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Nurse Practitioner College Program Information

Prospective nurse practitioners typically earn a master's degree in nursing to find employment. However, there are other options available and the majority of them require prior nursing education and experience to enroll.

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Essential Information

Prospective nurse practitioners who hold a bachelor's degree in a non-nursing field can enroll in accelerated programs that jointly award a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in nursing. These programs take 3 years of full-time study. Admission to a dual degree program requires several standard pre-medical education courses, including anatomy and physiology, two semesters of chemistry, microbiology, statistics and ethics. Graduates are prepared for registered nurse (RN) licensure and certification as nurse practitioners.

Master's programs in nursing with a nurse practitioner specialization are offered for licensed RNs. A master's program in nursing typically takes two years full time or three years part time. Students can choose from a number of specializations to focus on while taking core classes. The prerequisites for a master's degree are fairly simple as nurses must be in good standing and have a few years of experience.

Certified nurse practitioners who already hold a master's degree can enroll in post-graduate certificate programs to obtain specialty training. Post-graduation certification programs do offer specializations such as gerontology and mental health nursing. These programs may be offered part-time or online.

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs are designed for aspiring nurse educators at the post-secondary level, as well as nurses seeking career advancement to leadership positions. These programs are often research intensive and nurse practitioners who have a master's degree are given preference in the application process.


Dual Degree Accelerated Program for Advanced Nursing Practice

Some colleges have dual degree programs that lead to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing as well as a Master of Science in Nursing - Nurse Practitioner. Though credits from the first bachelor's degree are usually applied, coursework for these 'accelerated' nurse practitioner college programs can tally between 90 and 100 credit hours. The curriculum combines lecture-based courses and clinical experiences. Typical classes might include:

  • Clinical pharmacology
  • Community health
  • Acute pediatric care
  • Family health nursing and primary care nursing
  • Pathophysiology
  • Management in advanced nursing practice

Master of Science in Nursing: Nurse Practitioner Track

Master of Science degree programs train future nurse practitioners to assess, diagnose and treat patients in all stages of life. Nurse practitioners generally concentrate in one of several areas of practice, including family practice, psychiatry, pediatrics, geriatrics, women's health or adult health. Like other nurse practitioner programs, coursework includes a heavy focus on nursing as the primary health provider, which requires extensive knowledge of pharmacology in order to prescribe medications. Many programs require that students attend full-time. Coursework and clinical hour requirements may vary depending on the nursing specialty the student selects to pursue. Some class topics are:

  • Advanced health assessment
  • Clinical pharmacology
  • Advanced nursing research
  • Family, child and adult primary care
  • Issues of advanced nursing practice

Postgraduate Certificate: Nurse Practitioner

Postgraduate certificates for nurse practitioners are designed mainly for working nurses who would like to focus on a specialty and consist of 20-30 credit hours. Classes required for the nurse practitioner postgraduate certificate vary widely depending on the specialty under study. However, some common course topics include:

  • Advanced health assessment
  • Primary care of the adult
  • Psychiatric clinical internship
  • Advanced clinical pharmacology
  • Theories of family systems
  • Advanced pathophysiology

Doctor of Nursing Practice

The degree of Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is intended primarily to train educators for nurse training programs and is the terminal degree in the nursing field. Coursework consists of 25-30 credit hours and generally emphasizes advanced research in nursing topics.

Many colleges offer two tracks, one for nurse educators and one in leadership, intended for candidates who intend to continue work as a professional nurse. DNP programs include classes in advanced research methods and several electives to sharpen the focus of the degree. Some clinical work is also included. Students learn about topics such as:

  • Qualitative and quantitative research methods
  • Culture and health perspectives
  • Health care informatics
  • Application of nursing science
  • Teaching and learning for nurse educators
  • Organization and structure in nurse leadership

Popular Career Options

Graduates of nurse practitioner master's degree programs work not only in hospitals and clinics but also in a wide range of other social health settings, rural health care facilities and as healthcare consultants.

  • Acute care nurse
  • Rural primary care provider
  • Healthcare policy advocate
  • Nursing program development coordinator

Salary Information and Employment Outlook

According to 2014 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) figures, the number of available nurse practitioner positions, is expected to grow by 35% between 2014 and 2024. The median salary for nurse practitioners in May 2015 was $98,190, though salaries were below $70,540 for the bottom 10% and over $135,830 for the top 10%. Salaries generally depend on the geographic location, the applicant's education and prior work experience.

Becoming a nurse practitioner can be a complicated process, especially when choosing which education to pursue. Prospective students should now have a better understanding of dual degree programs, master's degree, post-graduate certificates, and doctorates in nursing.

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