Career Paths

Nurse Practitioner/Nurse

Addictions Nurse Practitioners, Nurses and Nursing Assistants work in various medical settings with people who engage in risky drug use, have substance use problems, struggle with various addictions, are in addictions treatment, or are in recovery.

Activities, Skills and Knowledge

Addictions Nursing requires special understanding of substance use and its physiological and psychological dimensions.  Nurse Practitioners, Nurses and Nursing Assistants must understand the physiological basis of illness and treatment and be able to work in a medical setting. 

Nursing professionals also participate in prevention and early intervention activities such as Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT). See this article from Join Together on Nurses' role with SBIRT and the Emergency Nurses Association SBIRT training resources.

  • Nurse Practitioners (NPs) are able to prescribe and manage medications and other therapies. They are authorized to practice across the nation. 
  • Other Nursing professionals (Registered Nurses, Licensed Practical Nurses) do not prescribe medications though they may administer them.
  • Nursing Assistants assist nurses.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing's (AACN) statement of its mission and values gives a good overview of Nursing as well. Some of the information below comes from the AACN's Nursing Fact Sheet - check it out for more information.

Nurses who are not specialized in addictions still must be knowledgable about addictions in order to respond apprporiately when caring for a person who has an addiction.

Educational Requirements and Opportunities

Nursing Assistant may not require a degree, only coursework.

The primary pathway to professional nursing, as compared to technical-level practice, is the four-year Bachelor of Science degree in nursing. Registered nurses are prepared through

  • a four-year baccalaureate program (Bachelor of Science in Nursing);
  • a three-year associate degree in nursing program (Associates's Degree in Nursing);
  • or a three-year hospital diploma program (fewer than 10% of all basic RN education programs; in a shift from the past, most instruction is now through colleges and universities).

Licensed Practical Nurse may require a year of study at a junior college or vocational school. A Registered Nurse usually has a four year degree, but a two year option is also available.

Nurse Practitioner requires a Master's Degree (Master of Science in Nursing) in addition.  

Doctoral level programs (Doctorate of Nursing Practice) can lead to specialized knowledge or a career as a nursing professor.  

For Education Resources, see Nurse Practitioner Nurse Educational Opportunities and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing's Nursing Program Search.

Licensure/Certification Requirements

  • Graduates of Bacchalaureate, Associate or Hospital Diploma programs all take the same state licensing exam, the NCLEX-RN. 
  • For a Nurse or Nurse Practitioner, the license to practice nursing or the license to practice medicine is supplemented by “certification” in the specialty area of addiction.  The Addiction Nursing Certification Board offers two levels of Certification:
    • Certified Addictions Registered Nurse (CARN): 3 years experience as a nurse
    • Certified Addictions Registered Nurse - Advanced Practice (CARN-AP): Masters’ or higher degree, 2000 hours of practice within the last 3 years and 30 hourse of Continuing Education related to nursing in the last 3 years

Information and preparation materials are available through the International Nurses’ Society on Addiction. Testing Centers in Massachusetts are located in Boston, Holyoke and Springfield. See this map.

Opportunities for Advancement

Nurse Practitioners, Nurses and Nursing Assistants are in high demand, and opportunities are projected to continue to grow. Nursing is one of the professions designated as a “shortage profession,” and in certain jobs nurses may be eligible for tuition loan repayment by the federal government.

In Massachusetts, a special opportunity for advanced Nursing lies in Office-Based Opioid Treatment. Nurse Managers direct the office-based administration of buprenorphine therapy in a special project. Contact Colleen Labelle for more information.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment for registered nurses will grow faster than most other occupations through 2018.

Settings

Although 62.2 percent of all employed RNs work in hospitals, many are employed in a wide range of other settings, including private practices, public health agencies, primary care clinics, home health care, outpatient surgicenters, health maintenance organizations, nursing school-operated nursing centers, insurance and managed care companies, nursing homes, schools, mental health agencies, hospices, the military, and industry. Other nurses work in careers as college and university educators preparing future nurses or as scientists developing advances in many areas of health care and health promotion.

Resources

The Massachusetts Chapter of the International Nurses’ Society on Addiction and IntNSA Chapter contact list.  Contact Colleen Labelle, Executive Director, for more information.

The International Nurses’ Society on Addiction

US Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook for Registered Nurses

Emergency Nurses Association SBIRT training resources (including online video)

American Association of Nurse Practitioners