What You Need To Know About Nurse Practitioner Programs

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated February 22, 2021 | Published February 25, 2020

Updated February 22, 2021

Published February 25, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

The field of nursing is one of the most in demand professions in the medical field, indicating a very positive career outlook. Several opportunities exist for nurses to expand their skill set through advanced education. Nurse practitioner programs are one of several advanced practice registered nurse programs. In this article we describe different types of nurse practitioner programs, requirements to enroll in a nurse practitioner program and steps to become a nurse practitioner.

Types of nurse practitioner programs

While individual programs vary by cost, location and other similar details, there are two main types of nurse practitioner programs: a master of science in nursing and a doctorate of nursing practice.

Master of Science (MSN)

A master of science in nursing (MSN) degree is the minimum education requirement to be hired as a nurse practitioner. Available online or in-person, master's degree programs generally take two years to complete when enrolled full time. Many applicants choose to enroll part time, remaining employed as a nurse during the program. In addition to traditional coursework, these programs include one or more clinical internship. Although the exact hours requirement varies by state, students typically begin internships in the second half of the program and spend the last semester exclusively focused on the internship, having completed the necessary coursework.

Doctor of Nursing (DNP)

A doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree is not a required degree for individuals looking to work as practitioners, although it can afford graduates access to higher earning potential and/or competitive advantage in the job market. This degree is required for individuals looking to work as a hospital administrator, policy maker, health advocate or nurse educator. Also available online or in-person, this program takes approximately four years to complete if enrolled full-time. A part-time participant would complete the program in closer to six years. Like the MSN program, this program includes coursework and clinical internships.

While different in depth and breadth, some of the coursework for master and doctoral programs is similar. Taking into consideration inevitable variation between specific universities, both types of programs cover the following content areas: general theory and practice, pharmacology, ethics and healthcare policy. Both programs also require the identification of a specialty. Possible specializations include acute care, pediatrics, women's health, psychiatric or neonatal. The extended coursework of a doctoral program offers participants the option to choose an additional specialization. A doctoral program will also cover financial and administrative topics to prepare graduates for jobs in those types of roles.

Requirements for nurse practitioner programs

To enroll in a master or doctoral level nurse practitioner program, applicants must hold a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree and a current registered nurse license. Most programs want applicants to have an undergraduate grade point average (GPA) above 3.0 and when GRE scores are required, a GRE score above the 50th percentile. Program applications also require a current resume or curriculum vitae, letters of recommendation, an interview and a personal statement. Although not typically required, many programs prefer applicants to have at least one or two years of relevant work experience.

How to become a nurse practitioner

The path to becoming a nurse practitioner will vary depending on your individual education and work experience. Here we describe five important steps to follow, regardless of your background, if you want to become a nurse practitioner:

  1. Learn about the field

  2. Pursue formal education.

  3. Secure your license and certifications

  4. Develop relevant skills

  5. Create a strong resume

1. Learn about the field

Whether it is through working as a nurse or in another capacity in the healthcare field, gaining exposure to the role of a nurse practitioner to learn about their job duties, necessary credentials and job outlook is important. This will help you decide if the career is right for you and if so, will help you prepare accordingly. Ways to do this include volunteering at a hospital or doctors office, speaking to aspiring or current nurse practitioners or shadowing a nurse practitioner for a few days. While there, ask questions, take notes and reflect on what you learn.

2. Pursue formal education

Earning a bachelor's degree in nursing from an accredited institution is a pre-requisite for applying to a master or doctoral level nurse practitioner program. Following that, decide whether a master or doctoral program is a better fit for you and apply to a few programs. When applying, take into considerations factors like program cost, location and the type of clinical internships and areas of specialization offered. Aspiring nurse practitioners with an associate's degree in nursing can explore an accelerated bridge program. Similarly, master's level applicants with a non-nursing bachelor's degree can consider a master's entry to nursing practice (MENP) program.

3. Secure your license and certifications

Following completion of a graduate program, aspiring nurse practitioners must pass a national certification exam in their chosen patient population focus area. The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) are two of the leading certification agencies, certifying nurse practitioners in a broad range of patient population areas. Following this, individuals are eligible to obtain state licensure, which requires completion of a master of science in nursing degree, national certification in a designated population area and a current registered nurse license. Maintaining your license and certification requires completion of ongoing continuing education courses.

4. Develop relevant skills

In addition to formal education and certifications, there are several interpersonal skills that are critical for success as a nurse practitioner. Given the highly personal nature of this profession, interpersonal skills of empathy, patience and communication are key. This includes effective communication with medical staff, patients and sometimes patient family members as well. The high stress environment of healthcare also demands that individuals are calm under pressure with close attention to detail. As you navigate through your formal coursework and early in your career, make sure to prioritize the development of such skills.

5. Create a strong resume

Once ready to apply, it is important that your resume is a succinct but robust reflection of your qualifications for the job. This includes all work experience, formal education and certifications and any unique experiences or skills that can differentiate you from other candidates. Entry level applicants can add depth to their resume by highlighting languages spoken, professional organization membership, awards or designations given during internships or a statement of career goals. Building a resume on Indeed makes it easy to apply to jobs quickly and increases your exposure among prospective employers.

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