Nurse Practitioner Programs: Knowing the details and options

A nurse practitioner program may need to do more than just meet the stated requirements of the board of nursing. It will also need to meet the standards of the accrediting agencies and certification organizations on which licensure ultimately depends.

A Nurse Practitioner program should meet the standards of the accrediting agencies and certification organizations on which licensure ultimately depends.

Ideally, the program will offer preparation for practice in a field where standards are evolving. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing is among the organizations pushing for nurse practitioners to be allowed to practice at the full extent of their training ( A growing number of states allow independent practice.


General Expectations

Some state boards include a mandate that programs be at least a year in length. Modern programs are typically much longer. A nurse practitioner program will include advanced coursework in physiology, health assessment, and pharmacology as well as content geared toward a particular population; this may be as broad as family or as narrow as neonatal. Family is the most common population foci.

Expect differential diagnosis to be included somewhere in the program. Expect at least 500 supervised clinical hours.

Master’s Nurse Practitioner Education Vs. Doctoral Nurse Practitioner Education

It is increasingly likely that your education will take place at the doctoral level. Licensing boards don’t require that a nurse practitioner hold a doctoral degree to practice. However the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, CCNE, put forth a strong call more than a decade ago for accredited schools to transition their advanced practice programs to the doctoral level by 2015. CCNE reports that there are now 264 Doctor of Nursing (DNP) programs ( Fully 48 states have at least one. A number of states have more than five.

Many programs that were graduating master’s level NPs a few years back have transitioned. Washington State is a case in point. The mandate is for a graduate degree, and recent classes have graduated more master’s than doctoral level practitioners ( The latest list of approved schools, though, reveals that the state universities have made the transition.

It is increasingly likely that your education will take place at the doctoral level.

In addition to the basics, DNP programs include coursework in areas such as evidence-based treatment, population-level health, and use of information technology to inform practice. A DNP allows for independent learning experiences such as capstone projects.

There are still nurse practitioner programs offering degrees at the master’s level. The program must hold an accreditation that is acceptable to your certification agency and your state board. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), which offers widely recognized certifications in most NP population foci, requires that candidates graduate from programs that are accredited by either the CCNE or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).

You will also want to read up on the nurse practitioner prerequisites to make sure you are on the correct path.

Online Nurse Practitioner Courses

You may have the opportunity to pursue an online course of study (eg. Online Family Nurse Practitioner Programs), but there will be some requirements that can’t be met from a distance. At the minimum, you will need to go out into the community to complete your 500 clinical hours. Your state may impose additional restrictions. Out-of-state schools that place nursing students in the community may be under Board jurisdiction.

Online schools give their students varying degrees of assistance with regard to finding clinical placements.

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Nurse Practitioner Program Foci Options

There are six recognized population foci. You may have the opportunity to complete a sub-specialty as part of a broader program that qualifies you for certification in a recognized role such as family practice.

Some programs offer preparation for more than one distinct population or more than one advanced practice role; in this case, you can expect 1,000 or more clinical hours.

You can also choose to stick to the basics. You can pursue a post-master certificate later if you want to add a specialization. In order to be credentialed in a second area, you will need to meet a second set of educational requirements and spend more time in the field under university supervision. You won’t necessarily need a second degree, but there is the option to pursue the MSN to DNP program path.

Additional Reading

RN to NP Programs

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