Graduate Nursing Programs
Graduate Nursing Programs are courses of study that could lead to a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, Nursing Certificate, PhD, or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. In Masters in Nursing (MSN) programs, the emphasis is to generally to prepare registered nurses to pursue top advanced nursing practice roles such as nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, nurse educator, nurse administrator and for doctoral study. Doctor of Nursing (DNP) programs typically stress the translation of research into practice, leadership, and more advanced nursing practice. By contrast, the focus of PhD in Nursing programs is often to develop nurse scientists and clinical scholars who might best lead in expert clinical practice, teaching and research.
Why Consider Graduate Nursing Programs?
Most graduate nursing programs aim to augment a nurse’s knowledge, boost professional development and refine clinical skills. Nursing graduate programs are often characterized by clinical and classroom education. One of the goals is to help nurses learn to conduct research and grasp trends in healthcare, such as health policy and the role of technology. Then, to apply concepts from nursing science into the acute care provided to individuals and communities. Another aim is to help nurses positively impact patient outcomes through clinical expertise and compassionate nursing care.
Support Advanced Practice Nursing
The appeal of graduate nursing programs might extend to nurses who want to pursue advanced practice roles and to non-nurses who hold degrees in other disciplines. While the entry-level education for advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) is the masters degree, this might be in the process of shifting. In 2004, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) called for a change. They proposed that the current level of preparation necessary for advanced nursing practice move from the master’s degree to the doctorate-level by the year 2015. The AACN's position statement calls for APRN’s (Nurse Practitioners, Clinical Nurse Specialists, Certified Nurse-Midwives, and Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists) and other nurses seeking leadership/organizational roles to be educated in DNP programs.
We asked Mariea how Graduate Nursing Programs prepared her to excel in her career:
"Obtaining my MSN enhanced my career beyond anything I could have imagined. The knowledge and skills I gained in my clinical experiences and courses gave me everything I needed to provide primary care to patients in my community in a way that I couldn't as an RN. Beyond this, it positioned me to become a leader in healthcare and make an enduring impact through legislative change and advocacy."
~Mariea Snell, DNP, MSN, FNP-C, is an Assistant Professor and Coordinator of Doctor of Nursing Practice Program at Maryville University
Finding a Nursing Graduate School for Graduate Nursing Programs
The plethora of graduate nursing programs may seem daunting, however, you can refine your search to narrow down your choices is you search by location, or you could even pursue direct entry msn programs. Use the city, state or country tabs to determine whether the program you are looking for is offered nearby or whether relocation will be necessary.
Did You Know?
APRNs must first have a registered nursing (RN) license before they pursue the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree ii
Types of Graduate Nursing Programs
Average Length to Completion
|Bachelor of Science in Nursing to Master of Science in Nursing||B.S.N. - M.S.N.||2 years|
|Master of Science in Nursing||M.S.N.||2 years|
|Doctor of Nursing Practice||D.N.P.||2 to 3 years|
|Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing||Ph.D.||3 years minium|
Masters in Nursing (MSN) Programs
The AACN calls the masters degree in nursing “the educational core that allows advanced practice nurses to work as nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, certified clinical nurse specialists, and certified nurse anesthetists.” Most Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) programs include both coursework and clinical experience. While program lengths and time to completion varies, a full-time student might be able to complete their program in about two years. From there, graduates might be prepared to sit for national certification exam(s) in their chosen area of nursing. If this is your goal, you can check with a state’s board of nursing for more information.
MSN Degree Program Curriculum
Most MSN programs start out with a series of core courses. Concepts from nursing and information science could help nurses think critically, make ethical judgements and grasp the complexities of health care policy. Courses in research methods usually cover data analysis and statistics to help nurses promote public health to communities and populations. Other courses could help students build practical skills such as communication. They might also help nurses learn to collaborate or resolve conflicts whether with colleagues or patients. Finally, students might take several support courses that could cover advanced health assessment, pathophysiology and pharmacology .
MSN Nursing Specialties
Nursing masters programs provide key nursing education for advanced practice nurses (APRN) to be eligible to pursue licensure as nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, certified clinical nurse specialists, and certified nurse anesthetists. Beyond these roles, there are MSN programs that with emphasis in nurse educator, nurse informatics, nurse executive and more. While some nursing graduate schools may offer the general Master of Science in Nursing, most expect students to focus their studies on one of these areas, and coursework will reflect this.
Admission to MSN Programs
Admission to Masters in Nursing programs vary a great deal. Traditional MSN programs are those that build upon the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Some of the best nursing schools with these MSN programs typically require candidates to have earned their BSN in a college accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission. Applicants might also need to have a valid state RN license, GRE scores, letters of reference, essay and nursing experience.
Graduate Nursing Certificates
Graduate Nursing certificates are courses of study that could add onto existing nursing skills. Often just a few courses and credits (e.g. 12 credits), nurses could study to gain clinical competency and apply evidence-based practices.
Admission criteria is largely dependent on the program. Sometimes, applicants are evaluated to see if there are any gaps they need to fill through prerequisite courses. Students could also need valid state RN licensure, minimum GPA and experience in the area pursued . Of course, each school has its own requirements, so keep an eye out for one that addresses your goals and current education level.
- Post-masters nursing certificates are often stand-alone credentials. These could be designed for registered nurses and advanced practice nurses who want to refine, or even switch nursing specialties after they have earned their MSN degree. For instance, a certified pediatric nurse practitioner might want to diagnose and treat pediatric acute and chronic care conditions
- Post-bachelors nursing certificates are typically taken alongside a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree, since students could enter a DNP program with a BSN degree. This type of certificate could help nurses to add onto the type of acute care they provide. For example, a nurse in a DNP Adult Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner might pursue an HIV primary care certificate to explore diagnosis and care needs for this population
Doctorate Nursing Programs
Doctorate of nursing practice programs in fall into two principal types: research-focused and practice- focused. These two types of doctoral programs differ in their goals and the skillsets of their graduates. They also represent alternate approaches to the highest level of educational preparation in nursing. Furthermore, there are various areas that could be used as anchor points for either research or clinical practice. Sometimes, a nursing grad school offers MSN tracks (e.g. nurse-midwife, family nurse practitioner and women’s health care nurse practitioner) with a companion Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program.
Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Programs
The Doctor of Nursing Practice, or DNP, is a practice doctorate and terminal degree in nursing. The objective of a DNP program, per the AACN, is to “prepare nurse leaders at the highest level of nursing practice to improve patient outcomes, and translate research into practice.” DNP programs are generally designed to prepare graduates with competencies in eight areas that are outlined by the AACN. These range from public health care policy advocacy to inter-professional collaboration and systems thinking. DNP nurses are also expected to have advanced skills in health assessment, pathophysiology and pharmacology. Aside from courses, students might need to complete a DNP project at the end of the program. This is intended to help nurses synthesize the coursework and demonstrate their increased knowledge in their practice areas. The type of project varies. For instance, it might include a practice portfolio with a focus on evidence-based practice, a pilot study, a program evaluation or other practica .
Other admission requirements could include an RN license in the state of residence, letters of reference, CV, background check, essay and possible interview. Since these are variable details, refer to individual schools for more information.
PhD in Nursing
The PhD in Nursing is a research doctorate and terminal scholarly degree in nursing. Essentially, PhD programs are designed to prepare nurse scientists and scholars. With an emphasis that relies heavily on scientific content and research methodology, students are typically required to produce an original research project. Also, they usually must complete and defend a dissertation or linked research papers.
Admission to some PhD Nursing programs could entail a Master’s degree in nursing from an accredited university, a grade point average of 3.0 or higher on a 4.0 scale, and a current, unrestricted RN license to practice in the United States.
Accreditation for Graduate Nursing Programs
Whatever format you select, nursing graduate programs are often available at regionally or nationally accredited universities. Beyond that, there are two major organizations that offer accreditation–the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), which is affiliated with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).
What does it mean to be an accredited nursing program? A nursing graduate program or school of nursing that is accredited has proved that their curriculum meets certain standards set by the accrediting body. These agencies also make sure there are support systems in place that could help students achieve their goals. Things such as financial aid, library services, transfer credit and so on.
Next Steps to Finding Graduate Nursing Programs
With the broad scope of graduate nursing programs, you may want to narrow down your search. We make it easy for you to compare nursing graduate degrees. You can refine your search by degree level – MSN, DNP, Certificates, and/or nursing specialty. Further filter by program format (online, campus) or go straight to the menu and look for nursing graduate programs by location including city, state and international. Whatever you choose, a list of paid programs is generated. Find a few that fascinate you? Great! Take the next step and contact schools directly, we provide the on-page forms.
Finally - interested in winning a $2,000 essay contest Minority Nursing Scholarship to help fund your nursing graduate school education? We just happen to have one of those right here.
Sources: (i) aacnnursing.org/News-Information/Fact-Sheets/DNP-Fact-Sheet | (ii) aacnnursing.org/Nursing-Education-Programs/Masters-Education | (iii) bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm | (iv) aacnnursing.org/Nursing-Education-Programs/DNP-Education
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