Nurse Practitioner Programs: What Are Your Options?

Getting an advanced degree is not only hard work, but also expensive. So, it makes sense to know all of your options before entering any degree program. For nurse practitioners, there are hundreds of education programs available, both online and at traditional campus colleges. The basic types of programs for someone wanting to become a nurse practitioner are as follows.

Master of Science in Nursing Programs

If you already have a Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN), then your best option to become a nurse practitioner is simply to enter a Master of Science in nursing (MSN) program. This kind of program will typically last two years, at the end of which you’ll receive your degree regardless of whether or not you pass your licensing test to become a nurse practitioner. These programs may also be called BSN to MSN nursing programs. Essentially, it is the same thing – a typical master’s degree program like you’d find in any other industry.

RN to MSN Programs

With an RN to MSN program, you’ll cut time off your educational schedule. This is a great option for someone who has yet to enter the field of nursing or who is currently working as an LPN or CNA. With an RN to MSN degree program, you’ll enter a master’s degree program in the same school where you received your bachelor’s degree, immediately upon completion. In other words, the two programs run together, and in doing so, a school can eliminate some of the overlap work that a nurse would traditionally do when hopping from a BSN program right to an MSN program. You’ll usually shave about a year from your education time if you enter this type of program.

Direct Entry MSN Programs

If you’re interested in a career change, a direct entry MSN program could be right for you. This type of program is for students who already hold a bachelor’s degree (or higher), but not in nursing. Any liberal arts degree generally qualifies you for a direct entry MSN program, but you’ll spend more than two years to get a master’s degree in this case. Be prepared for a program that lasts three or four years. You won’t have to take some general elective courses in areas like communications or general math, since you already had these courses with your other degree, but you will need to go back and do the work to learn the basics of nursing and qualify for RN certification. The basic-level classes you’ll have to take depend on the degree you already have; for example, an art major in undergrad will probably mean you have to start from scratch in nursing school, while a biology major may need fewer anatomy courses.

Of course, there are also other ways to classify nurse practitioner programs. Do you want to go to school online or at a traditional campus college? Are you looking for a certain specialization? Is the program accredited? Does the program offer certification study and exam help or are you expected to take the test on your own after you graduate? Check out all of the programs available to you to find the one that is right for you.

Specializing as a Nurse Practitioner

Becoming a nurse practitioner usually means specializing in some area of medicine, or choosing a particular demographic to work with. Some of the specialties available for nurse practitioners are as follows:

  • Gynecology/Women’s Health: Working with women to maintain their reproductive and general health.
  • Pediatrics: Working with children and treating both acute and chronic illness.
  • Gerontology: Helping elderly patients cope with the health problems that arise with age.
  • Anesthesiology: Administering local and general anesthesia to patients who need surgery.

Paths to Graduation for Nurse Practitioners

Becoming a nurse practitioner from scratch will take some serious time and effort. If all you have currently is a high school diploma, there are probably five years of school and possibly an internship or a couple years of work as an RN between you and an NP license. Fortunately, these years don’t have to be dedicated to school full time. There are programs that combine a Bachelor of Science in nursing and a Master of Science in nursing so that if you feel like powering through a single program, rather than doing the degrees separately, you can. Other options include:

  • LPN to RN Programs: If you like to take your education in chunks, you can take a yearlong program to become a licensed practicing nurse (LPN), then move up to RN, and eventually go back and get your master’s degree to become a nurse practitioner. This path takes a while, but leaves plenty of room for getting work experience and having a life outside of school and work.
  • BSN to MSN Programs: If you’ve already reached the bachelor’s level of education, and want to speed your way to a master’s degree, a BSN to MSN program is the way to go. Your past credits and work experience might even count toward your master’s degree, so you could get it done in as few as 30 credit hours, which should only take about two years to complete, with a full-time course schedule.
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice Programs: Pursuing a PhD is a lengthy and potentially expensive endeavor, but once you get there, the employment opportunities are wide open. You can practice as an NP, or work as a professor at a nursing college, or even do academic research funded by public grants or a university nursing department. DNPs are the top of the heap in the nursing profession.

Being a top expert in your specialty is the best way to get job offers without even having to look for them, and since pursuing higher education allows you to take on research and develop your expertise, it is a natural step on the path to career growth. The chart below, from the Health Resources and Services Administration, shows the proportion of RNs at different education levels.

Nurse Practitioner Program Curriculum

Anyone entering a nurse practitioner degree program should already have a well-rounded body of knowledge about nursing, and be prepared to dive deep into more complex subject matter. Some of the courses included in most MSN programs for nurse practitioners are:

  • Pharmacology: Some NPs seek prescriptive authority, that is, the authority to prescribe medication, which was once reserved for MDs. Now that NPs are allowed to be licensed to prescribe medicine, NP education programs have to provide detailed pharmacological training.
  • Ethics: NPs often find themselves in positions of authority in their places of employment, and understanding the complex ethics that govern appropriate behavior in a medical setting is crucial.
  • Clinical Preceptorships: A preceptor is a sort of combination between a mentor and a coach. Many hospitals use a preceptorship program, in which more experienced nurses help guide newbies in their professional development. NP education programs often teach courses on how to be a good clinical preceptor.
  • Behavioral Science: Studying this subject can be useful for NPs at every level. It is a useful basis for doing academic research, but also applies to patient-nurse interactions and the management of many nurses and other medical professionals on a hospital floor.

Learn Before you Leap

It is a good idea to do a lot of research before choosing the nurse practitioner program you’ll devote your time and money to. Obviously, you know that, or you wouldn’t be on this site! Another way that you can find out more specific details about programs that appeal to you is to get in direct contact with a few colleges. Talking to a professor and a representative from a school’s financial aid office can give you a much clearer view of the institution in question. Schools are usually happy to send you a packet of information about a program you’re interested in, and you can probably get on the phone, or at least have email contact, with some of the people you’d work with if you enrolled. The links to colleges around this site can help you get that process started. They’re all accredited institutions with a variety of online and hybrid nursing programs, and one of them can probably meet your needs.

The Best Online Nurse Practitioners Degrees

A nurse practitioner is an advanced practice nurse who provides primary and specialty care to patients. A nurse practitioner is responsible for administering both nursing and wider healthcare services; and, they are licensed to prescribe medications. Becoming a nurse practitioner requires the completion of a master's degree program. Below are the most popular colleges offering online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degrees.

University of Cincinnati MSN: Adult Nursing
MSN: Clinical Nursing
MSN: Family Nursing
University of Cincinnati - The University of Cincinnati College of Nursing provides students 3 options to obtain their Master of Science in Nursing degree: traditional, accelerated, and RN to MSN LINK program. Cincinnati offers both onsite and distance learning specialty tracks, including Adult Acute Care, Neonatal, and Women's Health.
Kaplan University MSN: Nurse Practitioners
RN to MSN
MSN: Nurse Administration
MSN: Nurse Education
MSN: Nurse Informatics
Kaplan University - The Kaplan University MSN for Nurse Practitioners and RN to MSN programs offers students the opportunity to explore nursing methods in a dynamic healthcare environment. Courses include Advanced Nursing Roles, Theoretical Foundations of Advanced Nursing, and Health Promotion and Disease Prevention in a Diverse Community. MSN specializations are offered in nurse administration, nurse education, and nurse informatics.
Georgetown University MSN: Midwifery and Women's Health
Georgetown University - Graduates of the Georgetown University online MS of Nursing in Midwifery and Women's Health will have more than just a degree to their name upon completion. Students will have the skill and knowledge to help advance their profession, and medicine as a whole, while serving as sponsors of the well-being and overall health of each of their patients.
American Sentinel University MSN
MSN: Case Management
MSN: Health Informatics
MSN: Infection Prevention
MSN: Nurse Leadership
American Sentinel University - The American Sentinel University school of healthcare offers a Master of Science in nursing (MSN) degree with specializations in case management, health informatics, infection control and prevention, and nursing leadership. All of these programs are CCNE-accredited, so students can be assured that graduation from American Sentinel should lead to expanded career opportunities.
Capella University MSN: Nurse Educator
MSN: Educator Bridge
Capella University - The Capella University Master of Science in Nursing Educator specialization teaches nurses the art of nurse education. The curriculum features courses that provide advanced nursing methodologies along with the development, delivery, assessment, and review of nurse education programs. This program is also available as an RN to MSN bridge.
Catholic University of America Doctor of Nursing Practice
Catholic University of America - At the Catholic University of America, students in the Doctor of Nursing Practice program will participate in an online format that confers an advanced degree in the management of healthcare. Graduates leave CUA with the education and confidence to tackle the most pressing medical management challenges.
Chamberlain College of Nursing MSN
Chamberlain College of Nursing - Chamberlain College of Nursing was found more than 120 years ago in St. Louis, Missouri. The school since grown drastically and serves students in 10 states across the nation. Chamberlain offers a Master of Science in Nursing online for students interested in earning their degree from home, work, or on-the-go.

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