7 Tips for Writing the Perfect Family Nurse Practitioner Essay
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Updated April 20, 2022 · 5 Min Read
A good essay is key to getting admitted to an MSN program. Learn how to write an excellent nurse practitioner personal statement with these tips.
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If you are pursuing a career as a family nurse practitioner, you will likely be required to submit a personal essay. Your nurse practitioner personal statement explains why you want to become a family nurse practitioner (FNP) and is an important step in the graduate nursing program application process.
What you say in your nurse practitioner essay should tell the admissions committee who you are as a person and why you will make an effective and ethical nurse practitioner.
When answering the section on "why I want to be a nurse practitioner," your response may come easily. Others might struggle with putting their reasons into words in an original and clear way. This guide will show you how to convey who you are and why you make an excellent candidate.
1. Be Specific
When you receive your essay questions, you will notice that they are reasonably generic. What the university is looking for, however, is how you turn that into something specific.
Don't just outline your overall feelings about a full topic. Instead, go into detail and use specific examples from your personal experience that truly demonstrate your capabilities. Not only is this a better way of answering the question, but it also means your essay will be far more interesting. It will properly showcase your personality, which is a very important part of nursing.
2. Be Concise
Always remember that you are writing an essay and not the next great saga. Oftentimes, there will be a word count limit. However, if there isn't, you shouldn't write every little detail you come up with. What matters is that the information is complete and doesn't go off-topic. Stick to the guidelines provided, as they have been given for a good reason (one of them is to test you on how well you can follow instructions). You must be concrete in your answers.
Admissions committees must get through dozens or hundreds of applications. If your nurse practitioner essay is too long, they'll likely lose focus. In addition, nursing requires concise communication in daily work. If you come across as taking a long time to get to the point, this may leave an unprofessional impression.
3. Demonstrate Your Passion and Commitment
When you describe why you want to be a nurse practitioner, your passion and commitment should leap off the page and make the admissions committee excited to offer you a place. They should see you as the kind of student and colleague that they want to represent their school. You can do this by making sure that your nurse practitioner essay:
- Shows how your experience and education motivate you
- Describes specific motivators, such as mentors, experiences with nurses, or even experiences as a patient
- Shows that you are committed to all aspects of nursing, including patient care, collaboration, cultural competence , and continual learning and improvement
- Clearly summarizes these elements to match your background and passion to the school's culture, as well as to nursing
Avoid clichés or general statements about why nursing is important. They already know that. What they don't know — what you have to tell them — is why your passion will make you an excellent FNP.
4. Tell a Story
Storytelling is the most powerful and memorable form of communication. The stories we've lived shape who we are. Leverage the power of storytelling in your nurse practitioner essay.
- Choose the right story and apply it to nursing. It doesn't have to be about nursing specifically, but it needs to apply to nursing. Talk about instances where you've demonstrated teamwork, perseverance, crisis response skills, or communication successes.
- Start with a vivid hook that makes the reader want to know what happens next.
- Use clear language that helps the reader understand and identify with the choices you made.
- Make stories about more than just yourself. Nursing is a team practice, and if you write as though you're the only important character in the story, it can seem arrogant or self-involved.
- Show empathy. Empathy doesn't mean having a lot of feelings or dwelling on them. It means understanding others and meeting them where they are.
- Customize your nurse practitioner essay to the program. What values does the school hold? How does the school site describe learning, teachers, and current students? Make these values and priorities stand out in your writing.
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5. highlight your strengths.
Your essay is an opportunity for you to show what you are made of. Highlight all the things that are good about you, such as your education, your career, your background, and other experiences. Perhaps you have done volunteer work, or you have already been employed in the medical field. It is always a good idea to give some examples of the experiences you have had to demonstrate why you are good at what you do and why you want to become an FNP.
When highlighting these strengths, it is best to be specific and include examples. For instance, saying you are hardworking may sound like a good trait to focus on, but it could be more impactful to provide a specific example of how you have worked hard during your career. This will add credibility to your essay and reinforce your claims.
6. Keep it Professional
You want your nurse practitioner personal statement to be memorable, but only in the right way. Keep your tone professional and individual. Think of your essay as though you were a stranger reading it. Would you want the person who wrote this essay to be in charge of your or a loved one's care?
Never make a colleague or patient look bad in your nurse practitioner essay. This is a surefire way to get rejected, as it comes across as unprofessional, unfair, and potentially unethical. While a sense of humor is invaluable for a nurse practitioner, humor is very difficult to convey to an audience you don't know.
Avoid exaggerating, even for dramatic effect. While exaggerating might improve the story, obvious exaggeration will cast doubt on your professional judgment.
Lastly, don't use foul language in your nurse practitioner essay. Just like humor, while many nurses use it as a coping method, they are careful about their intended audience.
7. Edit Again and Again
Finally, once you have completed your essay, proofread it. After that, give it to someone else to proofread and then edit it once more yourself. Spelling errors, typos, and layout problems are certain to have your application denied because they show a lack of attention to detail. Share your essay with as many people as possible and ask for their suggestions and edits before you finally submit it.
Remember that the faculty members of the FNP program you are applying for also look at how well you can write. Clear communication will be an important skill for successful FNPs. Hence, you must make sure that your essay is well-reviewed and well-written. This is also why you should start developing your essay as early as possible, as this is not a job that can be rushed.
Putting Pen to Paper
Think of your nurse practitioner essay as a way to show who you are, to reflect what is most important to you, and why you will be an excellent FNP.
If you're not sure where to start, try having a conversation with a friend who is a good listener and have them ask you questions about why you want to be a nurse practitioner. Ask them to probe into what you say and tell you when something comes across as especially meaningful or significant.
Begin by writing anything at all about "why I want to be a nurse practitioner." Turn your inner editor off. For this first step, the goal is quantity, not quality. Either as you keep writing or when you review it later, you'll usually find something valuable you can use.
A few final tips:
- Start early. Even if you're not sure when you'll want to earn your MSN, you can start keeping notes now. Once you know when you want to apply, outlining your nurse practitioner essay months ahead will pay off.
- Ask a variety of people to review your writing. Different people bring different perspectives.
- Think of it not just as an essay but as a chance for reflection. This is another reason to start early, since this kind of reflection can bring new insights that you'll want to use.
- Remember that the better your nurse practitioner personal statement reflects you, the better the decision the committee can make. Be your best self, but be yourself.
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How to Write the Perfect NP School Personal Statement
Apr 7, 2020 | Job Search Tips
Most nurse practitioner (NP) schools require their prospective students to compose a personal statement. Often, these elusive essays cause applicants to panic, but with just cause: personal statements are one of the most important components of NP school applications.
Having applied to a BSN, MSN, and DNP program in my past, I have written more personal statements than I can count. In this article, I offer general advice for preparing, writing, and editing your essay.
To help temper your anxiety, this post elaborates on the importance of:
- Following directions
- Being honest
- Writing passionately and professionally
- Making your case
- Starting with an outline
- Offering a story
- Speaking the nursing language
- Addressing your “red flags”
- Giving yourself plenty of time
- Using correct syntax and grammar
- Reading it out loud
First and foremost, follow directions. Each school has different guidelines for their personal statements, and you do not want your application thrown out just because you fell under their required word count. Some schools provide explicit information on the length, format, and content of the personal statement while others leave the task more open-ended.
For example, Vanderbilt University provides an open-ended prompt for the admissions essay: “The Statement of Purpose should reflect your understanding of the role of the advanced practice nurse and your interest in either a particular patient population, in healthcare leadership or in nursing informatics. Before writing your statement of purpose, please carefully review information about the specialty on our website so that you clearly indicate to the faculty that your career goals are a fit with the specialty.”
Drexel University also offers specific guidelines for their personal statement requirement: “Personal statement (under 1,000 words) that will give the admissions committee a better understanding of: (1) Why you are choosing this particular program of study; (2) Your plans upon completion of the graduate degree; and, (3) How your current work experience will enhance your experience in this MSN program.”
On the other hand, NP schools like Duke University and University of California San Francisco merely ask for a “personal statement” or “goal statement” with no further direction. Be aware that not every school calls your essay a personal statement. Allen College , for example, calls it a “biographical sketch,” and Johns Hopkins University calls it a “written expression of goals.”
Every application will be slightly different, so it is important to stay organized. Table 1 is an example of how I stayed organized during my NP school applications.
Make sure your answers line up with your resume or curriculum vitae. Do not exaggerate your skills or accomplishments. Instead, be proud of what you have achieved and speak enthusiastically about your desire to become an NP.
Never let someone else write your essay for you, and never plagiarize content from books, blogs, or journal articles. The admissions committee may scan your personal statement for plagiarism using an online program. Be sure to check your essay before you submit it using a website like PlagTracker , Turn It In , or Grammarly .
Write Passionately and Professionally
One of my favorite quotes is from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” If being an NP is your goal, pursue it with courage, determination, and passion. Become enthusiastic about all things nurse practitioning.
Writing professionally does not mean writing a bland, scientific paper. Be concise, be consistent, use clear examples, and make it sound like you. Make sure your personal statement succinctly and lucidly portrays your passion for becoming an NP. Do not use this essay as a means to criticize past professors or other NP programs.
Make Your Case
Think of your personal statement as your chance to convince the admissions committee to accept you. Why should they admit you? What makes you unique? Why will you succeed in graduate school? Why will you be an excellent nurse practitioner? Use your essay to make your case.
Make sure you tailor your answers to your chosen medical specialty. For example, if you are applying to become an emergency nurse practitioner, what characteristics do you have that will ensure your success? Are you quick on your feet, calm under pressure, and compassionate to all? Are you enthusiastic about this specialty? What have you done or what do you do that demonstrates your passion?
Start with an Outline
Sometimes the hardest part is figuring out where to begin. A mind map can help you start brainstorming. A mind map is a spidergram that offers a structured method for developing ideas.
When you are ready, use your mind map to create a topical outline. Typically, you will want to have an introduction and conclusion paragraph that sandwich a handful of body paragraphs. Your introduction and conclusion should include your thesis and summary of your subtopics. Each body paragraph should elaborate upon one subtopic. I use the following outline when beginning my articles.
- An attention-grabbing opening statement
- A thesis statement summarizing the theme and purpose of the paper
- Mention each subtopic covered in the body paragraphs
Body Paragraphs (one for each subtopic)
- Opening sentence that indicates subtopic to be discussed
- Multiple sentences that provide supporting details and examples
- A short explanation regarding how these details or examples relate to your thesis
- Begin with a restatement of your thesis
- Summarize your main topic and subtopics
- End with global statement
Offer a Story
You want the admissions team to remember you. You want to stand out. Try to incorporate a personal story that will make you memorable. The stories can usually be about anything you like: anything from a conversation with a mentor to a volunteer experience. Make the story interesting and use it to illustrate and emphasize your key points.
Choose a story that describes how you decided to become an NP or one that illustrates your personal values. You might also write about a particular challenge or experience that changed your perspective. Try to choose a story that gives the reader a clear impression of who you are and why you will be successful in NP school.
Consider beginning the story in your introduction, telling small pieces in each body paragraph, and ending the story in your conclusion paragraph. If you decide to tel a story in your personal statement, I suggest using the outline below.
- Open with a short vignette that introduces your story and the conflict or challenge
- With each new body paragraph, tell a little more of the story, relating each part of the anecdote to the subtopic
- Conclude the story with what you learned or by emphasizing the moral
- Restatement of your thesis and summarize your subtopics
Speak the Nursing Language
In your personal statement, speak the nursing language. This will give you credibility. For those new to the NP field, learn the language by reading as many books as you can. A good place to start is Stewart and DeNisco’s Role Development for the Nurse Practitioner . This text offers a broad overview of health policy, healthcare reform, mentoring, prescriptive authority, and the history of NPs. A newer book that I love is Carolyn Buppert’s Nurse Practitioner’s Business Practice and Legal Guide . This book will give you more detailed information about the scope of practice laws in each state.
It never hurts to touch on these seminal publications from the Institute of Medicine :
- The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health
- Assessing Progress on the IOM Report The Future of Nursing
- To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System
- Crossing the Quality Chasm: A New Health System for the 21st Century
- Health Professions Education: A Bridge to Quality
You might also consider citing these position papers published by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners :
- Quality of Nurse Practitioner Practice
- Scope of Practice for Nurse Practitioners
- Use of Terms Such as Mid-Level Provider and Physician Extender
- Clinical Outcomes: The Yardstick of Educational Effectiveness
- Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Discussion Paper
- Nurse Practitioner Curriculum
Address Your Red Flags
If you have a red flag in your application, explain it in your personal statement. Do you have a bad grade or low Graduate Record Exam score? Maybe you lack a full year of nursing experience. Rather than shying away from the topic, offer a clear, accurate explanation. Demonstrate humility, and write about how you have compensated for this mistake, challenge, setback, or flaw.
Give Yourself Plenty of Time
Do not procrastinate! Start your personal statement weeks in advance. Give yourself adequate time to brainstorm, write an outline, compose each paragraph, revise, and edit. A rushed essay might land your entire application in the rejected pile.
Use Correct Syntax and Grammar
Proofread, proofread, and proofread again! A clean, well-composed essay exemplifies your ability to succeed in a graduate program. My favorite website for checking grammar is Grammarly . They offer a free and premium service. They advertise that their software catches 250 errors that Microsoft Word does not detect. I also find their free Grammar Handbook helpful.
Throughout my DNP program, I started a list of general writing tips. Here are some of the most important:
- Use American Psychological Association (APA) formating
- Avoid generalities, cliches, and psychobabble
- Do not use the verb “to get”
- Do not use “very” as an intensifier
- Data is plural, so use a plural verb
- Use active voice whenever possible
- “Compare with” points out differences between two similar things
- Affect is a verb and effect is a noun
- Keep the subject and the verb close together
- Omit needless prepositions
- Use that if what you are saying cannot be eliminated without changing the meaning of the sentence
- Use which if you can delete the clause and the sentence will still have the same meaning
- Avoid using negative statements
- Write out numbers under 10 (e.g. three, seven, 10, 45)
- Be consistent with abbreviations and titles
- Avoid contractions
In general, avoid adverbs. Instead, use stronger verbs that imply the adverb. Here is a list of strong verbs to consider:
There are a variety of websites that can help you with APA formatting, grammar, syntax, and checking for plagiarism. Some good resources include:
Read it Out Loud
After you have finished writing your essay, read it out loud. Most people have more experience listening and speaking than writing and editing. By reading your personal statement out loud, your brain will hear the information and new way and notice flaws you did not see before.
It helps to print a copy of your paper so that you can take notes as you read. Read at a slow to moderate pace. Try to be systematic about your reading: check for grammar the first time through, syntax the second time, and tone the third time.
As you listen to your paper, pay attention to the order of your ideas. Note any gaps in your explanations. Make sure you transition clearly from one main idea to the next. Do not be afraid to reorder sentences, paragraphs, or entire sections. Also, listen for grammatical and syntax errors. You will probably notice sentences that are awkward, too convoluted, and repetitive.
Finally, hearing your paper out loud will give you a sense of its tone. Does your paper sound too casual, too chatty, or too formal? This essay is the admission committee’s first impress of you. Consider reading your paper to a friend and asking them what impression they obtain from your answers.
Dr. Melissa DeCapua, DNP, PMHNP-BC
AuthorMelissa DeCapua is a board-certified psychiatric nurse practitioner who graduated from Vanderbilt University. She has a background in child and adolescent psychiatry as well as psychosomatic medicine. Uniquely, she also possesses a bachelor’s degree in studio arts, which she uses to enhance patient care, promote the nursing profession, and solve complex problems. Melissa currently works as the Healthcare Strategist at a Seattle-based health information technology company where she guides product development by combining her clinical background and creative thinking. She is a strong advocate for empowering nurses, and she fiercely believes that nurses should play a pivotal role in shaping modern health care. For more about Melissa, check out her blog www.melissadecapua.com and follow her on Twitter @melissadecapua .
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How to Write an Excellent NP School Personal Statement
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“Try not to rush this statement. We recommend taking some time to reflect on your nursing career accomplishments, as well as situations that perhaps were learning situations that did not end favorably. Use these to reflect on your motivation and priorities and how they apply to the topic that the school has provided.”
Dr. Doreen Rogers, DNS, RN, CCRN, CNE, Assistant Professor of Nursing & Graduate Nursing Program Director at Utica University
Anyone who’s ever applied to a nurse practitioner program knows two things: careers in nursing are in high demand and graduate school admissions are competitive. Nurse practitioner careers are one of the fastest-growing occupations in the United States; in fact, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2021) predicts that 121,400 new NP jobs will be added to the economy between 2020 and 2030—a 45 percent increase.
So why are nurse practitioner admissions so competitive? A shortage of qualified nursing teaching faculty and an increasing number of retiring nurses are some possible reasons, according to CNN .
Despite these admissions barriers, a nationwide shortage of doctors is poised to restrict patients’ access to care. To address this problem, states are beginning to expand the scope of practice laws for nurse practitioners. The U.S. News & World Report shows that 22 states, the District of Columbia, and the Veterans Health Administration removed practice authority limitations for NPs, which resulted in expanded healthcare and decreased costs.
One thing is sure: applicants for nursing practitioner programs must put together flawless applications to rank high with an admissions committee. In addition, an aspiring nurse practitioner who wants to stand out and make a solid first impression needs to write an excellent nurse practitioner (NP) school personal statement.
To help out hard-working nurses who spend more time seeing patients than practicing academic writing skills, here are some tips for writing an excellent nurse practitioner (NP) school personal statement.
Follow the Five-Paragraph Essay Format
Drexel University has a video featuring several tips for writing a personal essay for admissions committees. The video recommends applicants organize their statements in a five-paragraph essay format and write no more than 500 words.
- First paragraph: Make an immediate impact in your introduction
- Second paragraph: Explain what attracted you to the program and field
- Third paragraph: Compare your short- and long-term goals with the program goals
- Fourth paragraph: Share your skills, experiences, and characteristics
- Fifth paragraph: Conclude by summarizing your five-paragraph essay
Drexel University also offers a downloadable infographic to illustrate what admissions committees are looking for in an applicant’s essay.
Write an Impactful Introduction
Pretty Nurse Ashley , a registered nurse who documented her experience getting into Vanderbilt University’s top-ranked nurse practitioner program, emphasizes the importance of an impactful introduction in a personal statement in her YouTube video:
That first sentence needs to be something spectacular, something that’s going to pull them in, so it needs to be very creative and something that’s going to get their attention. With your personal statement, you want to stand out from the other applicants. You want to create a story, create a vivid picture of who you are.
At a time when nursing schools are sending thousands of rejection letters to qualified applicants, Pretty Nurse Ashley’s advice to make a strong introduction is solid advice to help an applicant open their statement with what makes them unique.
Do Your Homework: Advice From an NP Career Coach
Renee Dahring is a nurse practitioner career coach , past president of the Minnesota chapter of the APRN Coalition, and a nursing university instructor with extensive experience in recruitment and admissions for nurse practitioner programs. When applying to NP schools, Ms. Dahring recommends that nurse practitioner applicants do their homework in three areas.
Show Your Commitment to Finish
Dahring said, “Every university wants its students to finish, especially in a nurse practitioner program. If you drop out, your spot in the NP cohort is empty. Mostly we like to know: ‘Have people thought this decision through?’”
In other words, when an NP program admission committee decides to admit a student, they are investing in that person to finish the program. Therefore, if it seems like a risky investment, they will not want to admit that individual.
Connect Your Career Goals to the NP Program’s Mission
“Understand what the program’s goals and missions are and align your personal statement with them. . .Also, consider the mission of the educational institution; most have a dedication to the underserved, but that will vary from place to place,” Dahring advised.
Addressing a program’s or an institution’s mission statement directly in a personal essay can catch the attention of an admission committee. They want to ensure that a person is a strong fit for their specific program. It’s also a benefit for applicants to be familiar with a school’s objectives and guiding philosophy, as it can help ensure that a program is the right fit for them.
Demonstrate Your Understanding of NP Scope of Practice Laws
Dahring also stated, “The other important thing is to have a really good understanding of the NP Scope of Practice Laws. . .You should have a clear idea of what you are allowed and not allowed to do in the states where you apply for NP school and intend to work as a nurse practitioner.”
NPs can practice more independently in some states than others—and a solid understanding of these regional nuances can inform one’s essay.
Take Time to Communicate Clearly
Above all, take the time to write and edit well. Admissions committees read through hundreds of personal statements, so communicating concisely and clearly can increase an applicant’s chances of admission to an NP program.
Dr. Doreen Rogers is an assistant professor of nursing and the graduate nursing program director at Utica University in New York. She advises applicants to use their best writing skills:
Remember, your personal statement is an opportunity for you to convey what motivates you and discuss your priorities as a healthcare professional while extending them to your future career as a nurse practitioner. Some aspects that are exceptionally important are the use of appropriate grammar, spelling, word selection, and sentence structure (including an introductory paragraph, transition sentences in between paragraphs, and a conclusion that ties everything together).
Dr. Rogers also recommended taking the time to communicate clearly: “Try not to rush this statement. Instead, we recommend taking some time to reflect on your nursing career accomplishments, as well as situations that perhaps were learning situations that did not end favorably. Use these to reflect on your motivation and priorities and how they apply to the topic that the school has provided.”
Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. A dedicated Ashtanga yoga practitioner, Rachel is interested in exploring the nuanced philosophical aspects of contemplative physical practices and how they apply in daily life. She writes about this topic among others on her blog (Instagram: @racheldrummondyoga).
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