Best Nurse Practitioner Programs

ASO Staff Writers
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Updated July 12, 2023
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Nurse practitioner programs offer advanced clinical training and educational instruction at the master’s or doctoral level. Nurse practitioners (NPs) focus on health promotion and education, disease prevention, and wellness counseling. They guide patients in making appropriate, timely, and smarter health decisions that improve their overall well-being.

After completing a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), students often need another 2-4 years to become an NP. Many colleges and universities require NP applicants to have a BSN and a valid and unencumbered registered nurse (RN) license. However, some schools allow associate-trained RNs to earn a master of science in nursing (MSN), which is the base educational requirement for NPs. RN-to-MSN programs can take 4-6 years to complete.

In terms of nurse practitioner salary, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), reports that NPs earned a 2019 median salary of $115,800, which is almost three times as much as the annual median salary for other workers ($39,810). The BLS projects jobs for these professionals to grow 45% between 2019 and 2029, which is much faster than the average projected growth rate for jobs in other sectors (4%).

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Will I Need a Graduate Degree to Become a Nurse Practitioner?



Each state maintains specific requirements for nurse practitioner certification. However, most states require practitioners to complete at least an MSN. An NP program’s comprehensive curriculum helps NPs develop the advanced knowledge and skills they need to deliver expert healthcare.

NPs are valuable members of a medical team. They make significant contributions in terms of treatment options, diagnosis, ongoing care, and patient recovery. A well-crafted NP curriculum prepares graduates to deliver expert medical care in their field of expertise. In addition, leadership roles and senior positions, especially in medical and surgical hospitals, often require medical practitioners to hold an advanced degree.

Schools offer graduate certificate programs in several nursing fields. Requiring much less time to complete than an MSN and offering a focused field of study, graduate nursing certificates present holders as highly trained specialists. Schools often apply certificate credits toward an MSN in a related field, thereby allowing certificate-holders a foothold in an advanced nursing program.

Accreditation for a Nurse Practitioner Degree



The U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) oversee the accreditation process in the United States.

Nonprofit, degree-centered institutions typically seek regional accreditation, while career-focused, for-profit trade or sectarian schools seek national accreditation. Regional accrediting agencies often adhere to stricter quality standards than national accreditors. For this reason, many see regional accreditation as the more prestigious designation. However, ED and CHEA recognize both accreditation types.

Some accrediting agencies concentrate on specific programs instead of entire schools. ED and CHEA recognize two main accreditors in the nursing field: the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing.

Accreditation matters, especially for students who plan to apply for federal financial aid to help pay for their degree. ED channels financial aid only through accredited institutions.

20 Best Campus Nurse Practitioner Programs 2021



1
Duke University
LocationDurham, NC
Location19785

Located in Durham, North Carolina, Duke offers a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) that accepts applications from licensed nurses holding a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) or master of science in nursing (MSN). The DNP does not require applicants to submit GRE scores.

The 74-credit BSN-to-DNP pathway offers a nurse practitioner (NP) specialization. Students earn the MSN and DNP upon graduation. MSN-to-DNP enrollees complete 12 core coursework credits in science development, study design, and statistics; evidence-based practice; population health in a global society; and transition to advanced nursing practice.

MSN students can choose from 11 NP concentrations, including nursing and healthcare leadership, women's health, and nursing informatics. DNP candidates can complete the final project required to earn the degree at their place of employment.

Duke also offers a DNP pathway for nurses with a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in nursing. Ph.D. in nursing degree-holders need an MSN in an advanced practice registered nurse direct care or indirect care specialization.

Duke's DNP program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

2
Purdue University-Main Campus
LocationWest Lafayette, IN
Location11898

Purdue's graduate nursing degrees include four master of science in nursing (MSN) nurse practitioner (NP) programs, a doctor of nursing practice (DNP), and a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in nursing.

Students accepted to the MSN program can choose from four NP specializations: family health, pediatrics, adult/gerontology, and psychiatric/mental health. MSN applicants need an active registered nurse (RN) license and a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) with a 3.0 GPA or higher. They must also complete an upper-division statistics course with a minimum grade of 3.0. Full-time MSN candidates usually graduate within two years of initial enrollment, which includes one summer term.

The DNP accepts applications from RNs with a BSN or an MSN. The MSN-to-DNP requires enrollees to complete 38 or 53 credits, depending on a candidate's advanced practice registered nurse status. Full-time doctoral students can complete the Ph.D. in nursing within three years. Purdue's MSN programs follow a blended delivery format. However, doctoral programs occur mostly on campus.

Purdue's nursing programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

3
Johns Hopkins University
LocationBaltimore, MD
Location27868

Johns Hopkins offers graduate nursing programs at the master's and doctoral levels. Learners with a four-year non-nursing degree can apply to the entry into nursing program, which leads to a master of science in nursing (MSN). Students can enroll in the program to gain clinical experience in an advanced practice nursing role, or to build on the degree and continue on to doctoral studies.

MSN applicants who prefer to focus on nursing administration can pursue a healthcare organizational leadership track or enroll in a dual program that pairs an MSN with a master of business administration (MBA).

Applicants with a bachelor of science in nursing can apply directly to the doctor of nursing practice (DNP) program, which offers concentrations in clinical nurse specialist and nurse practitioner (NP) arenas. NP specialization areas include family health primary care, adult-gerontology critical care, and pediatrics. The university offers the DNP as a standalone degree or as part of a dual-degree program with an MBA or a master of public health. Students who want to pursue a research-focused doctoral degree can apply to the doctor of philosophy in nursing program.

The nursing programs at Johns Hopkins are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

4
Emory University
LocationAtlanta, GA
Location26804

Emory's graduate nursing programs include master's and doctoral degrees and several areas of advanced practice nursing concentrations. The accelerated master of science in nursing (AMSN) accepts applications from graduates of a non-nursing bachelor's program and leads to an initial registered nurse (RN) license. The 60-credit program includes at least 675 clinical hours.

Graduates of an accredited bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) program can apply to the MSN program that consists of 48 credits and requires 780 clinical hours. Concentration areas include women's health, neonatal nursing, family health, and pediatrics. Qualified students can pursue a dual degree that pairs an MSN with a master's in bioethics or public health.

The doctor of nursing practice offers concentrations in health systems leadership, population health, and nurse anesthesia. Emory also offers a doctor of philosophy in nursing through the Laney Graduate School.

Emory's nursing programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

5
New York University
LocationNew York, NY
Location39935

NYU offers several graduate nursing programs through the Rory Meyers College of Nursing. The master of science in nursing (MSN) program prepares graduates for advanced practice clinical roles as nurse practitioners (NPs) and nurse midwives. Students can pursue a non-clinical concentration in nursing administration, education, or informatics.

Learners pursuing a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) can apply to the BSN/MSN program that allows them to earn the two degrees faster than it would take to earn each one separately. Applicants must demonstrate excellent academic abilities with a minimum 3.5 GPA.

NYU offers three types of doctor of nursing practice (DNP) programs. The BSN-to-DNP program accepts applications from bachelor's-trained registered nurses. NPs and certified nurse-midwives (CNWs) can apply to the advanced standing DNP. The post-master's DNP welcomes applications from MSN degree-holders who are neither NPs or CNWs, including nurse administrators, clinical nurse specialists, or nurse educators. Doctoral candidates can pursue a doctor of philosophy in nursing.

NYU's nursing programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

6
Boston College
LocationChestnut Hill, MA
Location26567

BC offers graduate nursing programs at the master's and doctoral levels. The master of science in nursing (MSN) accepts applications from associate- and bachelor's-trained registered nurses (RNs). Students who have completed all prerequisite coursework at the start of the program can earn the 56-credit MSN in 18 months.

The doctor of nursing practice (DNP) offers four pathways and two concentration areas. The direct-entry DNP is for applicants with a non-nursing bachelor's degree. The post-bachelor's and post-master's DNP programs accept bachelor of science in nursing and MSN (respectively) degree-holders. Associate-trained RNs can apply to the RN-to-DNP program. DNP enrollees can choose a nurse practitioner or nurse anesthesia concentration.

BC also offers a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in nursing for nurse scientists. Full-time Ph.D. students receive full funding for three years to cover tuition, fees, and insurance. Ph.D. candidates must complete the program within eight years of their initial enrollment.

BC's nursing programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

7
George Washington University
LocationWashington, DC
Location39600

GW offers three graduate nursing programs: a master of science in nursing (MSN), a doctor of nursing practice (DNP), and a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in nursing. Students accepted to the MSN program can choose from advanced nurse practitioner (NP) roles in adult-gerontology acute and primary care, family health, and psychiatric mental health. The program also offers a concentration in nurse leadership and management and in nurse midwifery.

The DNP accepts applications from bachelor's- and master's-trained registered nurses. The post-bachelor's DNP offers the same NP concentration areas as the MSN. The post-master's DNP offers concentrations in executive leadership, nursing practice, and health policy.

Ph.D. students conduct clinical and educational research with a focus on health equity. The program consists of 57 credits. GW provides funding for the first two years of Ph.D. enrollment, which includes full tuition and a stipend.

GW's nursing programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

8
Villanova University
LocationVillanova, PA
Location36958

Villanova offers graduate nursing programs at the master's and doctoral levels. Students admitted to the master of science in nursing (MSN) program can choose from three nurse practitioner tracks: adult gerontology, family health, and pediatrics. Learners can also choose an MSN with a nursing education track.

Villanova offers the post-bachelor's nurse anesthesia doctor of nursing practice (DNP) as a joint program with the Crozer-Chester Medical Center. Applicants need a bachelor of science in nursing with a 3.0 GPA or higher and a valid registered nurse license. Applicants must also complete prerequisite coursework and have at least one year of experience as a professional nurse within five years of applying to the program.

The school's 46-credit doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in nursing prepares students for academic careers. The length of time needed to complete the Ph.D. depends on enrollees' educational backgrounds at the start of the program.

Villanova's nursing programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

9
University of California-Irvine
LocationIrvine, CA
Location15014

UCI's graduate nursing programs include a master's entry program in nursing (MEPN) for graduates holding a non-nursing bachelor's degree. The MEPN follows a cohort model of education, comprises 87 quarter credits, and offers a concentration in community and population health nursing. Enrollees complete the program within two years.

UCI also offers a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) without a concentration and a DNP with a concentration in family health. Both programs follow a hybrid delivery format. Students can complete either program in two years.

The doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in nursing is a full-time on-campus program that includes scholarly research on a variety of healthcare approaches integral to building healthy communities and promoting population health. The program focuses on six key areas, including health services and practice, digital technology and health, and health disparities and diversity. UCI provides funding for Ph.D. students for up to four years.

UCI's nursing programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

10
James Madison University
LocationHarrisonburg, VA
Location17753

Located in Harrisonburg, Virginia, JMU offers graduate nursing programs at the master's and doctoral levels. The doctor of nursing practice runs fully online.

The master of science in nursing (MSN) includes three nurse practitioner (NP) concentrations: family health, adult gerontology primary care, and psychiatric mental health. The program also offers concentrations in nursing leadership roles: nurse administrator, clinical nurse leader, and nurse midwifery.

The university offers the MSN concentrations in nurse midwifery and in psychiatric mental health as joint programs with Shenandoah University. Students graduate with an MSN from JMU and a postgraduate certificate from Shenandoah University.

The MSN program gives priority to applicants with a bachelor of science in nursing from an accredited institution and a valid registered nurse (RN) license. The university considers applications from associate-trained RNs and learners with a bachelor's degree in a non-nursing field on a case-by-case basis. Applicants admitted to the MSN program under these credentials may need to complete up to 11 additional credits.

JMU's nursing programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

Courses in a Nurse Practitioner Program



NP programs include content and methodology courses that prepare graduates for evidence-based nursing practice in several specialty areas. Accredited programs also provide an excellent educational foundation for graduates who plan to continue to a doctoral program after graduation.

Each school follows a curriculum that supports its academic goals for students. Along with foundation coursework, NP programs typically offer classes in specialty areas such as psychiatric-mental health, family nursing, and gerontology acute care. Many schools offer the courses below as part of a comprehensive NP program.

Certifications and Licensure for Nurse Practitioners



States require NPs to meet licensure requirements as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). A state nursing board typically oversees the licensing process. There is no national test similar to the NCLEX-RN for APRNs. Instead, state boards require NP certification as one of the criteria for APRN licensure. Nursing associations, such as the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, administer NP certification programs.

Family Nurse Practitioner Certification

This entry-level, competency-based exam tests examinees’ clinical knowledge in individual and family care across the lifespan. Questions cover several FNP knowledge areas, including biopsychosocial principles, differential diagnosis, patient and family education and counseling, and diagnostic and therapeutic tests and procedures.

Certified Nurse Midwife

Administered by the American Midwifery Certification Board, this credential requires at least an MSN and a valid RN license. Applicants must also demonstrate clinical experience in women’s health, including providing reproductive care, assisting in infant delivery and newborn care, and managing sexually transmitted diseases.

Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Certification

Applicants must complete an accredited MSN degree with a concentration in adult-gerontology acute care, which includes young adults, older individuals, and the elderly. Examinees also need a valid RN license and professional experience delivering healthcare services to adult-gerontologic patients experiencing chronic or terminal illness.

Professional Organizations for Nurse Practitioners



NPs can explore multiple professional organizations that cater to their specific field of expertise and practice. Many groups welcome student members and experienced NPs, which engenders mentorship and professional networking opportunities. Members can often access online career centers, digital libraries, and education and career development resources.

  • American Academy of Emergency Nurse Practitioners

    AAENP maintains an active online community forum that allows members to collaborate and network. Student members gain access to information regarding financial assistance, continuing education courses, and fellowship programs.
  • American Association of Nurse Practitioners

    AANP membership includes access to several online peer-reviewed journals, newsletters, and publications containing the latest news, research findings, and developments in the NP field. The organization also offers resources such as free continuing education units and scholarships and grants for research projects and further education. AANP provides several onsite and online opportunities for networking, mentorship, and collaboration.
  • National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners

    This organization offers several services and resources, including continuing education courses, advocacy opportunities, certification guides, and financial aid programs. NAPNAP publishes journals, books, policy papers, and other communication to keep members current on trends and emerging concerns in the pediatric nursing field.
  • Nurse Practitioners in Womens Health

    Members gain access to an interactive journal on womens health and active links to various resources to aid in research and practice. The organization also offers certification review materials and several continuing education courses and activities. Students receive weekly digital newsletters with policy and regulation updates, industry news, and pharmaceutical developments.

FAQ

How long does it take to become an NP?

With a BSN, it can take another 2-4 years to become an NP. Associate-trained RNs can complete an NP program in 4-6 years.

What is the difference between an NP and a physician assistant (PA)?

NPs provide patient-centered care, while PAs often focus on treating diseases. As a rule, PAs enjoy greater autonomy and many maintain an independent practice. Most states still require RNs to practice under a medical doctor’s supervision.

Do you have to be an RN to become an NP?

No. Accelerated NP programs for individuals with a bachelor’s in a non-nursing field and BSN-to-MSN NP degrees can bypass the need to work as an RN before qualifying for NP positions.

Can you be an NP without a BSN?

Yes. Individuals with a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field and associate-trained RNs can apply to MSN NP programs. The average completion times are 36 months and 24 months, respectively.


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