What is a nurse practitioner degree program?
Nurse practitioners (NP) are more advanced providers of medical care than registered nurses(RN) or nursing assistants (CNA). A master’s degree is required to become an NP, and this added education qualifies the NP to prescribe medication and act as a primary care provider in situations where a physician is not available or is too costly. Nurse practitioners can work in a variety of environments, and as a result there are many options for nurse practitioner degree programs. Typical job responsibilities are to diagnose and treat acute, episodic, or chronic illness. Nurse practitioners can work independently or as a part of a health care team.
What are the various degrees one can pursue in this field?
As previously mentioned, while there are specific nurse practitioner degree programs, many of the paths leading to a nurse practitioner career go through other types of nursing degrees and specializations. It is important to note that many nurse practitioner courses and degree programs are on a graduate level. Therefore, having an undergraduate degree is often required.
How much money do nurse practitioners make?
Nursing is one of the fastest growing and highest demand areas of employment in the U.S. today. Nurse practitioners, who usually have a high level of expertise in one particular area of nursing, can take advantage of this booming job market to seek jobs that are more fulfilling, provide more flexible hours or better pay, or offer more room for advancement. Though The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t provide specific data about nurse practitioner salaries, the median annual wage for all types of registered nurse was $69,110 as of May, 2010, and employment was growing fast and expected to continue doing so until at least 2020. Additionally, some cities and states in the U.S. boast significantly higher wages for RNs. Oregon, California, and Alaska all have average salaries upwards of $80,000 for RNs working in their metropolitan areas.
It's also important to note that NPs typically earn more money than RNs. Advanced training and more professional experience often leads to higher wages. Other factors that influence salary may also include:
- Geographic location
- Type of healthcare setting
- Area of specialization
- Additional certification(s)
What financial aid options are available for nursing students?
Obtaining an education can be extremely expensive, but there are always scholarships, grants, and loans to be applied for, and in the growing health care field, there is enough need for new employees that financial assistance isn’t too hard to come by. Some of the major ways that aspiring nurse practitioners can finance their education include:
- Governmental Student Aid: The U.S. Government offers several types of low interest, long term student loans, tax credits, and grants based on a variety of factors, especially demonstrable financial need.
- Military Student Assistance: This money also comes from the government, but is only available to those who have served in the armed forces and their families. The Post 9/11 G.I. Bill will pay a certain amount for the education of returned servicemembers depending on the length and nature of their service, and will sometimes even pay for online courses during tours of duty.
- Private Scholarships: Many colleges offer merit based scholarships, athletic scholarships, or money for participating in a particular discipline or extracurricular activity in college. Additionally, some schools offer work-study opportunities, where students can earn money toward their tuition costs by grading papers or acting as an assistant to their professor.
- Friends and Family: A college degree is an investment in oneself, in one’s future, and in one’s community. Families, church congregations, and community organizations are proud of their members that go to college, and are often willing to provide financial support.
Two specific scholarships that students who want to study to be a nurse practitioner should look into are as follows.
- The National Health Service Corps (NHSC) scholarship
- Elaine Gelman Nurse Practitioner Scholarship
What are the different nurse practitioner programs?
Where registered nurses (RNs) work in general hospitals and provide all kinds of basic care, nurse practitioners usually choose a specialty such as pediatrics or gynecologic nursing, and focus their learning and attention on working with patients in a certain demographic (i.e. expecting mothers). There are more general NPs too, such as family nurse practitioners, who may serve as primary care providers for families. Some of the more specific niches that a nurse practitioner can work in include:
- Midwifery (Certified Nurse Midwife): Nurse midwives assist women in maintaining their health throughout a pregnancy. They offer advice for the health of both mother and child, and are present during the labor and childbirth. This specialty requires extra education, beyond even the master’s degree, and therefore takes longer to attain, but also pays better than a typical RN job.
- Neonatal Nursing: These nurses work specifically with newborns, diagnosing and treating any issues that need to be taken care of as soon as the baby is born.
- Pediatric Nursing: Pediatric nurse practitioners provide basic care, including regular physicals and other preventive measures, for children under the age of 18.
- Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist: Anesthesiology is one of the highest paying segments of medicine, and the nurses who work with anesthesiologists are correspondingly well compensated. CRNAs administer local and general anesthesia to patients preparing to undergo surgery, and will always work under the supervision of an MD with a specialty in anesthesiology.
How to choose an accredited nurse practitioner degree program?
Because there is such demand for workers in the field of nursing, there are many programs that claim to prepare students for the career in a matter of months. Some of these are legitimate, but others are just trying to cash in on the trend. Only schools that are accredited by an organization with the U.S. Secretary of Education’s approval are even worth looking at. Accreditation shows that a school has proven its ability to provide top quality education that prepares students to work professionally in their fields.
The accreditation process for nursing schools takes several years and involves numerous reviews of the curriculum, professors, and mission of the institution. Nursing schools are usually accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education [PDF] (CCNE), and the basic process for application is as follows:
- Institution applying for accreditation turns in several letters of intent and a self-study, detailing why it is fit for accreditation, and it's comprehensive plan for maintaining its accreditation-worthiness for the coming years.
- CCNE reviews the institution's self-study and conducts its own research into the quality of the school. A CCNE representative visits the school to confirm the claims made in the self-study and assess other relevant factors.
- Temporary accreditation status is awarded if the above steps go well.
- After earning the initial accreditation status, the institution must undergo intense review after five years, and prove that they have maintained the level of quality that led to their accreditation. After this, accreditation can be renewed through a less intensive process every ten years.
Accreditation is a hugely important factor in selecting a good nurse education program, but obviously there is other information to consider. Tuition prices, scheduling, and the ratio of online courses to clinical rotations or other practical duties will probably all influence a student's choice of schools.
The list below includes only top accredited online colleges that offer programs in nursing. The information above offered general information about how to get student aid and choose a specialty in nursing, but to get a feel for any particular program, it is important to get in touch with the school itself. If you want to learn more about specific online nurse practitioner programs, pick a few schools out from the lineup below and ask them for more information on the degree you’re most interested in. It never hurts to research your options, and you might find the perfect school for you!