Nurse Practitioner Graduate School Programs

Explore graduate school programs for the nurse practitioner. Continue reading about educational prerequisites, program coursework and popular career options.

Essential Information

Nurse practitioners (NPs) are registered nurses (RNs) with advanced patient care education that allows them to provide primary care. While nurse practitioners do not have the same professional abilities as doctors, they can usually diagnose and treat patients without doctor supervision. After earning a graduate degree, NPs are eligible for state licensure and national certification by organizations like the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.

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.

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 (M.S.N.) 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.

Educational Prerequisites

The majority of nurse practitioner M.S.N. programs require students to be working, licensed RNs with prior academic experience in nursing. Additionally, many programs set a minimum undergraduate GPA for applicants to nurse practitioner M.S.N. programs, with more competitive programs requiring a higher GPA. Some programs also require students to have taken prior coursework in statistics and other non-medical subjects.

Program Coursework

Students in nurse practitioner M.S.N. programs may be required to take practica or externships to compliment classroom teaching. A master's thesis or research project is also often necessary for graduation from M.S.N. programs. Classes in nurse practitioner Master of Science in Nursing programs cover advanced patient care and healthcare topics such as:

  • Epidemiology
  • Statistics
  • Evidence-based treatment
  • Advanced pathophysiology
  • Healthcare policy

Popular Career Options

Certified and licensed nurse practitioners with an M.S.N. may choose a practice specialty based on their educational focus, or may work in different areas throughout their career. Some common career paths for nurse practitioners with a Master of Science in Nursing are:

  • Primary care for adults
  • Oncology
  • Dermatology
  • Emergency care
  • Family counseling

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. Some programs allow NP certificate students to choose an area of nursing practice to concentrate on, including pediatrics and adult nursing.

Educational Prerequisites

Applicants to nurse practitioner post-master's certificate programs usually must have received a master's degree in nursing from an accredited institution. In some cases, applicants must also have undergraduate nursing education. Other admissions prerequisites for graduate-level nurse practitioner certificate programs include current RN licensure, at least one year of practice as a nurse and minimum GPA in graduate and undergraduate work.

Program Coursework

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

Popular Career Options

Nurse practitioners who specialize during their NP education focus their careers on their area of interest. Students taking a general nurse practitioner education path may have some flexibility with their career choices. Practice areas for NP certificate holders include:

  • Pediatrics
  • Occupational health
  • Neurology
  • Cardiology
  • Acute care

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.

Educational Prerequisites

Common admissions requirements for D.N.P. programs include nursing bachelor's and master's degrees from accredited institutions and current licensure as a registered nurse. In some cases, applicants to D.N.P. programs with a nurse practitioner focus must be currently licensed and working nurse practitioners.

Program Coursework

Curricula for D.N.P. programs focus on the clinical aspects of advanced practice nursing. Depending on the focus of the program, courses may focus on areas like mental health, general practice, public health and pediatrics. The 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

While it is possible for graduates of D.N.P. programs to enter academic or research careers, the intent of these degree programs is to train working clinicians. However, 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:

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

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