Advanced Nurse Practitioner Education Program Options

Advanced practice nurses are required to complete at least a master's degree in a specialty field of nursing, and those wanting to further their education can continue on to doctoral degree studies in nursing practice.

Essential Information

There are many specializations offered at the master's degree level for nurse practitioners, including family nursing, pediatrics, and women's health. Most programs require two years of study, including many hours of clinical experience. Applicants to these programs must have a bachelor's degree in nursing, along with a nursing license and at least a year of experience. The curriculum depends upon the specialty, but courses in pharmacology, nursing ethics, and research methodology are common. Most programs also require applicants to have a specified GPA and to submit personal career and education statements, transcripts, a resume, and letters of recommendation.

Doctoral degree programs are designed to help nurses develop leadership skills used to improve patient outcomes, as well as to train nursing faculty and future nurses. Some programs will accept students with bachelor's degrees, while others prefer students with master's degrees and advanced practice nursing experience. All prospective DNP students must also submit personal career and education statements, transcripts, letters of recommendation, and a resume or a curriculum vitae. Most states require advanced practice nurses pass a national certification examination.

Master of Science in Nursing

A Master of Science in Nursing is required in order for a registered nurse to become an advanced nurse practitioner. The master's degree takes two years to complete. Most students choose a practice specialization from the broad range of nurse practitioner specialties, including primary care, family care, pediatrics, geriatrics, psychiatry, oncology, or women's health.

The curriculum for advanced nurse practitioners includes nursing theory, clinical experience, pharmacology, management, and research. The education program is designed to provide knowledge and skills enabling students to provide advanced practice nursing care to patients in their field of specialty. Courses vary depending upon specialty. Some courses in the curriculum include:

  • Ethics in nursing
  • Health assessment and diagnosis
  • Pharmacotherapy
  • Pathophysiology
  • Nursing research and methodology

Doctor of Nursing Practice

The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is the highest degree level available for advanced nurse practitioners. The program is designed to help students become experts, and is geared toward improving nursing practice, health care delivery and patient outcomes, training faculty, and future leaders in the nursing field. The curriculum is based upon practice methods and techniques that reflect the results of research findings. Many programs offer dual concentrations. One concentration is designed for students interested in becoming nurse educators and assuming leadership roles. The other is intended for students working in the field as professional nurses.

Most DNP programs require a minimum of 35 to 45 credit hours of work. The coursework includes classes in statistics and research methods; electives and a clinical component are also needed to complete the degree. Some courses included in a DNP program are:

  • Quantitative analysis
  • Principles of teaching in nursing
  • Management and leadership development
  • Nursing practice in diverse populations
  • Health care system transformation
  • Epidemiology

Popular Career Options

Graduates of nurse practitioner master's degree, post-graduate certificate programs and doctorate degrees in nursing practice have a wide range of career options. Advanced practice nurses work in hospitals, clinics, schools and as advocates and healthcare consultants for governments, corporate businesses and organizations. Some career options include:

  • Clinical educator
  • Public health nurse
  • Mental health care advocate
  • Industrial wellness nurse
  • Nurse oncologist
  • Nursing professor
  • Director of nursing research
  • Psychiatric nurse

Employment and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of positions for all registered nurses will increase 16% between 2014 and 2024. The BLS has also projected that the demand for nurse practitioners will be particularly high in under-served areas ( As of 2015, nurse practitioners earned median salaries of $67,490, reports the BLS.

Continuing Education

Post-graduate certificate programs are designed for practicing nurses who have earned a Master of Science in Nursing and would like to gain knowledge and clinical experience that will prepare them to work as an advanced practice nurse in a specialty field. Most programs are flexible with course scheduling and require completion of 20 to 30 credits hours in a nurse practitioner specialization along with a specified number of clinical hours. Much of the coursework can be completed on a part-time basis with many courses available online.

Becoming a nurse practitioner requires an advanced set of skills that are taught at the master's and doctoral degree levels of nursing. Graduates can consider careers in healthcare education, research, as well as advanced nursing practices such as oncology and psychiatry, and may pursue post-graduate certificates for these specific fields.

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