Nurse Practitioner Programs: From School to Certification

Degree Paths and Concentrations to Advance Your Nursing Career
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From pediatrics to geriatrics and everything in between, the employment landscape for nurse practitioners is thriving. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, nurse practitioners (NPs) are the largest subsection of the advanced practice registered nursing field. In this guide, readers learn how nurse practitioners are prepared for the workforce, including the educational opportunities available to them, the patient populations they can specialize in, and the steps towards earning a nurse practitioner certification.

Best Nurse Practitioner Schools

Students who aspire to become a nurse practitioner must first complete a graduate-level program in this specialization. Whether students are interested in becoming a nurse practitioner with a specialization in neonatal nursing, psychiatric nursing, or oncological nursing, they still have to make the first major decision of studying in a graduate program: which school to attend. Fortunately, we’ve made this part easy by looking at what each school has to offer in terms of cost for tuition, acceptance rate, and total student population, and putting together a ranked list of our findings. Check out the top nurse practitioner schools and programs below.

1. Vanderbilt University

Functioning as a private research university in Nashville, Tennessee, Vanderbilt University was founded in 1873. Named after Cornelius Vanderbilt, a shipping and rail magnate in New York who gave the school its first endowment to help heal the damage done by the Civil War. The university boasts a variety of research centers, along with several academic program opportunities across disciplines and degree levels, including a nurse practitioner degree master's degree.

The school of nursing at Vanderbilt prepares students to become skilled, knowledgeable, and experienced advanced practice nurses equipped with the abilities they need to increase access to quality healthcare for people all over the world. The school aims to constantly create more flexible ways for degree-seekers to earn their MSN degrees, as they employ innovative approaches and explore unique clinical experience opportunities.

Students at Vanderbilt can take advantage of multiple entry options. An incoming student may possess an associate degree or diploma in nursing with a minimum of 78 semester hours of college credits. Many incoming students hold bachelor's degrees in nursing or an unrelated field, while others may be currently enrolled in different undergraduate degrees at Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt also provides opportunities for high school students interested in pre-nursing studies. Its nursing school also highlights advanced practice specialties that cater to each student's personal interests and career goals.

Vanderbilt University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). Its MSN is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

2. Xavier University

A Jesuit university located in Cincinnati, Ohio, Xavier University is the fourth-oldest Jesuit and the sixth-oldest Catholic university in the United States. Xavier highlights 81 major opportunities across many colleges. Primarily providing liberal arts undergraduate coursework, the university encompasses a multitude of discipline options, including a prestigious master of science in nursing for family nursing practitioners.

Xavier highlights its nursing practitioner (NP) degree with an aptly named NP track. During this program, undergraduate and graduate students become prepared with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the NP profession.

Family nurse practitioner (FNP) students can learn to apply family oriented primary care, such as preventative care, health maintenance and management of chronic illness, and diagnosis and treatment. The FNP track integrates concepts of master of science in nursing and nurse practitioner core topics with practicum experiences focused on the preparation of an FNP.

Most nursing courses in the program are offered via video conferencing at selected partner sites, but they are primarily taught on campus, aside from practicum courses. Students cannot complete the NP program entirely online. Each enrollee must complete 47 credit hours, including 19 credit hours of MSN core courses and 28 credit hours of clinical nurse practitioner FNP core requirements.

The FNP track presents students with several course topics for the skills and knowledge they need to thrive in their careers, including clinical pharmacology, advanced health assessment for registered nurses, adult and geriatric family care, and childbearing family care.

Xavier University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). Its MSN is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

3. Jacksonville University

Located in Jacksonville, Florida, Jacksonville University began as a two-year college in 1934, switching to a four-year university in 1956. As a member of the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida, JU has a diverse student body, with degree-seekers from 45 countries and 40 states.

JU's sought-after nurse practitioner (NP) degree is a master of science in nursing that highlights specializations in adult gerontology acute care, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, emergency NP, and family nurse practitioner (FNP). Students interested in the FNP develop the decision-making and critical-thinking skills needed to evaluate illnesses and the health of certain populations. Graduates of the program can care for individuals dealing with chronic and acute health issues.

The psychiatric mental health NP program focuses on providing care for families and individuals suffering from a variety of mental health issues. Emergency NP students can develop the skills and knowledge they need to prepare for careers caring for patients in urgent care and emergency settings.

Degree-seekers focusing on the FNP specialization learn to manage the direct care of individuals experiencing chronic and acute health issues. MSN students can choose to enroll part time or full time, depending on their scheduling needs and their desired program length.

Jacksonville University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). Its MSN is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

4. Virginia Commonwealth University

Virginia Commonwealth University functions as a public research university that began as the medical department of Hampden-Sydney College in 1838. In 1854, the institution transformed into the Medical College of Virginia, and in 1968, upon the merger with Virginia General Assembly and the Richmond Professional Institute, Virginia Commonwealth University was created. Today, students can explore many degree opportunities at VCU, including its many master's in nursing degrees.

The college of nursing at VCU features some of the best nursing programs in the country, providing students with rigorous learning experiences to allow them to become advanced practice nursing leaders. Nursing degree-seekers at VCU can focus their nurse practitioner (NP) degrees on the following concentration areas: psychiatric and mental health NP, adult-gerontology primary NP, family nurse practitioner, adult-gerontology acute care NP, or nursing administration and leadership.

No matter which concentration they focus on, learners develop a foundation in the advanced practice skills and specialized knowledge they need to provide excellent care for diverse populations of patients facing different illnesses and health issues. Instructors at VCU are expert educators, professional leaders, and researchers who maintain their own active clinical practices and relate their experience to the lessons they teach their students.

The school of nursing at VCU highlights a study plan for registered nurses (RNs) who hold bachelor's degrees in nursing. Those who hold post-master's certificates and RN licensure can also explore a master's in nursing, seeking national certification for their chosen area of concentration.

Virginia Commonwealth University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). Its master's in nursing degrees are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

5. University of Detroit Mercy

Operating as a private, Roman Catholic co-educational university in Detroit, Michigan, the University of Detroit Mercy was founded in 1877 and is currently the largest Roman Catholic university in Michigan. Boasting three campuses, the university offers more than 100 academic degree opportunities, including a master of science in nursing degree with specialization options.

The school offers a family nurse practitioner (FNP) degree for advanced practice nurses to gain experience with primary healthcare services across the lifespan, providing care to families, individuals, and communities. Along with primary care services, the program incorporates the use of practice models to expose students to health promotion along with ideas for disease prevention through the combination of disciplines.

During the program, each degree-seekers must complete a total of 72 credits, with 720 required clinical hours. Additionally, each student must complete 25 more clinical hours to earn their doctor of nursing practice for more advanced career opportunities.

Graduates of the FNP program can sit for the national certification examination from the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners or the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Students can contact the board of nursing for the state they want to practice nursing in to determine whether they meet all requirements regarding education, certification, and practice before they move forward with their program.

Learners can focus on several subjects during their program, including healthcare policy, economics, information management and decision support, and health promotion across the lifespan. University of Detroit Mercy is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). Its MSN is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

6. Saint Xavier University

Located in Chicago, Illinois, Saint Xavier University is a private Roman Catholic university that was founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1846. Highlighting nearly 50 undergraduate programs and 25 graduate opportunities, students at SXU can explore a variety of program opportunities. The university features the following three schools: the Graham School of Management, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the School of Nursing and Health Sciences. Among the varied program choices at SXU, students can focus their studies on a master of science in nursing family nurse practitioner (FNP) degree.

SXU boasts a 100% online FNP program that students can complete in three years with clinical requirements. The program provides degree-seekers with the skills and knowledge they need to excel as licensed independent advanced practice healthcare providers, serving individuals and families across the lifespan. The program teaches students to take a patient-centered approach to provide the highest level of care available. After graduation, nurses can pursue the FNP certification examination.

Once they complete the program, graduates can demonstrate the ability to prescribe medications and treatments; coordinate and manage care for their patients; perform, order, and interpret diagnostic tests, such as x-rays and lab work; and diagnose and treat both chronic and acute conditions, including infections, hypertension, and diabetes.

The online format prepares nurses to focus on advanced practice in many different settings. Each student can complete practicum experiences during their last three semesters, completing 600 clinical hours at practice sites, including primary care practices, hospitals, and outpatient clinics.

Saint Xavier University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). Its MSN is accredited by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).

7. Barry University

Founded by the Adrian Dominican Sisters in 1940, Barry University is a private Catholic university in Miami Shores, Florida. The university is one of the biggest Catholic universities in the southeastern United States and falls in the territory of the Archdiocese of Miami. Degree-seekers at Barry can explore over 100 degree options, including bachelor's, master's, and doctoral programs across disciplines. Of their varied program opportunities, the university boasts a prestigious master of science in nursing.

Barry's College of Nursing and Health Sciences offers a nurse practitioner degree with two available concentrations: family practice or adult-gerontology acute care. Specializations allow nurses who hold bachelor's degrees to focus on preparing for advanced nursing roles in their chosen area of interest. During the program, learners enjoy the ability to combine graduate studies with professional nursing practice.

The MSN program, which generally takes students 2.5 years to complete, features eight continuous semesters. Enrolling part-time allows students to continue working as they earn their degrees, enjoying a more flexible program format. Each degree-seeker must complete a minimum of 500 clinical hours.

Students can take their courses one day a week to fit into their busy schedules, and they enjoy a cohort format that allows them to begin and end their degrees with the same group of students. Graduates leave their program able to use the appropriate patient-care information systems and technologies to deliver effective care across the lifespan.

Barry University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). Its MSN is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

8. Allen College

Allen College is a private, nonprofit, nursing college in Waterloo, Iowa. The college was established in 1925, closed after the Great Depression, and eventually reopened in 1942. It enrolls a small student body of fewer than 600 students. The college features the School of Health Science and the School of Nursing, offering several programs in both areas of study, including a nurse practitioner (NP) degree with many available concentrations.

Allen College offers its master of science in nursing to prepare students to pursue specialized careers after graduation. Specialization options in the following areas allow degree-seekers to cater their program to their specific interests and career goals: leadership in health information technology, community/public health nursing, nursing education, leadership in healthcare delivery, acute care pediatric NP, adult-gerontological acute care NP, psychiatric mental health NP, and family NP.

Each candidate must possess a bachelor of science in nursing from a regionally accredited institution with a 3.0 minimum GPA, and they must hold a current Iowa registered nurse (RN) license. An RN applicant with a non-nursing bachelor's degree must hold a 3.0 minimum GPA, a current registered nurse license in Iowa, and complete required courses in statistics, nursing research, and community health. Any applicant whose first language is not English must provide proof of English-speaking proficiency.

RNs pursuing Allen College's nursing program who plan to maintain residency in a state other than Iowa are advised to consult with an admissions advisor before they apply to the college.

Allen College is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). Its MSN is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

9. University of Oklahoma

Serving as the health sciences branch of the University of Oklahoma, the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center is the primary place of instruction for many of the state's health professionals. As one of only four health centers in the United States, the institution features seven professional colleges. Among the degrees at the health sciences center is an MSN family nurse practitioner degree.

The health sciences center at OU features its nurse practitioner degree for students interested in working in local health departments, correctional facilities, hospitals, schools, clinics, state and federal agencies, or corporations providing advanced practice healthcare across the lifespan. Students who enroll part time can complete their program in three years, while those who enroll full time can earn their degree in two years. The curriculum requires each degree-seeker to satisfy 47 credits of coursework.

Each applicant must hold a bachelor of science in nursing from a regionally accredited institution and a current license to practice as a registered nurse in Oklahoma. Other admission requirements include completing a research methodology course with a "C" grade or higher, enrolling in an undergraduate or graduate general statistics course, holding a 3.0 minimum GPA, and submitting three letters of recommendation.

Graduates leave the program with the ability to apply evidence-based care to patients across the lifespan. They are also able to demonstrate a level of expertise in clinical teaching, administrative practice, and management.

The University of Oklahoma is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). Its MSN is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

10. Keiser University

As a private, nonprofit university in Florida, Keiser University features its main campus in Fort Lauderdale and belongs to the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida. With branches across Florida, Keiser also boasts international campuses. Among its varied program offerings, the university highlights a nurse practitioner degree.

Keiser offers a master of science in nursing family nurse practitioner (FNP) program for nurses to receive advanced practice nursing skills and knowledge, along with advanced clinical skills. Learners explore injury and illness prevention in addition to managing chronic and acute illnesses, health promotion, and healthcare across the lifespan. In addition to their rigorous coursework, degree-seekers can complete clinical practice experience requirements.

Each graduate must take the FNP board certification exam to earn their license and practice as an FNP. Aligned with the guidelines in place by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the program prepares graduates to showcase their clinical experiences, leadership skills, and critical-thinking abilities across healthcare settings, serving all types of patients.

To earn their degree, each student must complete a minimum of 49 graduate credit hours with a 3.0 minimum GPA. They cannot complete more than one course with a "C" grade and must complete all of their credits at Keiser University.

Keiser University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). Its MSN is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

11. SUNY Upstate Medical University

As an upper-division transfer and graduate college, Upstate Medical University functions as a SUNY health sciences university located in the University Hill area of Syracuse, New York. Upstate features degree programs across its College of Nursing, College of Health Professions, College of Graduate Studies, and College of Medicine. The campus in Syracuse also includes Upstate University Hospital. Students can explore many nursing and health programs at the university, including an MS nurse practitioner (NP) degree.

Upstate offers its NP program to provide students with clinical education and the advanced nursing skills needed to pursue careers in healthcare for patients of all ages. Degree-seekers can consider a track in family psychiatric mental health NP, pediatric NP, or family nurse practitioner. Pursuing a concentration area allows students to focus their degrees on their career goals and personal interests.

Throughout their curriculum, learners can focus on creating treatment plans, providing patient education, diagnosing chronic and acute illnesses, interpreting x-rays and diagnostic lab tests, prescribing treatment, and recommending diagnostic tests. The NP program is a great fit for expert registered nurses who want to develop and expand advanced practice nursing skills and focus on professional enhancement to provide quality healthcare.

Graduates of the NP program can become comfortable managing patient illnesses and health, providing culturally aware and sensitive care, and maintaining effective health provider-patient relationships.

SUNY Upstate Medical University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). Its MSN is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

12. Texas Woman's University

Texas Woman's University is a co-educational university in Denton, Texas, with two health science center branches in Houston and Dallas. Even though TWU has been co-educational since 1994, it is the country's biggest state-supported university primarily for women. TWU boasts a Carnegie classification as a comprehensive doctoral and research university. Among its varied program offerings, TWU offers a nurse practitioner (NP) degree.

TWU offers a nurse practitioner program for students interested in expanding their knowledge and skills in the nursing field. TWU highlights five key areas of specialization for NPs: adult/gerontology acute care NP, adult/gerontology NP, pediatric NP, family nurse practitioner (FNP), or women's health NP.

In the adult/gerontology acute care NP concentration, degree-seekers can focus on solving complex health issues through fast-paced settings, meeting challenges through exposure to specific patient needs. In the gerontology concentration, enrollees can explore the treatment decisions and protocols related to commonly encountered health problems in an aging population.

Learners in the FNP specialization can focus on treating patients across the lifespan, typically in primary care settings, while the pediatric nurse practitioner concentration explores how to provide compassionate, quality healthcare to adolescents and children. Degree-seekers enrolled in the women's health nurse practitioner concentration review issues in well-woman care, fertility, and family planning.

Texas Woman's University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). Its MSN is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

13. The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

Operating as a public research university within the University of Texas System, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley's campuses in the Rio Grande Valley region of Texas were founded in 2013 and began full operation in 2015. UTRGV offers a master of science in nursing family nurse practitioner program through its medical school.

The nurse practitioner degree at UTRGV prepares nurses to expand their skills, research abilities, and knowledge in advanced practice nursing to provide the highest level of care for patients across the lifespan. The accredited program boasts expert-level instructors who weave their experiences into their instruction.

The rigorous curriculum requires 31 credits of required coursework and 14 credits of practice courses. Additionally, each student must complete a three-credit capstone project or a six-credit thesis option. Among the topics covered in the program, students can focus on nursing informatics, advanced health assessment, advanced practice rural health nursing, and pharmacology for advanced nursing practice.

Each applicant must submit an application and pay the application fee. Then, they must request that a copy of their transcripts be sent to the university. An applicant should hold a bachelor's degree in nursing, submit their resume, provide a letter of intent, send in three letters of recommendation, hold their valid registered nurse license, complete an undergraduate statistics course, and clear a criminal background check.

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). Its MSN is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

14. Prairie View A&M University

A historically black university in Prairie View, Texas, Prairie View A&M University was founded in 1876 as one of two land-grant universities in Texas and serves as the second-oldest public higher learning institution in the state. PVAMU highlights 50 bachelor's programs, nearly 40 master's opportunities, and four doctoral degrees. Among its vast program offerings, the university also features a nurse practitioner degree.

PVAMU offers its master of science in nursing with three program options: nurse administration, nurse education, and family nurse practitioner (FNP). Graduates can leave the nursing program with the ability to enact evidence-based research, enhancing their nursing practice while promoting diverse populations and healthy communities. These graduates can work well with others in their field, influencing economic, political, and social trends in health policy.

Students pursuing their FNP degrees focus on advanced practice nursing, emphasizing the primary care of families, clients, and communities across the lifespan. During their curriculum, degree-seekers complete both advanced and core coursework to explore theoretical foundations of health systems and models, nursing practice, and nursing research.

The program features 53 required credit hours, including 780 hours of clinical practice experiences. The curriculum is composed of 15 credit hours of core courses, 11 credit hours of advanced practice core courses, 21 credit hours focused on nurse practitioner specialty content, and six credit hours of a thesis or a final project requirement.

Each applicant must complete an application, hold a bachelor's degree in nursing with a minimum 2.75 GPA , provide their official transcripts, and submit GRE scores. A candidate must also provide three letters of recommendation, complete a criminal background check and drug screening, submit a current resume, and participate in an interview.

Prairie View A&M University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). Its MSN is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

15. Midwestern State University

Located in Wichita Falls, Texas, Midwestern State University is one of four independent public universities in Texas that is not affiliated with a state public university system. As Texas' only liberal arts-focused public higher learning institution, MSU features programs across seven colleges, allowing students to explore a variety of program opportunities, including a nurse practitioner degree.

The family nurse practitioner (FNP) program allows nurses to expand their professional roles, improving healthcare for the individuals, families, and communities they serve. The FNP program is a great fit for a nurse who has already earned their bachelor of science in nursing and wants to provide further care for individuals and families across the lifespan. During the curriculum, degree-seekers can expand their education and experience as registered nurses, building their skills in providing primary care to patients of all backgrounds and ages.

Graduates of the program meet the requirements put in place for advanced practice nursing by the Board of Nurse Examiners for Texas. These graduates can take national certification examinations. Throughout their coursework, each student must complete 18 credit hours of nursing core courses, 24 hours of clinical requirements, and six hours of evidence-based project courses or a thesis option, totaling 48 credit hours for the entire master's program.

Each applicant must hold a bachelor's degree in nursing from a nationally accredited program and hold their current registered nurse license to practice in Texas, along with their state of residence if they do not permanently reside in Texas. Additionally, they must submit their official transcripts and hold a 3.0 minimum GPA.

Midwestern State University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). Its MSN is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

Educational Road Map for Nurse Practitioners

The following illustrates a potential degree path for aspiring nurse practitioners. After completing an undergraduate degree, students have the option to work as an RN or go straight into their graduate-level studies.

Earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or bachelors of science in nursing (BSN).

Pass the NCLEX-RN and state licensure (optional).

Begin working as a registered nurse at a hospital, clinic, or other healthcare facility (optional).

Purse a master’s degree in nursing (MSN) or a doctorate degree (DNP), depending on your professional aspirations.

If not already a licensed nurse, pass the NCLEX-RN. Then earn certification as a nurse practitioner through the American Nurses Credentialing Center or the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.

Find a Nurse Practitioner Program

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing reports that there are more than 2,000 graduate degree programs around the country, which gives nurses a wealth of options for enrollment. The following search tool can help users sort through the many nursing degree programs out there, allowing them to find the school that best suits their needs and career goals.

Degree Level
School Type

Degree Paths for Nurse Practitioners

Just as there is more than one nursing school or degree program available to students, there is also more than one path to becoming a nurse practitioner. In some cases, students begin their education with an associate degree in nursing (ADN) and then move on to a bachelor’s degree and become a registered nurse. After getting past the undergraduate level, nurse practitioners are required to earn advanced degrees, so they will continue their education by earning a master’s degree and then a doctorate if desired.

In other cases, nurses make the decision to skip earning an associate degree and immediately work toward getting a bachelor’s. Some may work in the field for a while before deciding that they want to advance their careers and education, while others go straight to graduate school after completing their undergraduate degree with an eye toward becoming a nurse practitioner.

No matter which educational path students choose, the following sections outline what they can expect during each stage of the process.

First Step: Undergraduate Degree

Students can begin their careers after earning an undergraduate degree in nursing. These programs expose students to the nursing field, giving them the knowledge and training they need to obtain an entry-level nursing job. They also provide the academic foundation necessary for students to further their education so they are well-prepared to move on to a nurse practitioner degree program.

The Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

Associate degree programs in nursing are an excellent way for students to learn the basics of the profession and get hands-on training that will move them toward a rewarding career. The curriculum of these programs generally covers subjects such as pharmacology, physical patient assessments, pediatric nursing, mental health nursing, nutrition and anatomy and physiology.

In addition to classroom coursework, ADN programs also provide experiential learning opportunities where students see firsthand how nursing concepts are applied to real-world patient care. This component can include required laboratory experience that accompanies classwork, as well as training in internship programs.

For more information on this degree, visit our detailed ADN page.

The Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

On the bachelor’s level, students gain a deeper understanding of the nursing field and its concepts, whether they are building on the education they received at the associate’s level or entering nursing education for the first time. Students in these programs may take courses in maternity and pediatric nursing, public health, emergency care, genetics, nursing research and professional ethics for nurses.

Armed with a strong understanding of nursing theory, students in BSN programs get the preparation they need to practice through hands-on training. Nursing schools emphasize experiential learning as much as textbook studies, so future nurses actually find out what it feels like to apply nursing concepts to the special needs of individual patients.

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

Master’s degree programs in nursing accommodate the career and educational needs of students from various backgrounds who all have the same goal: training to eventually pursue an advanced nursing position. Entry-level master’s degree programs are for those who want to become a nurse after earning a bachelor’s degree in another discipline, while RN to master’s degree programs are designed for practicing nurses who have earned an associate’s degree. Likewise, there are degree programs specifically geared toward nurses who have completed their bachelor’s degrees.

No matter where they come from educationally, MSN students all get the advanced skills and knowledge they need to move up the career ladder. Some students use this experience to get a job right after graduation, while others will continue on the road to eventually completing a nursing doctoral program.

For more information on this degree, visit our detailed MSN page.

Doctorate Programs in Nursing

The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) began discussions in 2001 to determine if a doctorate-level degree should be required for nurse practitioners in order to meet the rigors of advanced nursing. As it stands now, the majority of NP programs award students with a master’s degree, although there is still a push to make the doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree the minimum requirement for nurse practitioners.

Who should earn a doctorate?

Doctorates should be earned by nurses who want to advance in their careers. Whether they want to become advanced practical nurses, researchers, or professors, these programs are designed to help students meet their goals.

How long does it take to earn a doctorate?

Doctoral degrees usually take about four to six years to complete.

What are the admission requirements for a nursing doctoral program?

Doctoral programs require that students have at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school. In addition, applicant must submit their GRE scores, maintain a certain GPA, and hold a current nursing license.

What skills can doctoral students learn?

Doctoral students finish their programs armed with a number of skills that will help them during the course of their careers. The following are examples of these skills:

  • Advanced technical skills

    Health care technology is rapidly evolving, so it’s imperative that nurses keep abreast of the latest technologies and have a deep understanding of how these advancements work. Students in doctoral degrees are taught about the latest technologies and how they can be used to care for patients.

  • Critical thinking skills

    Nurse practitioners must be able to apply their knowledge to individual patients. Critical thinking skills are required to make the right decisions for patient care based on evidence-based research.

  • Research skills

    Students who are interested in advancing knowledge of the field gain the research skills they need in a doctoral program. These programs teach students the different research methods that are used, how data is collected and analyzed, and strategies for communicating research results.

  • Teamwork skills

    Patient care is a team effort, and in order to ensure that patients have positive health outcomes, each member of the team must know how to work effectively with one another. Students in doctoral degree programs get advanced experience working in a team, and learn the best practices for effective teamwork.

  • Leadership skills

    Many students earn advanced degrees with an eye toward obtaining managerial positions. These students can study leadership styles, finance, the legal and ethical concepts that health care managers need to know, and how to deal with workplace conflict.

Nurse Practitioner Concentrations

Nurse practitioners receive a lot of training that make them an invaluable part of the health care field. As a result, these professionals are able to use their advanced skills and knowledge of nursing to concentrate on a specific patient population. The following are examples of concentrations that nurse practitioners can pursue.

  • Psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner

    These professionals are responsible for the treatment of patients with mental illnesses, such as depression. This concentration entails diagnosing mental illnesses, providing therapy, and helping patients’ families as they struggle with their loved one’s condition.

  • Neonatal nurse practitioner

    Neonatal nurse practitioners treat sick babies, as well as those who have been born prematurely. The patients they work with may have respiratory problems, low birth weight, or heart defects. Their work includes monitoring incubators and ventilators, administering medication, and performing tests to make a diagnosis on a sick child. In addition, these nurse practitioners may educate families on how to care for their children after they’ve been released from the hospital.

  • ER nurse practitioner

    ER nurse practitioners work with different kinds of patients who are receiving emergency room care. This job entails ordering scans, lab work, and X-rays; prescribing pain medications; and monitoring patients who are in an unstable condition.

  • Gerontological nurse practitioner

    These nurse practitioners focus their practice on elderly patients who may be treated in nursing homes, hospice facilities and health care clinics. Gerontological nurse practitioners’ job duties include conducting examinations to provide diagnoses, prescribing medications, ordering laboratory tests, and advising preventive care strategies.

  • Oncology nurse practitioner

    Oncology nurse practitioners work with patients who are being treated for cancer. They can be found in several medical settings, such as doctor’s offices, cancer centers, and hospices. The job duties of oncology nurses has grown exponentially over the years, so now these professionals are involved in an array of medical services, such as screenings, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

Certification: The Final Step for NPs

After completing a graduate-level degree program and passing the NCLEX-RN, the last step in becoming a nurse practitioner is undergoing the certification process. Certifications are issued through the American Nurses Credentialing Center and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. In order to become certified, nurses must meet the eligibility requirements, which include having a graduate degree, a current license, and a certain number of clinical work hours. Once those requirements are met, professionals must then pass an examination.

When nurse practitioners seek a professional credential, they need to choose an area of specialization to demonstrate their expertise in a specific part of the field. For example, the ANCC has several available specification areas, including family, gerontology, psychiatric-mental health, pediatric and school nurse practitioner credentials. Similarly, the AANP has adult, gerontology, and family nurse practitioner certifications available.

Nurse practitioner certifications must be renewed every five years. Just as they did when they initially applied for their credential, nurses are required to meet certain standards when they are up for renewal. The credentialing organizations generally require that nurses complete a certain number of clinical hours and continuing education courses designed to keep their knowledge and skills current. In addition, nurse practitioners may be required to pass another examination.

Steps to certification

  • Meet eligibility requirements.
  • Submit application and fee.
  • Submit fingerprints in order to undergo a criminal background check.
  • Register for and successfully complete the certification examination.

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