Master’s in nurse practitioner program guide

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Nurse practitioner programs: a booming industry

Are you considering a career in nursing? Maybe you already work in the field and would like to increase your earning potential. If so, becoming a nurse practitioner (NP) could be an excellent choice for you. 

Healthcare jobs are growing steadily, and NPs are in high demand. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that this profession will likely grow 45% from 2019 to 2029. That percentage represents over 10 times the average for all careers. NPs typically earn a salary between $79,000 and $122,000 per year. They may also receive a bonus of approximately $5,025, a commission near $15,000, and profit-sharing that can amount to $3,500. 

What does a nurse practitioner do?

NPs provide patients with comprehensive primary care. They can: 

  • Examine, assess, and diagnose 
  • Request testing and evaluate results 
  • Develop and administer treatment plans 
  • Prescribe medications 

A nurse practitioner can work independently or under a physician’s supervision. If you choose this profession, you can select a specific area like adult and family care or gerontology. Women’s health, psychiatry, and pediatrics are additional options. 

How to apply to a nurse practitioner program?

There are several prerequisite courses that must be completed before applying to a nurse practitioner master’s program. If you’re already a registered nurse (RN), you’ve probably taken them. Students can also switch to nursing from another field. However, they typically need to show completion of college credits in the following subjects:

  • Anatomy and physiology 
  • Microbiology 
  • Nutrition 
  • Chemistry 
  • Psychology 

If you’re a licensed RN with several years of experience, you may qualify for an accelerated NP program. 

When you apply to a nurse practitioner master’s program, you may need some or all of the following: 

  • Application 
  • Updated resume 
  • Statement of purpose 
  • References 
  • Proof that you completed a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) 
  • Grade point average of about 3.0 
  • Nursing experience in the desired field 
  • Interview with an admissions committee 

Candidates typically apply directly to a university that offers the NP master’s program. You can check deadlines and requirements on the school’s website. Admissions procedures vary from one college to another. 

The importance of accreditation

Accreditation is a voluntary process that ensures that the college and specific educational program meet the standards set by the accrediting body.  In healthcare professions, this relates to the education being up to date with current practices and research. Further, it makes certain that education on the practical care of patients adheres to maximal safety standards. Two different bodies accredit nursing programs in the United States. 

The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) certifies bachelor’s and master’s programs. The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) accredits all levels, from practical training through doctorate degrees. When selecting a school, it’s essential to find one that holds credentials from one of these organizations. 

What to expect

A nurse practitioner master’s degree program typically takes 2 years for full-time students who already hold a bachelor’s in nursing. You might choose to learn part-time to balance your studies with work and personal responsibilities. In this case, you can move at your own pace, and the course can take longer to complete.

Online and hybrid options

Most collegiate nursing programs can’t function 100% online due to their practical nature. However, many schools offer an NP degree in a hybrid format. Courses are mostly web-based, but students complete hands-on activities, too. These include practicums, residencies, and internships. This form of study allows professionals to learn more easily while continuing to work. 

Coursework

Required coursework varies from one school to another. However, some commonalities exist. Core programs usually include: 

  • Informatics 
  • Ethics 
  • Research 
  • Pathophysiology 
  • Leadership 
  • Pharmacology 
  • Statistics 

Each NP student can choose an area in which to specialize. Possibilities include: 

  • Adolescent care 
  • Gerontology 
  • Pediatrics 
  • Psychiatry 
  • Women’s health 
  • Palliative/hospice care 

Practical experiences take NP candidates beyond the coursework offered online or in the classroom. They typically have the opportunity to observe professionals who are already working in their field of interest. Practicums provide opportunities to put knowledge to use. Through these hands-on activities, NP students can hone essential abilities like communication, planning, teamwork, and technology skills. 

Cost

An NP master’s degree can vary significantly in price. The differences depend on several factors: 

  • In-state vs. out-of-state tuition 
  • Private vs. state university 
  • On-campus vs. online 

For a master’s degree, the average annual cost of tuition and fees at private universities is nearly $30,000, and on-campus students can expect to pay an extra $12,360 for room and board. Public universities average just under $9,000 per year for tuition and $10,000 for dorm living and a meal plan. NP students also need to be aware of hidden costs. These may include lab fees, books, and parking. 

Financial aid opportunities

Many organizations offer funding to help nursing students pay for educational programs. You might want to start with the Federal Student Aid website when searching for opportunities. It provides general information about scholarships and grants. You can also find and fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

Individual nursing schools also offer many scholarship opportunities. Once you know where you might enroll, contact the college or university’s financial aid office. Counselors can help you understand what might apply to you. 

Awards can range from a few to tens of thousands of dollars. Each organization imposes specific guidelines and time limits. For this reason, it’s essential to research the opportunities available. Here are some possibilities to get you started: 

A Nurse I Am Scholarship

This program offers aid to nursing majors at any level. It’s open to part- and full-time students who have already started a program.  

After College-AACN Scholarship Fund

The fund provides financial support to nursing students enrolled in a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate program. To qualify, you must be studying in a school with AACN (American Association of Colleges of Nursing) membership. You can find additional opportunities on the AACN website. 

Minority Fellowship Program (MFP)

The MFP offers financial aid to behavioral health nursing students from underrepresented ethnic groups. One prerequisite is membership in the American Nurses Association (ANA).  

National Health Service Corps Scholarship Program (NHSC SP)

The U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration lists loans and scholarships available for health professions students. This government agency also offers the NHSC SP to clinicians who provide primary care to communities in need. 

Certification and Licensure

When you complete the NP master’s degree requirements, you typically become eligible to take board certification exams. Candidates usually need a valid RN license and at least 500 hours of supervised clinical practice to qualify.  

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB) are 2 prominent organizations involved in certifying NPs. For example, they can award the title of Family Nurse Practitioner – Board Certified (FNP-BC) to qualifying examinees. 

NPs need to complete continuing education and a designated number of practice hours to renew their certification every 5 years. They may also need to publish, conduct research, lecture, or present papers at academic conferences. Nurse practitioners can go on to become educators. They may also advance to doctoral programs. 

Most NP students are already RNs and possess licensure in at least one state. A license indicates you have permission to practice nursing in a given geographical area. State or territory boards of nursing (BONs) regulate the issuance and renewal of these. Each organization decides whether to permit practice in just one region or participate in the mutual recognition model. Each nurse is responsible for applying for licensure and renewing their credentials periodically. 

American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) 

The AACN provides a wealth of information about nursing degrees. Its advocacy programs focus on improving public healthcare policies.  

 American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) 

The AANP offers multiple resources such as journals, educational tools, grants, and scholarships. Information on advocacy helps NPs protect patients’ rights as well as their own. 

American Nurses Association (ANA) 

The ANA provides valuable information for all types of medical professionals. You may wish to become a member and enjoy access to nursing webinars, journals, and additional resources. 

American Academy of Emergency Nurse Practitioners (AAENP) 

The AAENP supports urgent care NPs with resources to promote evidence-based practice. Members can receive benefits like access to a field-specific online journal and discounts on certifications. 

 National Academy of Dermatology Nurse Practitioners (NADNP) 

The NADNP unites NPs who focus on skincare. It provides leadership and guidance to these professionals. 

 National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF) 

The NONPF dedicates itself to ensuring high-quality education for NPs. It supports educators who work in this field. 

Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health 

This organization unites NPs who focus on this area. Qualifying professionals can choose to become members of the organization. 

U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) 

This government department provides information for healthcare professionals. It’s a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The HHS website focuses more on content for the general public.