Nurse practitioner programs and careers

HomeNurse practitioner

Introduction to nurse practitioner programs 

Nurse practitioners (NP) are healthcare providers that have similar responsibilities to a doctor. They can examine patients, prescribe medication, and provide treatment. To become an NP, students should either earn a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). These are the types of NP programs you may come across. 

RN-to-MSN program 

This type of program is designed for RNs with an Associate’s degree in nursing (ADN). It acknowledges the educational and clinical ADN experience and usually takes 2 to 3 years to complete. The RN-to-MSN bridge takes students through baccalaureate and master’s level education to prepare them for a graduate degree. 

BSN-to-MSN program 

This type of program is for nurses who already have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Since it doesn’t include baccalaureate-level education, it can take between 18 and 24 months to complete full time. 

BSN-to-DNP program 

Since 2004, the DNP program has been considered the preferred degree path by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. This program is recommended for prospective NPs that would like to have a more in-depth study in nurse leadership.  

Nurse practitioner requirements 

Depending on specialty, program, and state, NP programs vary in what is necessary to apply for admission. Prerequisites for programs will depend on whether the applicant is already a licensed RN and wishes to pursue a MSN or a DNP program. Along with a BSN and relevant experience, prospective NPs generally need to have: 

  • An active license in good standing 
  • An acceptable GPA from your previous coursework 
  • A passing grade on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) 

Before admission, decide what area to specialize in and whether to pursue a master’s degree or a doctorate. Knowing what is best to study and for how long can determine what requirements to expect. 

Accreditation 

Regardless of the type of program or degree path, it’s crucial that any education and clinical experience comes from an accredited source.  

NP students should seek programs that are certified by recognized accreditation agencies. This allows them to apply for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), transfer credits, and obtain the correct licensure. Examples of these accrediting bodies include: 

Coursework 

NP coursework prepares students to understand the patient’s perspective and focuses on treatment to maintain or improve general well-being. The coursework includes topics such as advanced pharmacotherapeutics, pathophysiology, and health assessment. Students can also specialize in a wide range of areas such as pediatrics, mental health, leadership, or community health. Online and in-person program formats can vary depending on program availability and specialty.   

Certificate opportunities 

NPs can specialize in a specific population or field. They’ll also need to become certified in their chosen specialty area. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) handles certification for nursing professionals. 

In addition to being licensed as an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) in the state where they will work, graduates should also be nationally certified in a patient focus area. Here are some specific fields in which NPs can earn certification:  

  • Family acute care  
  • Pediatric acute and primary care 
  • Emergency  
  • Adult and gerontology  
  • Psychiatric and mental health  
  • Neonatal care 
  • Women’s health  
  • Orthopedics  

How much does the degree cost? 

The cost of an NP degree depends on factors like the university’s location and whether it’s private or public. The average yearly cost for a master’s degree at public colleges is nearly $9,000 per year for non-resident students. Those who live on campus can expect to pay an additional $10,000. Private universities charge an average of almost $30,000 for tuition and fees, plus approximately $12,500 for room and board.  

Every college student needs to budget for books. If there’s a need to have a car on campus, expect to pay for parking. NP students may also owe lab fees. Be sure to analyze these hidden costs before starting coursework.  

Financial aid options

NP students are eligible for financial aid and other sources to fund their NP program. The following options can help cover education costs:  

Scholarships

Companies, organizations, or even schools themselves may offer scholarships to help pay for a degree program. These can be merit-based or earned by meeting the criteria or purpose. While this opportunity is often given to undergraduates, many organizations also offer financial aid for nurse practitioners. Here are some examples you’ll find online:  

At the beginning of an NP program application, searching for scholarship opportunities could increase the chances of receiving financial help. They can be awarded on the basis of demographics, region, or merit.

Grants

Like scholarships, grants don’t need to be repaid. Federal or state governments, or schools, offer these at no cost on the basis of need. The Pell Grant is one example. While it’s primarily for undergraduates, there is also funding available to help pay for professional degrees. 

Fellowships

A fellowship is similar to a scholarship, except that it focuses on a particular career path or demographic. It pays students to attend graduate school and typically comes with obligations such as research, work, or partial repayment.  

Employer assistance

Some companies offer nurses funding to pay for graduate school. The federal tax code allows employers to pay for work-related courses.

Career options 

Career options depend on the specialty you choose. Newly certified graduates can find themselves in physician offices, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, universities, home healthcare, and more. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2019 median salary for new graduates was $115,800 per year for most areas. NP career options include (but are not limited to): 

With an MSN and certification from the ANCC, you can become an adult-gerontology NP. These professionals focus on patients who are no longer children. They may work with teenagers, young adults, middle-aged, or elderly people. Those who specialize in acute care attend intensive care units (ICU) and emergency rooms (ER). They assist patients who need immediate treatment for injury or illness. Adult-gerontology primary care NPs focus on long-term assistance for teen patients and older. They may look after specific demographics or work in facilities and  hospitals that provide care for patients with chronic conditions.  

2020 annual average salary: $90,954

Considered one of the most popular options, FNPs provide primary care for all ages. These professionals can work in private practice or in various organizations that serve clients from birth to old age. If you hold an active RN license, you can attend an MSN-FNP program and get certified by the ANCC to become an FNP. 

2020 annual average salary: $95,859

Pediatric nurse practitioners treat infants, children, and teens. They may provide either primary or acute care. RNs interested in becoming a pediatric NP should earn an MSN and certification from the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB). 

2020 annual average salary: $90,883

PMHNPs provide mental healthcare to patients, including prescribing medication and therapy or counseling. As a PMHNP, it’s common to have a private practice, but you can also work in hospitals, facilities, schools, and other places that require these types of services. PMHNPs need an MSN degree and certification from the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner board.  

2020 annual average salary: $107,800

Continuing education 

Continuing education (CE) for NPs requires a set amount of clinical work and contact hours in their advanced specialty. Organizations such as the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) offer certification and recording of your CE activities.  

Acquiring a higher degree, such as a DNP, can help nurse practitioners expand their careers. This advanced degree allows NPs to manage larger nursing departments, help draft health policy, and provide executive-level nurse leadership to medical organizations. 

American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) 

The ANCC is a subsidiary of the American Nurses Association (ANA). It’s the largest certification body for advanced practice. It certifies nurses and accredits continuing nursing education courses.  

American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) 

The AANP is the largest national professional membership organization for NPs of all specialties. It provides valuable and reliable sources about programs and credentials for prospective and practicing NPs.  

National Certification Corporation 

The National Certification Corporation is a certification agency with the aim of promoting quality care through credentialing and education. It focuses on evaluating and certifying professionals from many specialties.  

National Council Licensure Examination 

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) is a nonprofit organization that provides national licensure for RNs. Here you can find information on the NCLEX, continuing education, and many other resources for your nursing career.