Nurse Practitioner Graduate School Programs

Nurse practitioner (NPs) training is widely available through master's programs, post-master's certificate programs and doctoral programs. Graduates of these programs are eligible for state licensure as NPs and national certification by organizations like the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.

Essential Information

Master's- and doctoral-level degree programs and post-master's certificate programs include coursework in epidemiology, healthcare policy, primary care management and nursing research. Nurse practitioners might specialize in areas such as oncology, family counseling, cardiology and nurse management. Externships, clinical practice and thesis requirements are some aspects of such programs.

  • Program Levels for Nurse Practitioners: Master's degree, Post-Master's Certificate, Doctor of Nursing Practice
  • Prerequisites: M.S. programs require a bachelor's degree and an active RN license, high GPAs, statistics and other non-medical programs for some programs.
  • Program Specializations: Oncology, family practice, cardiology and nurse management, among others
  • Other Requirements: Externships, clinical practice and research project or thesis may be required

Master of Science in Nursing

Aspiring nurse practitioners can gain the advanced practice nursing education to become licensed and certified NPs by earning a Master of Science in Nursing degree with a nurse practitioner's focus. Some programs allow students to choose areas of specific concentration like family practice, gerontological nursing, mental health nursing, administration and nurse education.

Students in nurse practitioner M.S.N. programs may be required to take practical training to compliment classroom teaching. Classes in nurse practitioner Master of Science in Nursing programs cover advanced patient care and healthcare topics such as:

  • Statistics and epidemiology
  • Evidence-based treatment
  • Advanced pathophysiology
  • Healthcare policy

Post-Master's Certificate of Completion - Nurse Practitioner

A post-master's certificate program for nurse practitioners teaches advanced practice techniques to registered nurses with a nursing master's degree. These programs prepare students for the same credentialing exams that a NP master's program does, but are limited in scope because of students' prior advanced nursing education.

Coursework for a nurse practitioner's post-master's certificate orients students to advanced practice. Though students in nurse practitioner certificate programs may not have to complete a thesis or research project, they are usually expected to complete hands-on clinical practice through externships. The following are typical course topics for graduate-level nurse practitioner certificate programs:

  • Advanced practice pathophysiology
  • Clinical decision making
  • Primary care management
  • Advanced nursing issues
  • Anticipatory guidance

Doctor of Nursing Practice

The Doctor of Nursing Practice degree (D.N.P.) is a terminal professional degree for nurses in clinical settings, including nurse practitioners. Students in these programs learn leadership skills and study advanced practice nursing more in-depth. By 2015, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing is requiring that the D.N.P. degree be the only degree granted in advanced practice nursing degree programs, including nurse practitioner programs from 2015 onward.

Curricula for D.N.P. programs focus on the clinical aspects of advanced practice nursing. following are examples of common nurse practitioner D.N.P. course offerings:

  • Nursing research
  • Pharmacotherapeutics
  • Trauma and emergency care
  • Advanced psychiatric nursing
  • Integrative health

Popular Career Options

Some common career paths for nurse practitioners with a Master of Science in Nursing are:

  • Primary care for adults
  • Specialties such as oncology, cardiology, emergency care, etc.
  • Family counseling
  • Occupational health

Graduates of D.N.P. programs are not limited to clinical practice. Some possible career tracks for nurse practitioners with a Doctor of Nursing Practice include the above plus:

  • Nurse management
  • Healthcare administration and business
  • Clinical practice
  • Healthcare consulting

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