one of several factors to consider when determining the best state to be an NP.

NP Certification and Licensure

Just as the NCLEX examination is part of the nursing licensure process for RNs, national certification as a nurse practitioner is required by nearly all states for nurse practitioner practice. Initial certification is granted through success on an entry-level, competency-based examination.

Accredited organizations such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB) offer certification examinations in a variety of NP specialties.

To complete a certification examination, applicants must apply and receive notice of eligibility to test before scheduling the exam. Exam candidates who meet the eligibility requirements and pass the examination receive certification in the NP specialty area for a period of five years.

Certification renewal requirements vary based on the certifying organization but include activities such as:

  • Direct patient care hours
  • Publications and presentations
  • Continuing education in the NP specialty area
  • Administration and research duties
  • Serving in education and preceptorship roles

Certified nurse practitioners are granted authorization to use the specialty credentials after their name to indicate their certification achievement.

Obtaining NP Licensure in Tennessee

The Board of Nursing governs the process of applying for and obtaining NP licensure in Tennessee. Before applying for NP licensure in Tennessee, the board mandates that national certification is obtained. Verification of the NP licensure candidate's national certification is to be sent directly from the certifying agency to the Board of Nursing.

Tennessee APRN applicants are also required to hold a current Tennessee or other multistate RN license before proceeding with the application process. Next, the NP candidate must complete the following requirements for licensure:

  • Request that official transcripts from your NP program be sent to the Board of Nursing
  • Apply for APRN licensure via the online portal
  • Upload documents, including a current RN license and declaration or proof of citizenship
  • Complete a mandatory practitioner profile questionnaire

The Board of Nursing requests that applicants allow six weeks for review before licensure is granted. If there are deficiencies in the submitted materials, the board will contact the applicant.

Gaining Practical Experience

During your nurse practitioner program, you will have the opportunity to build networks within health care facilities and specialties. This happens as you connect with nursing colleagues, faculty and mentors who work alongside you during your clinical placement and preceptorship rotations. Joining professional organizations such as the Tennessee Nurses Association can be a great way to meet like-minded professionals and partner in nursing practice goals.

The value of hands-on experience within an advanced practice nursing specialty area is one reason why some nurse practitioners begin their formal employment in the same agency or a similar practice setting where they completed their clinical hours.

nurse practitioner and patient

Job Opportunities and Career Outlook for Nurse Practitioners in Tennessee

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 258,230 nurse practitioners were employed in the country in May 2022. This statistic excludes self-employed NPs.

A look at the industry landscape shows the practice settings where NPs have the highest levels of employment:

  • Offices of physicians (approximately 122,830 NPs)
  • General medical and surgical hospitals (approximately 58,080 NPs)
  • Outpatient care centers (approximately 23,760 NPs)
  • Offices of other health practitioners (approximately 10,950 NPs)
  • Home health (approximately 7,460 NPs)

In May 2022, the state of Tennessee ranked fifth in the country for the highest employment levels of NPs with an annual average salary of approximately $99,330. The top-paying industry for NPs in the U.S. was home health care services, with an average wage of approximately $71.62 per hour.

The job outlook for advanced practice nurses from 2022 to 2032 projects an expected rise in employment of 45%, which is substantially higher than the average growth rate of all occupations. Now is a great time to become a nurse practitioner because of the positive job outlook and the opportunity to serve others through a meaningful career.

Become a Family Nurse Practitioner With an MSN Degree or Post-Master's Certification From Carson-Newman University

Carson-Newman University offers an accredited online MSN-FNP program and a post-master's certificate (PMC-FNP) program that can prepare you to deliver primary care to patients and families across the lifespan. The program's faculty are active NPs in their own communities with experience and expertise to help you find your path forward into successful NP practice.

Program features include:

  • 100% online coursework with small class sizes
  • Complementary clinical placement support with preceptors in your local area
  • Completion of the MSN degree in just 32 months and the certificate in two years or less
  • One on-campus residency to connect with fellow classmates and grow your clinical skills

Learn more about Carson-Newman's online MSN-FNP program by visiting the program page today.

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