Nurse Practitioner School

What degree is necessary to become a Nurse practitioner?

In order to become a nurse practitioner, it is necessary to have a Master of Science Degree in Nursing (MSN), or have a Doctorate of Nursing. Because of the complexity of the cases they are responsible for, and because of the amount of autonomy they are given when practicing, it is essential that a thorough and rigorous nurse practitioner education and clinical training program be completed. While the basic license requirement to become a nurse practitioner is an RN license, which can be acquired with an associate's or bachelor's degree, all state nursing boards, as well as the national agencies that grant certification for nurse practitioners, require an MSN. This ensures a stronger and deeper education, as well as additional clinical hours.

While neither an LPN/LVN nor an RN designates a population or clinical specialty, a nurse practitioner is required to do so. The national certification exams administered by The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) are specific to specialty areas, and an NP student will select his or her specialty area fairly early in the education process. A portion of courses and clinical hours must be oriented towards the specialty area. Specialties include: acute care, adult, family, gerontologic, pediatric, psychiatric and mental health and diabetic management. Designating a specialty means taking courses specific to the specialty area, and taking clinical assignments in these areas.

How do you become certified as a nurse practitioner?

To become certified as a nurse practitioner, you need to meet the eligibility requirements for taking the national examination administered by one of the two national certification agencies. The ANCC is the primary certifying agency recognized by the states as having the authority to confer certification to nurse practitioner candidates, although there are other agencies that confer certifications in clinical specialty areas.

The requirements the agencies set include: completing a graduate level nurse practitioner program at either the master's or doctoral level that includes courses specific to the student's specialty area, being licensed as an RN, completing 500+ clinical hours of practical experience, and passing the national NCLEX examination. The examinations are typically given several times a year around the country, and many specialty area examinations are now offered online.

Once evidence of meeting the requirements is provided, and the examination is passed, the agency will confer the certification to the applicant.

What if I already have a degree in nursing?

If you already have a degree in nursing, you will be able to start further ahead in the educational process than someone who has not studied nursing before. There are many MSN programs that operate as "bridge" programs, where instead of starting from scratch, the candidate is converting an existing degree in nursing to a more advanced one. In these programs, education builds on existing education and does not require a student to repeat coursework or clinical experiences that they completed to get their earlier degree.

What if I already have a degree, but it's not in nursing?

Candidates who already have a degree in a subject other than nursing are eligible for either traditional nursing educations or accelerated programs that will assume that certain liberal arts requirements are met. Students who have baccalaureate degrees in non-nursing areas may find that they need to complete certain prerequisite courses in biology, anatomy and physiology before an application will be accepted.

Can I get my nurse practitioner degree online?

Many nurse practitioner schools offer online programs designed for candidates that want to complete their MSN online in preparation to sit for the national nurse practitioner examinations. These are often accelerated programs in which the courses are tightly scheduled, and require that the candidate already have a bachelor's degree in a non-nursing area. Those interested in knowing how to become a nurse practitioner in the shortest timeframe possible will find accelerated programs allow them to complete a five to six year master's degree program in three years. Most online programs are not self-paced. The student is expected to maintain the schedule of each class as set by the instructor. Typically lectures and homework assignments are viewed and completed online, and the schedule allows the nurse educators to assess comprehension for each student while the program is progressing. Exams for courses are also completed online. In these programs identifying a local medical center for practical experience may be necessary, and most programs will have a coordinator to help students identify possible sites and to help with coordinating a practical experience.

Nurse Practitioner Schools