The Best San Diego Online Nurse Practitioner Programs and Requirements

Written by NurseJournal.org Staff


Nurse practitioners (NPs) provide many of the same services as physicians. For instance, NPs may diagnose patients, prescribe medicine, order tests, and advise patients on ways to avoid illness. These professionals often focus on areas like women's health, oncology, and acute care and may work under the guidance of a licensed physician. However, candidates must complete graduate degrees, such as a master's or doctorate in clinical nursing, and pass standardized tests to qualify for these careers.

NP positions allow candidates to improve others' quality of life more fully and independently than registered nurse opportunities.

NP positions allow candidates to improve others' quality of life more fully and independently than registered nurse (RN) opportunities. These careers also offer job security, particularly in California. Specifically, California delivers the second-highest employment level for NPs among states and offers higher average pay for NPs than any other state.

This page examines the process of becoming an NP in California, and more specifically, in San Diego. Our guide includes a look into the best nurse practitioner programs in San Diego, along with growth projections for NP positions and salary expectations for the city and surrounding areas.

Best San Diego Online Nurse Practitioner Programs

1. Point Loma Nazarene University

At Point Loma Nazarene University, the emphasis on delivering a high quality workforce that understands empathy and spirituality. Additionally, they ensure students from different study pathways take classes together in order to build and foster friendships. This also allows for greater exploration of spirituality.

  • Campus: San Diego, CA
  • Type: Private, Catholic
  • Accreditation: CCNE
  • Tuition: Varies
  • Minimum time commitment: Varies
  • Online availability: No
  • Degree Requirements: Varies
  • Programs: MSN Clinical Nurse Specialist (adult gerontology, pediatrics, family and individual health or, MSN General, ADN to MSN
  • School website: Tuition and Financial Aid

2. University of San Diego

The program delivered by the University of San Diego is for those who already hold a baccalaureate degree in a non-nursing related field. It is designed, therefore, for those who already have the skills and knowledge to work at academic level, but who are looking for a brand new career. The university has offered this program in the hopes of addressing the significant nursing shortage.

  • Campus: San Diego, CA
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation: CCNE
  • Tuition: $21,165 per semester
  • Minimum time commitment: 21 months
  • Online availability: No
  • Degree requirements: BSN, prerequisite courses, GPA, computer literacy, resume, recommendations, 100 volunteering hours in health care, immunizations, interview
  • Programs: Master’s Entry Program in Nursing (for non-RNs)
  • School website: Tuition and Financial Aid

3. San Diego State University

Graduates of San Diego State University’s Nurse Practitioner program are ready to take on a career in the middle to executive levels of seniority in nursing. They offer a number of different specializations for nurses, so that students can choose the field of work in which they feel they can make the biggest difference. Additionally, the school focuses strongly on encouraging students to be committed to their further education and to eventually also study towards a doctoral degree.

  • Campus: San Diego, CA
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation: CCNE
  • Tuition: Varies depending on circumstances, please inquire
  • Minimum time commitment: 36 units
  • Online availability: No
  • Degree requirements: BSN, various other admission criteria to demonstrate proficiency and good standard of health and behavior
  • Programs: MS in Nursing (advanced practice nursing, community health nursing, nursing education, nursing leadership, women’s health and midwifery)
  • School website: Tuition and Financial Aid

Requirements to Become a Nurse Practitioner in San Diego

San Diego residents who want to become NPs should complete the following steps.

  • The California Board of Registered Nursing insists candidates earn RN licenses before becoming NPs. The board advises individuals to prepare for RN licensure while in high school by completing the state's pre-college curriculum.

  • RN licensure calls for a nursing degree. Candidates must decide which program works best for their career goals. For instance, an associate degree qualifies individuals for an RN license, but a bachelor's can lead to administrative careers. Applicants with a non-nursing bachelor's can pursue a qualifying master's to earn an RN credential.

  • The board advises candidates to submit RN license applications at least six weeks before earning their nursing degrees.

  • RN candidates must undergo a criminal background check, which includes fingerprinting. The board accepts fingerprints submitted at California Live Scan locations or fingerprints delivered on cards. Candidates can complete this step after submitting RN license applications.

  • The board requires RN candidates to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). Test-takers must register for this exam after earning board approval and receiving an authorization to test. Individuals who do not earn board approval within one year must register again to take the NCLEX. Candidates must pay a $200 registration fee to take the NCLEX.

  • After registering, individuals can take a practice exam to prepare for the NCLEX.

  • The official NCLEX varies in structure but may include as many as 265 questions. Candidates have no more than six hours to complete the exam. Official scores may take six weeks to process and receive.

  • The board may award residents an interim permit to practice before receiving official NCLEX scores, but only with supervision.

  • The board awards an RN license to candidates who meet state requirements. At this point, individuals can focus on pursuing a nurse practitioner (NP) certification.

  • Professionals must renew RN licenses by the end of the month after a licensed individual's birthday, every other year. This process requires 30 continuing education hours and a $190 fee.

  • Candidates for the NP certification must finish a qualifying nursing program and earn a graduate degree in nursing. Applicants must list their specialization on applications. California residents should consider primary care, geriatrics, and acute care, since the state has a demand for these NPs. Applying for NP certification costs $500.

  • NP certification applicants who graduated from programs outside of California must earn national certification from a recognized organization, such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center. These certifications may require fieldwork, fees, and exams that relate to applicants' specializations.

  • The board also awards NP certifications based on equivalency. This certification path requires clinical fieldwork.

  • Individuals who want to prescribe medication should request an NP furnishing number. This authorization requires a pharmacology course.

  • Renewing the NP certification requires $150. Renewing the furnishing number costs $162.

In-Demand Nursing Specialty Eligibility Requirements in San Diego

Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Certification (AGPCNP-BC)

Years of Experience: The AGPCNP-BC mandates an RN license.

Clinical Hours Required: Certification requires 500 hours of field experience. This fieldwork must include supervision and relate to gerontology.

Continuing Education: Renewal occurs after five years and requires 75 continuing education hours.

Other: Candidates must complete coursework on topics like pharmacology and health assessment and take a 175-question exam.

Gerontological Nursing Certification (RN-BC)

Years of Experience: Applicants must work at least two years in RN positions.

Clinical Hours Required: Candidates must complete at least 2,000 clinical hours related to gerontology and 30 continuing education hours.

Continuing Education: Certifications last five years. Candidates must earn 75 continuing education hours for renewal.

Other: Applicants must take a 175-question test in three and a half hours.

Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Certification (AGACNP-BC)

Years of Experience: This certification calls for an RN license.

Clinical Hours Required: Applicants must complete 500 clinical hours under supervision.

Continuing Education: Renewal requires 75 continuing education hours every five years.

Other: Certification exams include 200 questions that test-takers must complete in four hours.

Salary and Career Information

NPs in California take home mean annual wages of $133,780, which surpasses the state's annual mean wages for RNs by more than $26,000. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects career opportunities for California NPs to grow by over twice the rate of RN positions in the state from 2016-26.

Nationally, NPs also benefit from higher average pay and growth projections than RNs. These statistics verify a demand for NPs and reveal how financially lucrative these careers can be.

Mean annual wages in the San Diego-Carlsbad area for NPs ($121,670) are lower than the state's overall mean, along with averages for high-paying locations like Salinas and Modesto. The area's mean income, however, exceeds the national average for NPs.

Pay for NPs can vary by specialization. Neonatal nurse practitioners, for instance, average $70,000-$90,000, while psychiatric nurse practitioners average $90,000-$100,000.

RN vs. NP Salary and Projected Job Growth in California
  Registered Nurse Nurse Practitioner
California Mean Salary $106,950 $133,780
U.S. Mean Salary $75,510 $110,030
California Job Growth 16.2% 35.1%
U.S. Job Growth 14.8% 36.1%

Source: BLS, Projections Central


California Metropolitan Areas With the Highest Mean NP Wages (Compared to San Diego)
  Salary Employment
San Diego - Carlsbad, California $121,670 1,150
San Francisco - Oakland - Hayward, California $150,790 2,100
Vallejo - Fairfield, California $145,400 150
Salinas, California $140,610 120
Modesto, California $135,330 190

Source: BLS