Nurse Practitioner Programs

What is a nurse practitioner?

A MSN or DNP for Nurse Practitioners opens a wide range of career options for the practicing nurse. A nurse practitioner (NP) combines the best of nursing practice with advanced medical training. According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), NPs focus “on the whole person when treating specific health problems, as well as educating the patients on the effects those problems will have on them, their loved ones, and their communities.” In 16 states and the District of Columbia, NPs can treat patients without doctor supervision. Therefore, they can choose to work either independently or as part of a team. They order tests, diagnose and treat conditions, refer patients to others, provide education, prescribe medication and treatments, and generally manage a patient’s care. In the other states, NPs are required to be associated with or supervised by a physician, but still can perform these functions.

Nurse Practioner Specialties

Nurse practitioners can choose particular specialties. Some of these include: acute care, adult, emergency, family, gerontology, mental health, neonatal, oncology, pediatric, primary care, and women’s health. Most nurse practitioner programs provide coursework tracks to prepare students for selected specialties. NPs may also focus on sub-specialties such as allergy/immunology, cardiovascular, dermatology, neurology, occupational health, pain management, or sports medicine.

Nurse Practitioner Education

A Masters of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree from a nationally accredited institution is required to become a nurse practitioner. Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs are also available to prepare nurse practitioners. Currently, a shift from requiring the MSN to requiring the DNP for entry into the field is underway, and the DNP may be the required degree for entry into the field by 2015. Although admissions requirements vary between institutions, admissions processes are generally competitive and take into account: undergraduate grade point average (particularly in nursing courses), often requiring 3.0 or above (some require 3.5 or higher); professional work experience; an essay on educational and personal goals; and letters of recommendation. Some programs require the GRE general test. Coursework in statistics is often specifically mentioned as a requirement. English language proficiency may be determined through Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) scores. One excellent way to find a NP program is to use the NP Program Database from the AANP.

Those who are considering an MSN or DNP program should carefully examine the program website and contact program coordinators before applying. The website should provide information on admissions and course requirements. Applicants should be sure that the program matches career goals in terms of specialties and competencies. For example, if a nurse is particularly interested in moving into a leadership role, but a program offers few leadership-related courses, that is not a good match. Most important are courses in a preferred specialty. Individuals will also need to find a program that fits their scheduling and personal needs. Not all programs allow part-time students; not all students learn well in an online environment.

An MSN program will take one to three years to complete. The AANP has set forth a set of core competencies they expect NP graduates to acquire through program curricula. Within the program, students study the theoretical and ethical underpinnings of nursing, gain evidence-based clinical knowledge, and learn appropriate research methods. Along the way, students gain competency in scientific and critical thinking arenas, and learn more about the intricacies of health care delivery systems, policy and decision-making, quality improvement, and leadership. Since NP’s work in a wide range of primary or specialty care settings, courses prepare them not only for general NP work and for certification in their area of practice. Coursework also builds a group of interpersonal skills to support their work as educators, advocates, consultants, mentors, and counselors. Clinical work is a large part of the program.

At the end of the course of study, students must follow the rules of their state to be permitted to practice. Requirements vary from state to state, so be sure to check with the Board of Nursing and familiarize yourself with the requirements for the state in which you will practice. Most NPs are nationally certified by an accredited NP certification body, such as the AANP, the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) the National Certification Corporation (NCC) and the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB).

Nurse Practitioner Jobs

Employment options vary, depending on an individual’s specialty and state rules regarding doctor supervision. NPs can practice in a wide range of settings, including working in urgent care clinics, hospices, home health care, health departments, nursing homes, hospitals, schools, or health care group practices. Retail medical clinics offer a growing number of positions for NPs. Overall, job opportunities in health care fields are growing, and changes in health care law have made the demand for NPs even higher. According to the AANP, new NPs (with between one and five years of experience) report an annual base salary of $84,850 and an annual total income of $91,060. The mean rises with experience, with average full-time NP total income $98,760.