Nurse Practitioner Programs
Advanced practice nursing is a remarkably lucrative career path and the most sought-after field of study when it comes to healthcare and higher level education. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the current market projects a 31% growth rate for Nurse Practitioner employment by 2024, far above the average. If you decide to become an APRN (Advanced Practice Registered Nurse), you will have autonomy, flexibility, extensive responsibility, a generous income, and the possibility to forward your career towards a managerial or executive direction. But what is the best program for becoming a Nurse Practitioner? And what subject area should you choose, given the vast amount of specializations available? The answers to these questions and many more are addressed in the following comprehensive guide.
Do you enjoy working with families, have a passion for maternity care or a desire to tend to the elderly? Are you a clinical expert interested in pain management and specific illnesses or a psychiatry specialist with a genuine concern for the population’s mental health? Do you love interacting with children and are an adept of holistic patient care? If you answer yes to one or more of these questions, a Nurse Practitioner program would undoubtedly interest you.
But Are you the right fit for the program? One of the primary reasons why NP programs are so prominent is that they allow a variety of students from all kinds of academic backgrounds with all types of qualifications to enroll and prove their expertise and dedication. Whether you have an Associate’s Degree, a BSN, an MSN, a traditional doctoral certification, online-acquired credentials or a simple nursing diploma, you are still eligible for the program and will have the possibility to learn and soon practice your desired specialization. Of course, depending on your qualifications, you will have to choose between certain specialties and higher or lower level education programs. But there is no doubt that you can join the training and work towards your dream job.
A Nurse Practitioner program is designed for every nurse who wants to make a difference in the lives of thousands of patients, but also in the healthcare system itself. It requires diligence, commitment, dexterity and critical thinking skills, as well as an appetite for knowledge and a knack for research. Although it can be challenging to get through, it is also gratifying and will guarantee that you have a well-deserved, secure post within the nursing community.
Out of all training and coursework available on an academic level, NP programs are the most popular, and for a good reason. They provide comprehensive instruction and hands-on experience in a specialization you are passionate about. They also ensure that you will have a secure, long-lasting job with a salary well above the average nursing income. They open up a wide array of career opportunities, allowing you to make a well-informed decision based on your interests, skills and financial needs.
Another benefit is of completing this program is that you will have steady employment for most of your career, something most nurses aim for regardless of their position on the corporate ladder. There is a multitude of online programs available today that can offer you the same amount of information and preparation as a traditional track, but with lower costs and considerably more flexibility. Once you earn your certification as an APRN, you will be able to manage patient health, order medical tests and prescriptions, advise and guide the general public on health and lifestyle, as well as diagnose and treat various health problems and conditions.
If you are sold on the value of an NP certification, the hardest decision you have to make is choosing a specialization. With so many different options available and so many different variables (cost, job prospects, study length, necessary degrees), selecting a final career path might seem overwhelming. Luckily, you can learn about each of these professions beforehand and become well-versed in what they mean, what type of work they imply, and the income and work environment you can expect from them to make an informed decision. Here is everything you need to know about the main specializations you can opt for as a student of a Nurse Practitioner program:
- Nurse Practitioner (NP): this is the main and most widely-acknowledged specialization that encompasses a variety of disciplines, including emergency care, psychiatry, neonatal and pediatric care. This is the root of all the other nursing specialties available for an APRN;
- Emergency Nurse Practitioner (ENP): as the title suggests, this qualification allows you to work in emergency rooms or urgent care facilities, during crisis situations, to stabilize and provide safe, timely and effective care for critical patients;
- Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS): this certification can significantly expand your nursing expertise in child and adult health, direct patient care, research-based nursing practice, pain management, stress reduction and interdisciplinary health care; after finishing your studies and starting work, you will be dealing with patients belonging to specific age groups and treating particular diseases, be they chronic or acute;
- Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP): a very popular career path, ACNPs specialize in immediate patient care, including trauma, severe injuries that require urgent care, short-lived illnesses and critical aspects of ongoing health conditions;
- Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP): another prominent choice, the FNP certification allows you to provide quality medical care to patients throughout the lifespan, from neonatal to adult and elderly; mainly focusing on diagnosing diseases, you will be working as a primary care nurse and interacting with the patient’s relatives or family all throughout the healing, birth, rehabilitation or illness management process;
- Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM): highly knowledgeable in obstetrics, safe delivery methods, newborn care, gynecology and the postpartum period, midwives ensure that mothers transition smoothly and securely through their pregnancies, and also take care of their infants after birth and provide family planning options and advice to the general public;
- Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA): this qualification allows you to administer anesthesia or other pain-controlling medicine to patients within a variety of clinical settings or healthcare institutions; it is among the highest-paid jobs in the current nursing system;
- Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP): dealing primarily with infants and their families, a PNP teaches you how to safely and efficiently treat the most common illnesses developed among children, as well as injuries and chronic health conditions; this certification can make you eligible either for primary or acute care, both of which help you master the communication skills required to successfully relate to and cooperate with the children’s families;
- Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP): this certification will make you eligible to work in ICUs (intensive care units) and nurseries, teaching you how to provide both critical and generalized care to infants and newborn; you will also interact with families and discuss essential nursing education principles with other healthcare providers;
- Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP): devised to train you in the nitty-gritty of reproductive health, this program teaches you how to manage and treat diseases in women throughout the lifespan, as well as how to adequately meet the needs of the patient as they transition to their senior years;
- Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (AGNP): allowing you to work in community clinics, hospitals, patient homes and ambulatory care centers, this certification prepares you to provide education, illness management and medical care to adults and elderly individuals, as well as to develop ethical awareness and cultural sensitivity to competently accommodate patients;
- Psychiatric / Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP): focusing on diagnosing and treating patients with mental illness, this program makes you eligible to work in community health centers, primary care units, hospitals, outpatient clinics, private practices, prisons, schools and trauma centers; you will be responsible for the medication management of patients and will have the possibility of providing substance abuse counselling to various affected individuals or patient groups.
The first requirement for an NP program is a minimum GPA after graduating high school. You will have to complete a series of prerequisite courses, including human anatomy, statistics, biology, chemistry, psychology, and physiology. You can do volunteer work to help with your résumé and your references. For the next four years or so, you will earn your Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN). You can obtain this type of certification in a similar non-nursing field or enroll in an identical program; but a Bachelor’s Degree is an indispensable component of the application process.
You will need to have proof that you have work experience to be considered for admission to an NP program. You need to spend 1 to 2 years practicing as an RN (registered nurse) before you apply. Also, you will need to graduate from a quality MSN program (between 2 and 4 years to complete) and preferably specialize in your desired field of study (any presented above). Otherwise, you can earn a generalist nursing degree. The final step is to carry out a doctoral program and earn a terminal degree like a DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice).
For the application process, you will need your official university transcripts, several letters of recommendation from professors, work colleagues, mentors and supervisors, proof of your previous practice as an RN, a current curriculum vitae (CV) and a personal statement (an essay of up to two pages) in which you describe your academic and professional goals. You will need to submit your scores for either MAT (Miller Analogies Test) or GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) and evidence that you have passed IELTS (International English Language Testing System) or TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) if you are an international student.
The curriculum of your Nurse Practitioner program will largely depend on the specialization you pursue. However, all NP coursework will teach you how to conduct physical exams, record and evaluate medical data from patients’ histories, order relevant tests and prescribe medications or long-term treatments. Emphasis will be placed on the accurate documentation of both individual and family health framework, therapeutic care plans, coordination of medical care, referrals to other physicians or healthcare providers and overall health assessment.
NP programs revolve around the life cycle and center on providing adequate, safe medical care to patients of all ages and all ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds. You will learn the fundamentals of acute care nursing, oncology nursing, public health nursing, women’s health, psychiatry, family nursing, pediatric nursing and geriatric nursing. All of these will cover a wide array of topics, ranging from application of theory within clinical settings to business management.
Once again, the exact class titles will differ according to your selected specialization. Nonetheless, here are the main course outlines of a standard Nurse Practitioner program:
- Advanced Pathophysiology
- Advanced Health Assessment
- Advanced Pharmacotherapeutics
- Application of Evidence in Healthcare Environments
- Theoretical Foundation and Role Development for the Advanced Practice Nurse
- Clinical Decision Making
- Primary Care Management
- Research for Practice Nurses
- Theories of Individual and Family Psychotherapy
- Advanced Practice Nursing in Primary Care (Child, Woman, Adolescent, Adult)
- Transition to Advanced Nursing
- Improving Delivery of Healthcare to Patients and Populations
- Care for Aging Individuals
- Health Care Policy and Politics
- Statistics for the Healthcare Professional
- Practicum Primary Care
How long does the program last?
The road to becoming a Nurse Practitioner is long but undeniably worth the time and effort. The length of the program will vary according to your state, school, specialization, band also the degrees you are pursuing on your NP career path. A Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing can take you up to 4 years to carry out (accelerated options can require as little as 12 months and bridge tracks involve an investment of two years or less). Additionally, a Master’s of Science in Nursing with your desired nursing specialty typically requires between 2 and 4 years to complete. If you want to continue towards higher academic endeavors, your DNP or Ph.D. program will last for 3 to 4 years. In total, it can take anywhere between 3 and 12 years to become a Nurse Practitioner, depending on your professional goals, financial needs and available educational opportunities.
Do Nurse Practitioner programs require any clinical hours?
All NP programs require practicum work in one or more healthcare setting. Regardless of the specialization you choose, you will need to work with real patients alongside other health professionals to gain experience and provide optimal medical care to both families and individuals. Most tracks require a minimum of 500 clinical hours, but the exact figure varies according to the nursing specialty. For instance, a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) only requires 650 clinical hours, a Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) requires at least 1,000 and a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) must complete approximately 2,500 clinical hours with over 850 anesthetics administered before practicing.
Are there any online options?
There are several online alternatives for every NP specialization available. To compensate for the increasing shortage of nurses nationwide, a vast majority of universities now offer distance learning options, whereas employers recognize or even prioritize online-acquired certifications in today’s market. This type of coursework is not only more convenient but also asks for far fewer campus trips. The only time you will have to be present near your school is when you complete your clinical practice within a hospital, urgent care unit, maternity center, family planning institution or rehabilitation center.
Finding online options is relatively straightforward when it comes to Nurse Practitioner programs. The trick is to get training that matches both your academic goals and work schedule, and also fits your budget. For more information on the best NP online programs, check out the comprehensive list of universities below:
- Simmons School of Nursing and Health
- Georgetown University
- Georgia College and State University
- Duke University
- Ball State University
- Ohio State University
- Stony Brook University SUNY
- George Washington University
- University of Cincinnati
- Angelo State University
- Maryville University
- University of South Carolina
- St. Xavier University
- East Carolina University
- Texas Tech University
- Clayton State University
- University of Southern Mississippi
- Albany State University
- Drexel University
- Graceland University
- University of Southern Indiana
- Texas A & M University
- Walden University
- Chamberlain College of Nursing
- Clarkson College
- Florida International University
- Idaho State University
- John Hopkins University
How much does the program cost?
Tuition for Nurse Practitioner programs ranges between $15,000 and $25,000. The cost differs according to the specialization and the type of certification. For instance, a Family Nurse Practitioner MSN to DNP program is worth up to $16,000, whereas a full-fledged Master’s level program in the same nursing specialty costs over $20,000. Similarly, a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree with the same FNP specialization requires an investment of approximately $24,000. Typically, you can expect a price of $1,500 per credit hour for most NP tracks.
Additional fees include books, supplies, health insurance, technology fee, lab fee, activity, and recreation fee, transcript fee, and application fee. Given how significant the necessary investment is, you might want to first check with your workplace to see if they accept reimbursements. You can apply for federal loans, scholarships, private loans or other financial aid options.
Are Nurse Practitioner programs accredited?
Yes, all NP programs should be accredited by one or (preferably) more of the following institutions: The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or The Accreditation Commission For Education in Nursing (ACEN), The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN). In addition, you need to ensure that you have passed your National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) and have received certification from the AANC or the AANPCB to practice. To receive this document, you will need to pass an examination. The entry requirements include an MSN, a doctoral degree or a post-master’s certificate, a minimum of 500 supervised clinical hours, your official final transcript and evidence of an active RN license. You can choose to take the exam in your selected specialization (family nursing, pediatrics, mental health, acute care and so on).
Where can you work as a Nurse Practitioner?
An NP can work in a variety of healthcare settings, including but not limited to hospitals, ICUs, emergency rooms, family planning centers, urgent care centers, private homes, rehabilitative centers, birth centers, schools, universities, hospices, clinics, teaching hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers. Here are just some of the job opportunities you will have as a fully certified Nurse Practitioner:
- Family NP
- Pediatric NP
- Neonatal NP
- Nurse Midwife
- Oncology NP
- Geriatric NP
- Dialysis NP
- Primary Care NP
- Psychiatric / Mental Health NP
- Chronic Pain NP
- Public Health NP
- Clinical Nurse Specialist
- Nurse Anesthetist
- Nurse Researcher
- Nurse Educator
- Nurse Advocate
- NP Outpatient TCM (Transitional Care Model)
- NP Palliative
- NP Pediatric Cardiology
- NP Pediatric Endocrinology
- Nurse Case Manager
How much can you earn as a Nurse Practitioner?
The average salary for an NP is $102,426. It generally ranges between $95,000 and $112,000, depending on your expertise, workplace and academic background. Here is a short list on the median annual salaries of the most common NP job positions:
- Family Nurse Practitioner: $89,043
- Pediatric Nurse Practitioner: $88,161
- Oncology Nurse Practitioner: $108,000
- Neonatal Nurse Practitioner: $107,550
- Geriatric Nurse Practitioner: $102,526
- Psychiatric / Mental Health Nurse Practitioner: $88,441
- Certified Nurse Midwife: $107,460
- Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist: $174,876
- Chronic Pain Nurse Practitioner: $98,190
- Acute Care Nurse Practitioner: $110,123
- Public Health Nurse Practitioner; $56,111
- Clinical Nurse Specialist: $80,000.