Overview of Nurse Practitioner Programs

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Nurse practitioner programs vary in scope and duration, but there are certain universal requirements that one can expect. Specifically, all nurse practitioner programs are offered at the graduate level. To be eligible for any nurse practitioner program, an individual should be a licensed Registered Nurse (RN). All programs also require nurses to complete coursework and clinical practicum experience, after which the student is eligible to pursue NP certification. Beyond these general commonalities, the method of delivery, specialization options and specific degree options vary from school to school.

Types of Nurse Practitioner Programs

The types of nurse practitioner programs offered vary across the nation. Online, part-time and full-time programs are offered; sometimes all three options are available in an individual program. A growing number of programs cater to the working nurse, realizing that while nurses want to further their education, they must also continue to work and fulfill other personal and professional goals.

Accelerated Nurse Practitioner Programs

Accelerated NP programs

There are two primary types of accelerated nursing programs for students. Accelerated programs are full-time, year-round programs, which have very little, if any semesters off. First, many schools realize that ambitious undergraduate students want to earn a graduate degree. Some nurse practitioner programs are combining requirements to earn the NP qualification, so that undergraduate students can take nurse practitioner courses as an undergraduate, and complete their degree sooner than other students.

Second, with the promising career projections for nurses in the healthcare industry, some professionals are going back to school to earn a nursing qualification. Because students do not want to start from scratch and spend seven-to-eight years in school, especially if they already have a degree, schools offer an accelerated option. This is the more common type of accelerated program, which usually admits bachelor’s or master’s-prepared students with no prior nursing experience. Upon completion of this program, students usually earn an RN license, graduate degree and are prepared to take certification exams.

Online Nurse Practitioner Programs

Online nurse practitioner programs across the nation vary in scope and method. Some online nurse practitioner programs cater to nurses serving in the armed forces, while others require students to be in state or live within commuting distance to the institution. More often than not, online nurse practitioner programs, employ a hybrid method in which students complete most of their coursework online and attend on-campus sessions intermittently.

Full-Time vs. Part-Time Nurse Practitioner Programs

Part-time nurse practitioner programs are the most common type of program offered. Some schools choose only to offer a part-time option, as very few students enroll full-time. Part-time programs may allow students to take as little as one class per semester.

Full-time nurse practitioners are increasingly less common as nurses seek options to work and pursue higher education. However, at elite schools, such as the Ivy Leagues, nurse practitioner programs may offer no other option except full-time study for nurses. Attending a nurse practitioner program full time is highly demanding and may prevent a nurse from maintaining a full-time work schedule.

Type of Degree Awarded

Nurse practitioner programs are offered at the master’s and doctoral level. The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), a recently developed qualification is the terminal degree for nurse practitioners. In the year 2015, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) indicates that the DNP will replace the MSN (Masters of Science in Nursing) NP as the preferred qualification for NPs.  As a result, most NP programs are transitioning their master’s level NP programs to the doctoral level, though nurses with an MSN will still be allowed to remain in practice.

Post-masters certificate programs are available for nurses with a master’s degree who are seeking to become certified in a specific area of practice.  Some nurses complete a general MSN program or decide to change their specialty. Nurses simply seeking further education for the purpose of board certification often complete a certificate program if they do not want to earn a doctoral degree. As with the degree programs, certificate programs may be part or full-time and delivered on-campus or through web-based instruction.  In some cases, schools will only admit to the certificate program based on enrollment availability after students have been admitted to the degree program.

Specialty Programs

NP Specialty Programs

Lastly, the most important part of choosing among nurse practitioner programs is the specialty. While some universities offer a variety of specialties at various levels (master’s and doctoral), other institutions focus on one or two specialties as a consistent throughout their programs. As a general rule, larger universities will offer more specialties to choose from.

Even if a nurse is set on a particular nurse practitioner specialty, one may consider attending a university that offers other specialties to better understand other areas of nursing. Though earning a double major or minor may is not always the goal, it is always helpful to have an understanding in more than one area of nursing. Attending a university that offers more specialties and taking interdisciplinary classes may give the competitive edge necessary to secure a job.

Dual-Degree and Minor Programs

Progressively more, nurse practitioner programs are offering the opportunity for a dual concentration or minor.  For example, several universities now offer a dual CNS (Clinical Nurse Specialist) and NP program. Other common combined specialties include Adult Clinical Nurse Specialist /Adult Nurse Practitioner and School Nurse Services Credential (SNSC)/Pediatric NP. Others focus on caring for a subset of the population, such as rural or vulnerable populations.

Holding a combined degree and minor allows nurses to pursue additional career options within their vocation. For example, earning a School Services Credential in addition to a PNP specialty, will allow nurses to pursue jobs outside of the hospital or clinic environment and in a school. A specialty in serving urban populations could prove useful when applying for an opportunity in a metropolitan area.

In summary, a variety of options exist for the aspiring nurse practitioner. Whether part-time or full-time, online or campus-based, hopeful nurse practitioners can find a program to meet their needs.