Nurse Practitioner Graduate Program FAQ

More Registered Nurses may be diving head first into graduate work to pursue careers as Nurse Practitioners.Given that 151,400 jobs existed for Nurse Practitioners in 2012, and that the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the occupation will expand by 31 percent by the year 2022[i], there may be plenty of good reason to do so. In the following article, we will answer some of the most commonly asked questions about taking the leap to pursue a career as a Nurse Practitioner.  

What are the duties of a Nurse Practitioner?

Nurse Practitioners are certified advanced-practice nurses with a master’s degree in nursing. They treat acute, chronic, and episodic illnesses and injuries in home-based and clinical settings. They might work independently or as part of a healthcare team in homes, hospitals, clinics, physicians’ offices, nursing care facilities, schools, and other settings. They perform many of the same duties as Registered Nurses, but can also prescribe certain medicines, perform some medical procedures, and work in leadership and administrative capacities.   

What are the potential benefits of being a Nurse Practitioner?

There may be numerous benefits to being a Nurse Practitioner. First, NPs often work independent of doctors to provide treatment to patients. In their master’s programs, they typically gain the knowledge and skills to allow them to prescribe medicines and deliver advanced treatments. While Nurse Practitioners work as part of a team as RNs do, they commonly have more freedom to care for patients in expanded capacities. Second, most NPs specialize in a particular area of care. Whether they work as pediatric, psychiatric, or neonatal nurses, for example, they devote their time and skillset to diagnose and care for particular populations and illnesses. For many, this focused attention on a particular niche in the industry is a personal and professional boon. Third, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, the median wage for Nurse Practitioners was $96,460 annually in 2012[ii] while the median pay for Registered Nurses was $65,470 annually in 2012[iii]. Not only do NPs report higher median annual salaries more than RNs, they might also be able to pursue potential career opportunities to serve in leadership and administrative capacities.

What are the educational requirements for a Nurse Practitioner?

Nurse Practitioners typically have a 4-year bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) and a 2-year master’s degree in nursing (MSN), each from an accredited school. Prior to earning their master’s degrees, they commonly work as RNs for a couple of years. In addition to having master’s-level education and experience, they must also be state and/or nationally certified to practice by an accredited institution[iv].

What are the steps to become a Nurse Practitioner?

There are a few different educational and career paths that might be options for individuals interested in pursuing a career as a nurse practitioner, one common path might be[iv]:

  • First, earn an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree in nursing. If you plan on becoming an NP,  you might want to forgo the associate’s degree and begin by earning your bachelor’s degree—you will ultimately need to do so to gain entrance into most master’s-level NP programs.
  • Second, pass your national standardized examination obtain state and/or national licensure and certification to practice nursing.
  • Third, gain valuable experience through employment. As you’re working as a nurse, gain general nursing experience and pay attention to specializations that might be of interest to you.
  • Fourth, earn a master’s degree in nursing that enables you to become a Nurse Practitioner.
  • Fifth, complete any additional certification or licensure requirements for your specialization and earn continuing education credits over time.

What are some common specializations for Nurse Practitioners?

One of the benefits of being a Nurse Practitioner is the ability to specialize your education and career. Following is a list of some of the most common specializations for Nurse Practitioners: 

  • Psychiatric nursing
  • Pediatric nursing
  • Neonatal nursing
  • Family nursing

Other specializations include acute care nursing, oncological nursing, and geriatric nursing.

How do I specialize as a Nurse Practitioner?

Nurse Practitioners typically focus their skills and knowledge in a master’s programs through a combination of coursework, clinical practicums, and independent research. In addition, NPs may develop a specialization through employment in their area of interest. Following is more specific information about how to specialize in one of the more common areas of specialization:

How to pursue a career as a psychiatric Nurse Practitioner: According to the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, psychiatric NPs, often called Psychiatric Mental Health Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (PMH-APRNs), assess, diagnose, and treat people with psychiatric disorders or the potential for such disorders[v]. They provide certain types of therapy, prescribe medication, administer psychotherapy, and work in administrative, academic, and/or political capacities[v]. To be able to pursue a career as PMH-APRNs, nurses must earn a master’s or doctorate degree in psychiatric nursing and gain licensure on a state and national level[iv]

How to pursue a career as a pediatric Nurse Practitioner: Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (PNPs) provide advanced primary and specialized care to children across the continuum of illnesses and in a variety of settings. PNPs diagnose illnesses, prescribe medications, provide treatment, and counsel patients and family members. To pursue careers as PNPs, licensed nurses must earn a master’s degree in nursing (MSN) with an emphasis on pediatric care and obtain board certification through the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board[vi]

How to pursue a career as a neonatal Nurse Practitioner: Neonatal Nurse Practitioners (NNPs) specialize in the care of neonates, or infants and babies in utero. They primarily work in intensive care units or as midwives. To pursue careers as NNPs, licensed nurses must earn a master’s or doctorate degree in nursing with an emphasis on neonatal and pediatric care. In addition, they must become board certified through the National Certification Corporation and maintain certification by obtaining continuing nursing education credits[vii]

How to pursue a career as a family Nurse Practitioner: Family Nurse Practitioners (NPs) work closely with patients throughout their lives in numerous medical capacities. They diagnose illnesses, conduct exams, provide treatment, and in certain circumstances, prescribe medications. To pursue careers as NPs, licensed nurses must earn a master’s or doctorate degree in nursing with an emphasis on family nursing theory and intervention and primary healthcare concerns[iv]

Why do you want to be a Nurse Practitioner?

Nurses typically pursue careers as Nurse Practitioners because they want to continue to provide quality care to patients but perhaps in a more specialized capacity. In addition, many nurses pursue careers as Nurse Practitioners because they want to work in leadership, administrative, and academic roles. By pursuing a career a Nurse Practitioner, you will likely add depth and breadth to your ability to provide patients with care.  

How long does it take to be able to pursue a career as a Nurse Practitioner?

The answer to the question, “how long does it take to pursue a career as a Nurse Practitioner?” depends on your current level of education and experience and the circumstances of your life. Earning an associate’s degree in nursing generally takes two years; earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing generally takes four years (and enables you to forgo earning an associate’s degree); and earning a master’s degree in nursing generally takes two years. So, with fulltime-study, jumpstarting a career as a Nurse Practitioner generally takes six years. With part-time study, completing one’s education in order to be able to pursue a career as an NP obviously takes longer. Also, if you take time to work between your bachelor’s and master’s degree in nursing, the number of years from RN to NP is obviously greater.[iv] 

What are the requirements to become a Nurse Practitioner?

Nurse Practitioner requirements are three-fold: to gain education, to gain experience, and to obtain licensure[iv]. The majority of an NP’s education typically will be in the sciences with an emphasis on nursing in general and in a specialized area. To jumpstart careers as NPs, nurses devote themselves to in-class study of nursing theory and philosophy (for example), hands-on study of clinical and practical application, and knowledge and experience-based study to pursue state and national licensure. When you ask yourself the question, “how long does it take to be able to pursue a career as a Nurse Practitioner?” consider each of these three requirements and your ability to meet them over time.  

What does it take to pursue Nurse Practitioner certification?

People who work in the field of nursing earn licensure and certification through national certification organizations. For in-depth information about the certification process, please visit the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners[viii]. There you can find information about pursuing, renewing, and verifying your certification and licensure. You can also consult the American Nurses Credentialing Center[ix] (a subsidiary of the American Nurses Association) or a more specialized institution such as the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board[vi].

To determine how to pursue your credential given your particular specialization, consult one of the institutions above or a professional association devoted to your specialty. 

nurse practitioner masters degree programs and graduate degree programs

Sources: [i] | [ii] | [iii] | [iv] | [v] | [vi] | [vii] | [viii] | [ix]

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