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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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
- Adult and gerontology
- Psychiatric and mental health
- Neonatal care
- Women’s health
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:
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:
- The NURSE Corps Scholarship Program – This award is from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The amount may vary, and applicants from any nursing degree level can apply.
- American Association of Nurse Practitioners Scholarships – The AANP offers many financial aid opportunities for nurses in varying program types and educational levels.
- Tylenol Future Care Scholarship – This scholarship has provided over $8 million for healthcare students in the last two decades. Learners can have the chance to earn one of 10 awards in the amount of $10,000, or 30 of $5,000.
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.
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.
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.
Some companies offer nurses funding to pay for graduate school. The federal tax code allows employers to pay for work-related courses.
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):
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.