To become a nurse practitioner (NP), you must have earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing degree (BSN) or an Associate’s of Science in Nursing degree (ASN/ADN) and are already a Registered Nurse (RN). Practitioner nurse education and training is a master’s level nursing program that enables nurse to become advanced practice RNs.
This means a student must take at least two-years of study in a graduate nursing school. During the masters program, students must choose to specialize in one area of nursing where most of their masters course will be geared.
NPs are highly trained to provide individualized care to patients. They are even allowed to carry-out tasks similar to those done by physicians. After training, NPs can practice nursing independently without the need of a physician.
How to Become a Nurse Practitioner
A Nurse Practitioner is more a career achievement than a degree or license. It comes with years of experience, as well as achieving an RN license, a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing, and a Master’s of Science in Nursing. If you plan to become a Nurse Practitioner, you will need to first choose a specialty. Assuming you already have the required education and experience to be licensed, you are then ready to get your board certification.
This is where your state licensing board comes in. Most states require that you have a master’s level of certification or better—in fact, by the year 2015, the industry is trying to require that all advanced practice RN programs at universities and colleges have a Doctor of Nurse Practicing (DNP) degree, which is hoped will do away with a Master’s of Science in Nursing as a bridge into the Nurse Practitioner field.
This is a high level nursing position. The aspiring NP should expect to attain an advanced degree after first earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Those who are considering going on to get an advanced nursing degree would be advised to choose an area of specialization. You will need to become licensed as a nurse and have clinical nursing experience before attending a graduate program. Those who are considering this field should choose an area of specialization. After graduating, nurses must take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to gain their nursing license. This is necessary to practice nursing. You may also become board certified through the American Nurses Credentialing Center.
Nurse Practitioner Education Requirements, Certification, and Schooling Programs
The first step towards becoming an NP is to attain a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing. A master’s degree is typically necessary in order to become an advanced practicing nurse. Aspiring nurses should strive to attain a high GPA and should choose an area of specialization. It is advisable to gain some nursing experience in a clinic or hospital setting before going on to gain a Master’s degree. It is also important to stay current by taking courses and attending lectures related to your area of specialization.
The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) offers certification for Nurse Practitioners (NP) through their National Certification Program. Qualified applicants possess an accredited masters, post-masters or doctoral degree in adult, gerontologic or family nurse practitioner program. Candidates must also pass an examination consisting of questions based on topics such as anatomy, signs and symptoms, decision making, pharmacology, diagnosis along with several other areas pertaining to the nurse-practitioner field. Certification is not required, but it is highly valued by employers.
How to Get Admitted to NP Education and Training
As mentioned earlier, Nurse practitioners must undergo master level training. As such, having a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing is a mandatory requirement to enroll for a NP training program. On the other hand, the NP training programs also accepts students from other non-nursing degrees. For non- nurse students, a bachelors degree from another approved institution is required. This nursing program is commonly known as accelerated Masters of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Direct entry MSN.
There are special cases where RNs who received nurse training at an associate level are able complete a NP education and training. In this case, the program is referred to as RN to MSN-nurse practitioner program.
Curriculum for Nurse Practitioners
Nurse practitioners, like all other master of nursing programs have a curriculum of about two academic years. Just like all other advanced practice RN training, NPs must cover advanced nursing core courses in addition to nursing specialty courses streamlined towards the care of one subset of patients.
Nurse practitioner training is focused on providing care to a specialized class of patients. This precisely means that Nurse Practitioners, unlike nurse specialist can handle patients across all ages with varying conditions. To start with, training for nurse practitioners includes advanced study of general nursing concepts. Such courses are applicable to all masters of nursing students and would include advanced practice nursing concepts, population-based nursing care, research in nursing, and health care ethics.
Nurse Practitioner Specialty Tracks
Specific NP tracks train the future NP on how to handle a subset of patients of their choice. As mentioned earlier, nurse practitioners are able to handle patients across all ages and as such, the specialty courses focus on care of patients in a particular field of nursing but with a-cross-the-lifespan approach. NPs can choose to specialize in any of these nursing specialties.
Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
Acute care NPs specialize in the delivery of health care to patients requiring delicate attention. Acute patients could range from traumatized accident victims, post-surgery patients, and cardiac old age patients to infants suffering from severe congenital abnormalities. Acute care training enables nurse practitioners to be ready to deal with emergency cases promptly in order to save lives.
Family Care Nurse Practitioner
Family nurse practitioners who choose this path are heavily trained to deal with all nursing needs of the family setting. Areas of training would include adolescents counseling, family nutritional health education, solving domestic violence, family counseling among others. They are also trained on how to give guidance on parenting dilemmas to parents needing guidance.
Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner
This area of nurse practitioner training is meant for NPs who wish to handle varying issues of women’s health. The scope of training is wide and NPs on this field can be trained to monitor major problems encountered by women of all ages. Such areas include breast cancer, cervical cancer, reproductive health, family planning and gynecology. They are also trained on how to diagnosis and offer treatment to post-menopausal complications in women.
Occupational NP Training
Nurse Practitioners who choose this specialty are trained on to deal with common occupation-related ailments. Such NPs are usually stationed in occupational clinics to cater for employees of in that occupation. Common training for occupational nurse practitioners are on areas of respiratory health, kidney health, orthopedics, skin dermatologists among others.
Adult Nurse Practitioner
Adult nurse practitioners receive education and training on a wide range of problems facing adults. Training areas involve both women and men problems expected to occur at midlife years. Common courses for NPs on this line include reproduction issues, sexual education and family cohesion among others.
Specifics on Types of Nurse Practitioner Programs
Before you can make a decision on nurse practitioner schooling, you have to decide on a type of NP degree. There are many types of Nurse Practitioner programs you can choose from, including:
- FNP: Family Nurse Practitioner – The most common NP degree. FNPs work with families and often fill in for doctors when families are unable to afford medical care.
- WHNP: Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner: The education and clinical skills are focused on women’s health with careers being found in gynecology, OB/GYN, and related fields.
- GNP: Gerontological Nurse Practitioner – This NP specializes in geriatrics and often works in nursing homes or as a home health nurse for the elderly.
- PNP /APNP: Pediatric Nurse Practitioner or Acute Pediatric Nurse Practitioner– PNP’s work with babies, toddlers and children in hospitals, children’s clinics and delivery rooms. APNPs work in children’s trauma units.
- NNP: Neonatal Nurse Practitioner: The NNP works in the neonatal ICU with babies who are born prematurely or with health conditions.
- PMHNP: Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner: This NP works with mental health patients and their family members. They can prescribe medications and therapy. Some PNHNP nurses specialize in an age group, such as children or elderly patients.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of NP specializations, but should help you narrow down what you would like to focus on with your degree.
General Concepts of Training for Nurse Practitioners
Regardless of which path the nurse practice, nurse practitioner education and training will encompass important issues of health care provision. Such areas will then be customized to meet the needs of each of the nursing specialty chosen. These are:
- Pharmacological needs of the particular nursing specialty.
- Clinical diagnosis of the particular specialty chosen
- Pathophysiology and diseases manifestation of the nursing specialty
- Health care management of the group of groups chosen
- Prescription and treatment options for specific nursing specialties
Nurse practitioner schooling is an advanced nursing program that registered nurses with a BSN can enroll in to become an NP. Successful graduation from the program and a Master’s Degree in nursing are required in order to be able to take the exam offered by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners and the American Nurses Association.
Nurse Practitioner Schools for Consideration
The following nurse practitioner schools are among some of the best nursing schools in the country with each one being ranked high by students and reporting agencies.
The University of Washington: The UoW has received top rankings for its graduate nursing programs for many years. Its FNP program places emphasis on health care continuity, comprehensive health care, principles of health care and other courses to help prepare graduates for family health care.
University of Pennsylvania: Students who attend the Pediatric Nurse Practitioner program at the University of Pennsylvania can graduate in one year if they go full time and in two or three if they attend part time. Graduates receive comprehensive education specializing in the treatment of babies, toddlers and children with classes covering medically fragile children, pediatric pharmacology, high risk neonatal and other pediatric classes. Penn State has been recognized as one of the tope nursing schools in the world and has multiple nurse practitioner programs in addition to the Pediatric Nurse Practitioner program.
California State University at Fullerton: This College has one of the top ranked Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner programs. The program prepares nurses to handle women’s healthcare issues over the course of their entire life.
The University of Cincinnati: The University of Cincinnati offers many nurse practitioner programs through their distance learning programs. These courses include the FNP, Nurse Midwifery, WHNP and more. Classes are delivered online through webinars, online presentations, readings and more. If clinical work is involved, arrangements are made prior to admission for the work to be completed where you live.
Ohio State University: Students who attend the Ohio State University School of Nursing offers both campus-based nurse practitioner programs and distance learning programs. Clinical class work is arranged in the community you live in so that you can complete your degree and be prepared to take your NP examination. Many students mix their program curriculum up with online courses and campus-based courses.
Nurse practitioner schooling options are varied and can be a mixture of online classes with campus-based classes, completely traditional campus-based classes or online classes with clinical work in community facilities. There are many different schools that you can choose from to get your Master’s Degree and complete a nurse practitioner program.
Nurse Practitioner Training Requirements
Nurse practitioners are Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs). This means that they have bachelor’s degrees in nursing, have passed the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses, and then obtained master’s or doctoral degrees. After that, nurse practitioners must pass another licensure examination in their area of specialization, like women’s health, before they are allowed to practice.
All states in the U.S. have their own Board of Nursing. This organization is responsible for creating educational standards for nurses, defining their scopes of practice, and defining licensing and examination requirements. Even after completing all of the above requirements, nurse practitioners must still be licensed in the state in which they intend to practice.
Nurse practitioner training requirements are continually evolving to a higher standard. In the years to come, nurse practitioners will all be required to hold doctoral degrees before they are eligible for their licensure examinations. Some states have already amended their nursing laws to reflect this. If you plan to become a nurse practitioner, it is worthwhile to contact your state’s Board of Nursing for information on what nurse practitioner training requirements you will need to fulfill, and what educational programs are approved for providing them.
Nurse Practitioners versus Doctors
In most cases, a nurse practitioner can act as a patient’s primary care provider without the assistance of a physician. In some states, nurse practitioners are required to work side-by-side with doctors in order to provide care. That said, this does not mean that nurse practitioners are a “step below” doctors, that one is more qualified than the other, or that nurse practitioners are working their way towards becoming doctors.
For physicians, the emphasis is generally on diagnosis and treatment of a condition. For nurses, the emphasis is on well-patient care, disease prevention, and providing support to patients coping with illness. Many nurse practitioners become holistic healthcare providers for this reason, and focus on treating patients both physically and mentally as a way of fighting and preventing diseases.
Why You Should Become a Nurse Practitioner
Nurse practitioners are generally paid very well, up to $120,000 annually. Nurse practitioners in hospital settings typically earn more, while those in quiet, private practices generally earn less. Nurse practitioners who choose to become educators can earn well over $90,000 annually.
Becoming a nurse practitioner is a good choice for people who want to be primary care providers, but who prefer a nurse’s care model. Nurse practitioner training teaches students to emphasize preventative medicine, which may appeal more to some medical students than the idea of treating illnesses.
Nurse Practitioner Doctorate Requirement
As of 2015, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree is no longer sufficient preparation for aspiring nurse practitioners (NP).
By 2015, all universities should have completed a transition process, turning their MSN programs preparing nurses for NP certification into Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs. (This change affects more than just NPs; other aspiring advanced practice nurses, such as prospective nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and clinical nurse specialists, also need to complete doctoral programs.)
Reasons for the New Nurse Practitioner Doctorate Requirement
AACN proposed this new doctorate requirement for NPs in 2004, after a careful study of the issue. After examining MSN programs throughout the country, the study concluded that the programs were nearly as intense and lengthy as doctorate programs. For example, the renowned Massachusetts General Hospital Institute (MGH) of Health Professions’ MSN programs for aspiring NPs require up to fifty-nine credits. By committing to just nineteen additional credits (for a total of seventy-eight credits), an RN could complete a full DNP degree from MGH, and become a certified NP.
With those additional credits, a DNP program can more fully prepare NPs to practice in a healthcare field that is becoming increasingly complex. NPs need the training to function at the highest level in the healthcare field because, due to physician shortage, NPs are often the main care providers. Particularly in rural areas, NPs are in demand and need to know about new medicines, emerging treatments, and cutting-edge research. They need to have the research and problem-solving skills necessary to treat patients. The Doctor of Nursing Practice degree curriculum allows Nurse Practitioners additional time and training to hone these skills. As Nurse Practitioners take on more responsibilities in the healthcare field, they deserve to be recognized by other healthcare professionals as equals. Earning a doctorate degree allows a nurse to interact with other professionals with doctorate degrees, such as physicians and pharmacists, as colleagues with the same level of expertise and education.
Disadvantages of the New Doctorate Requirement
The additional semesters of study necessary for certification as an NP may be a deterrent to some prospective NPs. While there is no way to reduce the new requirements for certification, most universities try to accommodate working nurses by providing flexible DNP programs. Often these programs have a hybrid format, allowing students to complete most of the coursework from home via distance learning technology. Campus visits are limited; some programs may require students to come to campus several times a semester. Other programs require several intense week-long sessions at campus over the course of the entire program.
With the availability of online education and the new, flexible models of education that universities have introduced, nurses should be able to find a way to fit in the additional classes with a minimum of disruption to their personal lives and their careers. The financial commitment of additional study may also discourage RNs from pursuing NP certification. As with the time commitment, there is no way to avoid the additional cost of completing a longer, DNP program. However, DNP-prepared NPs may find themselves in a better position to get top-level jobs with increased compensation. And as more NPs with a terminal degree enter the field, the average wage of NPs should rise correspondingly.
Nurse Practitioner DNP Curriculum
The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) is prepared to give universities accreditation for their DNP programs, based on curriculum standards set out by the AACN in the Essentials of the Doctoral Education for Advanced Practice Nursing. The curriculum for DNP programs builds on the current standards required for MSN programs.
In addition to the clinical training already included in MSN programs, the DNP curriculum standards include an increased emphasis on training nurses to be leaders, agents for change in the healthcare field, and patient advocates. DNP programs also have a stronger research component than MSN programs, although less than Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (PhD in Nursing) programs. A DNP-prepared NP is fully prepared to assume the highest level of clinical responsibility.
What About Currently Practicing Nurse Practitioners?
This doctoral requirement for Nurse Practitioners only applies to those who will be licensed after 2015; currently practicing NPs do not have to go back to school to complete a DNP degree. They may continue serving patients in their role as NPs. However, as more DNP-prepared NPs enter the nursing field after 2015, MSN-prepared NPs may find it advantageous for their career to complete a DNP degree. In conformity with recommendations from the AACN, many universities offer a specialized track for MSN-prepared NPs to complete the DNP curriculum. Generally, when an NP begins an MSN to DNP program, she can expect to have her transcript carefully evaluated by a program advisor.
The advisor will determine which credits (if not all) from her MSN program can transfer. In addition, the clinical hours completed as part of her MSN program should apply toward the minimum 1000-hour clinical requirement for DNP programs. An MSN-prepared NP can expect to complete a DNP degree in less than half the time required for a nurse with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. As an example, the University of Pittsburgh offers two tracks in its DNP program. The BSN to DNP track takes at least three years to complete, on a full-time basis.
The university’s MSN to DNP program takes as little as one year to complete, depending on the incoming NP’s transcript evaluation. Likewise, as another example, the University of Hawaii Hilo offers an MSN to DNP program that takes four semesters to complete and requires thirty-four credits. The BSN to DNP program at the University of Hawaii Hilo, on the other hand, takes eight semesters to complete and requires seventy-two credits.
While a DNP degree certainly requires a significant time commitment, as well as financial commitment, it can prepare NPs to function at the highest possible professional level. Other healthcare professionals hold doctoral degrees; advanced practice nurses should not be less prepared than their colleagues.
For today’s nursing professional, becoming a Nurse Practitioner can become a huge career goal. In some doctor’s offices, medical doctors are turning day-to-day appointments over to Nurse Practitioners in order to life some of the work load. With several good online BSN to NP programs available, you can prepare for your future career in your spare time.
Board Certification for Nurse Practitioners
To begin preparing to be board certified in your area, you’ll need to look up certification application requirements for your specific specialty. For example, if you hope to work in a family practice, you’ll be gearing toward the FNP board certification. You will need to start looking for a college that prepares you for the Family Nurse Practitioner career. If you’re into pediatric nursing, you’ll want to look into programs that will prepare you for CPNP board certification. Below are a few choices of colleges that offer the master’s degree you’ll need to begin to obtain your certification.
Once you’ve graduated, you’ll be required to take exams in your area of certification. Numerous exam prep sites are available online, both free and paid. Here are a few of the highlights.
The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) specializes in giving you the tools you’ll need to excel in your field. A subsidiary of the American Nurses Association (ANA), ANCC gives out free study aids and online refresher classes to help you pass the exam and get your certification. ANCC can give you the certifications you need, recognized by both the Accreditation Board for Specialty Nursing Certification and the National Commission for Certifying Agencies.
Fitzgerald Health Education Associates (FHEA) is a nationally-recognized certification exam preparation center that has a wide variety of resources to help you get your certification. FHEA has helped more than 60,000 nurses across the country land their certifications.
With it becoming more and more important to have a Master’s of Science in Nursing to land Nurse Practitioner certification, luckily a large number of online BSN to NP programs are available, both in the form of master’s-level classes and certification preparedness programs. Choose a specialty that’s right for you and put yourself on the path to achieving your dreams, knowing that each day you work as an RN is a day closer to reaching your goal.