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Nurse Practitioner Programs

Ann Feeney, CAE
Updated January 31, 2023
Learn more about the degrees required to become an NP and how nurse practitioner programs work.
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If you are considering a career as a nurse practitioner (NP), now is an excellent time to explore programs. By earning a graduate degree and completing a national board certification exam, you can specialize in a specific area of care and gain more responsibility on the job. This can, typically, lead to more pay.

Many nurse practitioners complete a master of science in nursing (MSN) degree to meet the advanced degree requirement for state licensure. Others who already have this training may choose a postmaster’s certificate or a doctor of nursing practice (DNP).

Many of these degrees can be completed almost entirely online, with the exception of required clinical hours that need to be completed at a healthcare site or sites for labs for the assessment of health skills.

Because nurse practitioners typically earn six-figure incomes, enrolling in a nurse practitioner program can be a great investment in your future career. Read on for more about becoming a nurse practitioner.

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What Is a Nurse Practitioner Program?

A nurse practitioner program prepares nursing students to become eligible to pass national board certification in a nursing specialty. Once completed, nurses can get state licensure to practice as nurse practitioners.

Nurse practitioner programs can award either an MSN or a DNP degree. Most nurse practitioners earn their MSN in two years of full-time study.

Nurse practitioner schooling includes advanced courses in topics covered in the bachelor’s curriculum, such as anatomy and evidence-based care. They also offer courses in clinical assessment and pharmacology. This prepares NPs to order tests, diagnose conditions, and prescribe medication.

Nurse practitioner schools focus on a particular population, such as family care or pediatrics. Your NP license only allows you to treat that population. Once you graduate from your nurse practitioner school, you must take the national board certification examination in your population specialty.

A growing number of nurse practitioner programs are available online and on campus. Many are available on a part-time or full-time basis. Students receive the same diploma regardless of which option they pick for their nurse practitioner schooling.

Types of NP Programs

The most common nurse practitioner program is bachelor’s to MSN, but there are other pathways. Many schools offer registered nurse (RN) to MSN bridge programs for students with an associate degree in nursing (ADN). Others offer direct-entry master’s programs for students who have a non-nursing degree.

To be eligible for a direct-entry program, you must still have coursework in anatomy, microbiology, and related courses. The requirements vary by program.

Nurse Practitioner Program Prerequisites

All nurse practitioner programs require some familiarity with nursing or medicine, either from a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree, an ADN degree, or another degree or college credit that includes the same topics. Most MSN students, though, have a BSN degree.

Common NP school prerequisites include:

  • check-circleA current and unencumbered RN license
  • check-circleAt least two years of RN experience
  • check-circleAt least two references
  • check-circleAn application that includes an essay or personal statement
  • check-circleA criminal background check
  • check-circleFor candidates without a nursing school degree, college-level courses in biology, chemistry, anatomy, or similar topics (specifics vary by program)

Nurse Practitioner Program Specializations

Nurse practitioner schools require students to specialize in a particular population. Family practice is the most common, with 69.7% of all nurse practitioners certified in family practice, followed by adult (10.8%) and adult-gerontology primary care at 7.0%.

Other available nurse practitioner program specializations include :

Common Nurse Practitioner Program Courses and Curriculum

Much of the core coursework in NP programs is similar no matter what specialty area an RN chooses. This core training enables them to advance their skills and to be more on par with other trained healthcare professionals, many who may spend extensive time in medical school. NPs in the various specialty areas often take core classes, such as:

  • check-circleAdvanced health assessment
  • check-circleAdvanced pathophysiology
  • check-circleAdvanced pharmacology
  • check-circleEvidence-based research in nursing practice
  • check-circleProfessionalism in advanced practice nursing
  • check-circleCapstone research project

As students move past their first semester or year, they will begin to take classes specifically in their specialty area. For example, those in NP programs to become a FNP might take classes such as women’s health, pharmacology across the lifespan, and family therapy. Those in neonatal nurse practitioner programs would take classes such as pediatrics advanced practice primary care.

No matter what program students are in, they need to complete clinical hours as part of their degree. Typically, a minimum of 500 clinical hours is needed. This provides students with experience in their clinical setting and environment.

Clinical hours often occur under the guidance of a mentor or more trained professional, directing them in their decision-making and assessment and treatment skills. In some NP programs, students may need to do a research project or thesis to complete their degree.

What Can I Do With a Degree From a Nurse Practitioner Program?

When you graduate from nurse practitioner school and pass your board certification, you can practice primary care or work in a specialty department, such as neonatal or acute care. As an NP, you can order tests, make diagnoses, prescribe medications, and assist with or complete procedures such as suturing, casting, and wound care.

While all states give nurse practitioners some level of prescription authority, some states have additional requirements, such as recent education in pharmacology.

Many states give nurse practitioners full-practice authority, meaning they can practice independently. In other states, nurse practitioners must work under the supervision of or in collaboration with a physician. This is more of a reporting relationship than day-to-day close supervision.

Nurse practitioners work in all healthcare settings, including hospitals, physicians’ offices, independent practices, clinics, and residential care facilities. They also provide healthcare in other settings, such as military bases, schools, correctional facilities, and business workplaces. NPs also have the option to teach.

Nurse Practitioner Program Accreditation

There are two primary organizations offering accreditation for NP programs. These include the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, Inc. (ACEN) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). These organizations ensure that specific standards in nursing education are being met and that students receive a quality education when enrolling in an accredited program.

  • The ACEN accredits diploma, certificate, and degree-level nursing programs.
  • The CCNE accredits bachelor’s, graduate, and residency programs in nursing.

According to the ACEN, nursing accreditation is important because it assists in the “further improvement of the institutions or programs as related to resources invested, processes followed, and results achieved.”

The CCNE reports its accreditation process as important because “it supports and encourages continuing self-assessment by nursing programs and supports continuing growth and improvement of collegiate professional education and postbaccalaureate nurse residency programs.”

Students will want to be sure to enroll in an accredited nursing program. Only students who complete an accredited program will be eligible to receive advanced practice nursing licensure.

Frequently Asked Questions About Nurse Practitioner Programs

How much can you earn with a degree from a nurse practitioner program?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, half of all nurse practitioners make between $94,890 and $130,240. The median salary is $111,680.

The highest-paid specialties are acute care (median salary of $120,000), psychiatric mental health ($120,000), psychiatric mental health adult ($125,000), neonatal ($122,500), and pediatric primary care mental health ($124,000), according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP).

What is the most common degree for nurse practitioners?

According to the AANP, the most common degree for nurse practitioners is an MSN. Most nurse practitioner schools require or strongly prefer a DNP for tenured faculty positions. An MSN typically takes two years to complete.

How many nurse practitioners are there?

There are more than 325,000 nurse practitioners in the United States, according to the AANP. The BLS projects that between 2020 and 2030, the number of nurse practitioners will grow by 52%, or 114,900 new NPs.

Is completing a nurse practitioner program worth it?

Nurse practitioners earn six-figure salaries, have a high level of professional autonomy, and are in demand across the country. This makes nurse practitioner school an excellent investment if you are interested in nursing or healthcare.

Related Resources

Page last reviewed March 6, 2022

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