Nurse Practitioner Programs
Nurse Practitioner Programs are planned-out to help nurses develop their clinical skills and learn to apply science to diverse nurse practitioner (NP) roles. The goal of an NP is to serve the holistic health needs of the patient.
NPs are educated in one or more patient population or niche areas: family/individual, pediatric (acute or primary), adult-geriatric (acute or primary), neonatal, women’s health, or psychiatric/mental health. Students who pursue a nurse practitioner education are therefore likely find diverse curricula that meld theory with its direct uses to patient-focused care.
Nurse Practitioner programs include the master's of science in nursing (MSN) and doctor of nursing practice (DNP) programs, as well as post-master's NP certificates. At the various NP degree levels, it is just as important to understand what certification and licensure each path might prepare you for. It is also relevant to think about which aspect of nursing practice you want to pursue. From there, it might be easier to search for nurse practitioner schools as you could then size up their NP program against your career goals.
Nurse practitioner certificates are typically designed to help nurses who have earned their MSN work to refine skills and move into a new nursing specialty. For instance, an MSN to FNP certificate could prepare nurses for advanced practice with individuals and families through their lifespan. Graduates might be eligible to sit for the ANCC certification exam. In some schools, an NP certificate might entail about 32 credits, which a full-time student is usually able to complete in just over one year.
Most Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) programs include core courses in the areas of health policy, pathophysiology, health assessment, and pharmacology. Entry points vary although BSN to NP programs are intended for bachelor of science in nursing graduates who also have a valid RN license. Schools that offer MSN programs have different tracks and concentrations (e.g. Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner). Some programs entail about 20 credits of core courses, plus about 36 credits in a nursing specialty. Students are also required to complete a minimum number of supervised clinical practicum courses that pertain to their chosen field of study.
For those who do not have a BSN, paths such as the ADN to MSN-FNP program might bypass the bachelor's. Or students might first study to earn their BSN, then, after successful completion, roll over into the MSN. Since terminology varies somewhat, you could also find RN to NP programs that are designed to help licensed registered nurses who do not have a bachelor degree work toward a MSN and pursue certification for Family Nurse Practitioner.
As the highest level of degree a nurse practitioner could earn, Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs usually include advanced courses in leadership and population health, and then typically culminate in a final capstone project called a DNP project. Some students might pursue a second specialty, while others might continue in the same direction as their MSN.
DNP programs could be entered in one of several ways: (1) BSN to DNP programs, (2) MSN to DNP programs, and (3) APRN to DNP programs. Thus, the length of time and required number of courses could vary somewhere between one to three years, if one were to study full-time.
Admission requirements for nurse practitioner programs are largely tied into what level of education you start out with and which program you enter. For instance, some programs may require students to have completed classes in areas such as statistics, research methods, microbiology, psychology, anatomy and physiology. Then of course, applicants must meet individual NP school requirements such as satisfying a minimum GPA or completing an interview.
Also, most nursing graduate schools will want to see that students have earned any prior degree through a regionally or nationally accredited university and that any previous degree in nursing was earned through a professionally accredited school of nursing. These agencies include the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).
Other academic and admission requirements might draw from the list below, but it is always wise to refer to individual NP schools and specific programs.
Nurse practitioners (NPs) are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) with graduate degree(s) and the education that enables them to perform tasks that RNs are not licensed to do. For instance NPs manage patient care and may provide primary and specialty healthcare. The scope of their practice varies from state to state. NPs hold a minimum of a master of science in nursing and usually focus their studies on care for a certain group (or groups).
Nurse Practitioner program specialties include:
For this reason, NP degree program often entail specific courses and in-field practice aimed to build competency for one of the above majors.
DID YOU KNOW?
“Although a master’s degree is the most common form of entry-level education, many APRNs choose to earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or a Ph.D.” i
An NP is a type of Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN). An Advanced Practice Registered Nurse is a nurse who has obtained at least a Master’s Degree in Nursing. Further focus within in the APRN category includes Nurse Practitioners, as well as Certified Nurse Midwives, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists, and Clinical Nurse Specialists.
The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is the terminal degree for nurse practitioners. Nurse practitioners have traditionally used the masters degree to pursue advanced education and a career in their specialty field. However, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) recommended back in 2004 that the new standard for entry become the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) by 2015. They stated that “The DNP provides a clinical option for advanced preparation in nursing practice that is more comparable to other intra-professional education.”
Nurses are not doctors, but NPs could help lessen the effects of a national physician shortage. Many NPs are primary and specialty care providers who might work on their own, prescribe medications, order lab tests and consult with other health care professionals. NPs also provide immunizations, diagnose health problems, and treat ailments. They are able to refer patients to other healthcare providers, and often promote health and wellness.
That said, the role of the nurse practitioner could depend on things like the type of medical setting and state regulations, so make a mental note to check what these are in your location.ii
Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) provide holistic care to individuals and their families through the course of their lifespan. As APRNs, some pursue a second specialty through a post-masters certificate or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program. For instance, a FNP might want to pursue licensure in adult-gerontology acute care.
Certified registered nurse practitioners have successfully taken and passed exams in their field. Because nurse practitioners practice in a wide variety of disciplines there are several professional organizations that offer certifications. Two widely recognized certifications are the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Program (AANPCP) and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).
Once certified, a candidate could use the NP-C (nurse practitioner-certified) credential until they re-certify.
Nurse practitioner degree requirements vary by program level, program focus and nurse practitioner school. Accredited nurse practitioner programs base their curricula on the ‘competencies’ for each nurse practitioner role set by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). An entry-level nurse practitioner is also expected to meet NP core competencies in three targeted areas: (1) Advanced Physiology, (2) Advanced Health Assessment, (3) Advanced Pharmacology.iii
In many nurse practitioner programs, coursework can be broken down into 3 subsections:
Whether you pursue an online NP degree or attend a campus program, it is important to note that you still are likely to be required to complete clinical hours as part of the program. These hours must be completed in person at a healthcare service location, approved by your graduate school of nursing.
Often, a nurse practitioner begins as a registered nurse (RN) and then moves on to earn a masters and/or doctoral degree. While there are some variations, the two primary academic pathways to become a nurse practitioner are the (1) Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and (2) Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).
At a glance, four of the basic steps towards becoming a nurse practitioner are as follows.
Length: About 4 years.
After high school, study to earn an undergraduate nursing degree. At this level, students could work towards an Associates degree in nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Many ADN nurses go on to earn a BSN before they enroll in an MSN program, but RN to MSN programs are also available and these allow ADNs to earn a BSN and MSN in one accelerated trajectory.
Length: About one to two years:
Take and successfully pass the NCLEX-RN to become a registered nurse (RN).
Length: About one to four years.
The minimum required education for a nurse practitioner is the MSN. As stated previously, there is a movement to replace it with the DNP in the future.
Work to achieve certification in a specific patient practice area. In addition to local licensure, NPs achieve national certification through an established agency such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Since licensure is state-determined, you might contact your state board of nursing for more information. Since outside agencies (from your chosen university) control the requirements for taking and passing certification/licensing exams, these details are subject to change.
The length of time it takes to become a nurse practitioner depends on several things. For one, what level of education do you have? Do you have a BSN or MSN? Have you completed some clinical practicum hours? Will you study on a part-time or full-time basis? The ‘shorter programs’ might be the MSN/APRN to DNP simply because of where that nurse is in the journey. Shorter programs could range from one to three years. At each NP degree level, a school will often have several tracks, so you could see which one is appropriate for you, and from there, determine how long your program could take.
As states start to change laws that govern APRN practice authority, APRNs could perform more services, and thus continue to be in demand. Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment projections for NPs show a 31 percent growth predicted to the year 2024. ii
Need some schedule flexibility? If you cannot make it to campus, online nurse practitioner programs could bring your courses to you. Some schools might engage you with completely web-based coursework, while others might entail brief periods of residency. Hybrid NP programs include some of both the in-person and on-campus courses, with either synchronous or asynchronous course delivery.
There are many great sponsored schools with Nurse Practitioner Programs to choose from. We want this to be an easy process for you, so use the on-page tools. You can refine your results by NP degree level (masters, doctorate, certificate) and class format (online, on-campus, hybrid).
See NP programs that interest you? Fantastic! Use the form provided to easily contact schools directly.
[i] aacnnursing.org/DNP/DNP-Essentials | [ii] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm | [iii] aacnnursing.org/Portals/42/AcademicNursing/pdf/Population-Focused-NP-Competencies-2013.pdf?ver=2017-05-17-110453-893