RN to Nurse Practitioner Guide
With the job outlook for Nurse Practitioners expected to progress at a higher-than-average rate according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, you may be considering advancing your education with a graduate degree.
This educational guide will highlight what you need to know in order to take the next big step in your nursing career.
The Benefits of Getting a Nurse Practitioner Degree
Earning your Nurse Practitioner degree is a personal decision and it can also come with additional benefits to your career, such as:
- Specializing in your chosen field. Advancing your education through an NP degree is an opportunity to specialize further in your area of expertise.
- Salary increase. The median pay for an NP was $110,930 in May 2017, which is higher than the average pay of $70,000 for an RN.
- Tuition reimbursement. Depending on what field you choose and what policies your current workplace offers, you may be able to receive reimbursement for your NP degree.
- More career opportunities. Earning your graduate degree in nursing opens the door for further career opportunities.
- Increased autonomy. There are rules based on which state you live in, but many states allow complete autonomy for NPs, allowing them to act as independent practitioners. Some states allow for NPs to own and operate their own practices under an overseeing physician.
- Ability to open your own practice. If you live in a state that allows for NPs to act independently, you can open and operate your own practice, clinic, or healthcare business.
What is a Nurse Practitioner Degree?
As the American Association of Nurse Practitioners explains, an NP degree prepares a Registered Nurse with advanced clinical training in a specialty field. The training to become an NP is a graduate program that prepares nurses by giving them the knowledge, technical and clinical skills to practice in a variety of primary care, acute care, and long-term care settings, with differing degrees of autonomy based on state licensure requirements. An NP assesses, diagnoses, and treats patients in a variety of settings and has prescription privileges as well.
Although an RN degree will allow you to work in a specialty field, working as an NP will really allow you to specialize and gain advanced skills and knowledge in your chosen field. Once considered “mid-level providers,” NPs are no longer thought of as an extension of a physician or working underneath a primary practitioner. Instead, NPs are licensed, independent practitioners.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) explains that NPs most commonly work in:
- Physician offices
- General medical and surgical hospitals
- Outpatient centers
- Offices of other health practitioners
- Academic settings
Nurse Practitioners also work in other diverse settings including:
- Religious organizations
- Laboratory setting
- Dental offices
- Administration and management
Nurse Practitioners working in every healthcare specialty. The most popular NP specialties are:
- Family Nurse Practitioners
- Acute Care Nurse Practitioners
- Women’s Health Nurse Practitioners
- Adult Geriatric Care Nurse Practitioners
- Emergency Nurse Practitioners
- Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
- Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
However, many of these specialties also have subspecialties as well. For instance, one growing specialty is the field of aesthetic NPs, who specializes in facial injections and esthetic procedures.
Nurses who choose an advanced graduate NP degree will have more autonomy when treating patients and may enjoy more flexible schedules, higher pay, and the opportunity to work full or part-time hours.
Salary and Pay
As the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) notes, on average, a Nurse Practitioner can expect to earn about $40,000/year more than an RN.
The exact salary will vary based on:
- What field you specialize in,
- What type of setting you are employed in,
- Full-time or part-time employment
The average salary of a Nurse Practitioner working within the most common employment settings are as follows:
- Academic settings, such as college or universities, average $100,400/annually
- Hospital or outpatient care centers, an average of over $111,000/annually
- Personal care services average $139,460/annually
Types of Programs
There are three main types of NP programs offered both in-person and online:
- RN-BSN-MSN. Some schools offer students currently enrolled in a BSN program to apply for an MSN program while still completing their BSN. Upon acceptance, the program allows students to simultaneously pursue their MSN while completing the requirements for their BSN by exchanging some core classes. By the end of the program, the student will have earned their BSN and MSN degrees.
- Basic requirements: Applicant must either possess an RN, a diploma degree, or an ADN, along with a Bachelor’s in another field outside of nursing.
- MSN-NP. One of the most common options for NP programs, the MSN-NP is for students who already have their BSN and enroll directly into the program at the graduate level.
- Basic requirements: Applicant must possess a BSN degree.
- DNP. Doctorate Nurse Practitioner programs allow students to receive their doctorate degrees while meeting the requirements to become an NP. The DNP is generally suited for nurses who plan on working more in an academic or research-based setting,
- Basic requirements: Applicant must possess a BSN degree.
- Post-graduate certificate. If you have a graduate degree that is different from the area that you wish to specialize in now with your NP, you can search for a school that offers a post-graduate certification option to allow you to enroll directly into the program.
- Basic requirements: Post-grad certificate programs require you to either possess your Master’s Degree of Science in Nursing (MSN) or have a Nurse Practitioner qualification in another specialty.
Online NP Programs
Because many nurses who are pursuing their NP certifications are busy professionals who are generally already working, online programs are a very popular option for an advanced NP degree.
What type of students thrive in online Nurse Practitioner programs?
Online programs are ideal for various nursing professionals with busy schedules as they allow the entirety or majority of coursework to be completed remotely. They are flexible and give students the opportunity to work around their schedule.
While online programs are inclusive to all lifestyles, nurses with the following lifestyles may especially benefit from online programs,
- Working nurses
- Nurses with families
- Nurses with outside responsibilities
- Nurses with difficult and/or set schedules
How long will it take to complete the Nurse Practitioner program online?
It will generally take 2 years to complete the degree. For nurses who already have their BSN degree, NP programs can be completed in as little as 8 semesters and it is possible to enroll in a program full-time or part-time, depending on your needs. A program of 8 semesters full-time generally equates to a two-year commitment.
Why is it important to choose an accredited and credentialed program?
It is dire when choosing an online program, but especially an advanced degree program like an NP, to ensure that the program you will be enrolled in is accredited and credentialed. Students who attend non-credentialed programs may run into challenges with future employment opportunities and examination eligibility.
When it comes to the highest level of accreditation we advise choosing programs that are accredited by,
- The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN)
- The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
The National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties, as well as the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), have a more exhaustive list of specific credentialing programs for each type of NP specialty and a special task force dedicated to ensuring credentialing specifications for NP programs.
Online Nurse Practitioner Program Requirements & Key Differences
In general, the requirements for an online NP program are generally the same for an in-person NP program. However, there are a few differences when it comes to taking online courses as opposed to in-person courses, here are the most noteworthy differences,
Securing your own practicum site and preceptor - Not every school has this requirement but, some do not provide online students with practicum sites and preceptors. If this is important to you, make sure to ask about it before enrolling in an online program.
- Practicum - The practicum portion of the program is the “hands-on” learning when you are paired under an NP in your specialty field to learn in an immersive educational environment. Generally, the practicum comes at the end of your program.
- Attend an in-person event - Some online programs also require you to attend at least one in-person event as part of your education at the school, such as an immersion weekend to kick off the program or different set meet-ups during the course of the program.
While online NP programs may be the most convenient option, depending on the program, they may also be more or even less expensive than traditional in-person programs. It is worth assessing the full scope of the savings potential when choosing an online program.
NP Program Requirements
The specifics for NP licensure are set by the states, which means that you will have to search the requirements to become an NP in the state that you plan to work in. There is also talk of a national model for NP licensure, but currently, it does vary from state-to-state. You can view complete state-by-state requirements to become an NP here and check with the school you plan on attending.
Overall, the following will be required to enroll in an NP program:
- Active RN license
- Completed school application with applicable fee
- Statement of Purpose
- Official transcripts sent to the school
- Prerequisite courses that generally include statistics and natural sciences (some schools also stipulate certain courses must be taken within the last 5 years)
- Successful completion of NCLEX if applying before the exam
- BSN degree or applicable B.S. degree with RN licensure
- Minimum 3.0-grade point average
- 3 personal letters of recommendation
- Additional testing may be required for international students
Do nurses need to have an RN license in the state they are applying to attend school?
While one basic requirement that all NPs must have is their license as a Registered Nurse (RN), the RN license does not necessarily have to be in the same state as your NP licensure, which is called an APRN license for Advanced Practice Registered Nurse.
What are the core competencies of a Nurse Practitioners program?
The National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties lists 9 core competencies that every NP will have to meet
- Practice inquiry
- Technology and information
- Health delivery
- Independent practice
Nurse Practitioner Licensure
To qualify to be licensed by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, applicants must meet the following requirements:
- Complete an education program with national competencies in the graduate core NP role geared towards adult-gerontology, primary care, or family/ across the life span in accordance with the 2016 Criteria for Evaluation of Nurse Practitioner Programs, 5th edition.
- Complete APRN core courses of advanced physical assessment, advanced pharmacology, and advanced pathophysiology
- Complete a minimum of 500 faculty-supervised direct patient care clinical hours
- Adhere to the organization’s rule of not taking the certifying exam more than twice in one calendar year
Classes and Clinical Hours
The exact classes, curriculum, and clinical hours specifications will vary based on your specific type of program, but in general, an NP program based on a nurse who already has a BSN and has enrolled only in the basic NP program (not DNP conjunctly) consists between 5 and 8 semesters, and between approximately 19 months to 3 years.
An NP program is set up to consist of approximately 44-46 didactic credits, with around 450 minimum clinical hours over the course of the entire program. Some programs may require upwards of 600 clinical hours, depending on the specialty you choose.
A sample course of classes and clinicals may look like:
- Semester 1 & 2: Foundations & Fundamentals
- Semester 3 & 4: Clinical Management for Chosen Specialty
- Semesters 5 & 6: Advanced Clinical Skills & Clinicals
NP Program Cost
The costs of an NP program will depend on which type of school you decide to attend. Public schools are generally less expensive than private schools and in-state schools will be less expensive than out-of-state schools.
The cost of an NP program will also be higher if you plan on living on-campus or taking part in a residential meal program.
According to a report by New America Education Policy Program, the average undergraduate and graduate debt for a student receiving a Masters in Science degree as of 2012 was $50,400.
However, if you are passionate about your career goals, the benefits will definitely outweigh the cost in the long run. As a Nurse Practitioner, you’ll enjoy more autonomy, more expansive variety of career options and much higher pay.
How to Pay for NP Program
Deciding how to pay for an NP degree can seem like a daunting task, and that’s ok. Luckily, there are many options to help offset or lessen the burden of the cost. Program cost shouldn’t deter you from following your career goals, the benefits will outweigh the cost.
To assist you in learning more about your options for financing your NP, here are the most popular financial aid and other monetary options:
- Grants. Grants are financial aid granted to you for your education that you do not have to pay back. They may be based on need, availability, and merit. There are three main ways you can receive grants for a graduate degree:
- Through the school you will be attending: you will have to fill out the FAFSA, which will then automatically tell you what kind of federal grants you are eligible for.
- Through the school’s financial aid office: you can inquire about any additional grants you can apply for.
- Through your field: for instance, there may be NP-specific grants or grants specifically related to your specialty field. You could check governing associations related to your field or speak with your program director for guidance on available grants.
Scholarships. There are thousands of scholarships available for NP students. Scholarships range in amount, from a monetary value all the way up to full-tuition and are funds that you do not have to pay back.
Here are a few suggestions to start your scholarship search,
- Check with your school - your school will provide a full list of scholarships available through the school. Many have private scholarships that are funded with different qualifications, so you can browse scholarships you may be eligible for.
- Search online - many corporations, organizations and private individuals will list their scholarships online, especially in your chosen field. You can also do a search locally and online for graduate nursing scholarships and programs, especially in your chosen field.
- The American Association of Nurse Practitioners - has a specific page on their website dedicated to connecting prospective NPs with financial resources, from scholarships to grants and more.
Loans. A student loan is an aid you receive to pay for your education that you are required to pay back, with interest.
There are two types of loans,
- Federal student loans are provided through the government and usually carry much more generous terms and lower interest.
- Private loans are funded through a financial institution such as a bank or credit union. Most federal loans require that you be enrolled at least half-time in your degree program and allow you to borrow up to $20,500 per school year.
How to apply for student loans,
- Fill out your FAFSA - the best course of action when pursuing loans is to first fill out your FAFSA and see which federal loan options you qualify.
- Search for private student loans - once you’ve determined the number of federal loans you are eligible for then search for private student loans as needed to finance the rest of your education.
You will need to be careful when choosing private loans, all loans are not created equal. Here is a list of items to research when choosing a private loan,
- Loan terms
- Interest rates
- Additional fees, such as origination fees, early payoff fees, and late payment penalties.
Your school’s financial aid office can generally help guide you through choosing private education loans as well.
Deferring undergraduate student loans while in NP school
If you already have student loans from your undergraduate degree, you may also be able to defer payment on those loans while you’re enrolled in your NP program, so you’ll be able to stop making payments and your loan will still continue to accrue interest.
Other options and paths to consider include:
- Savings. One option for pursuing your NP is to save up money before you enroll in your program to offset some of the financial costs as well as ease your burden of continuing to work while you’re in the program. It may also be helpful to explore your current workplace policy on tuition reimbursement for furthering your education, as some facilities offer partial or full tuition reimbursement.
- Cash Payment. If you plan on paying for your NP program directly out-of-pocket, it may be best to set up a meeting with the financial aid office to see what type of payment plans they offer and what option will be right for you. Some schools may also offer the availability of a semester deferment in times of financial duress, so check on your school’s policy.
- Tuition Reimbursement. Some employers will either front the cost of an NP program for certain employees who are pursuing an education that has been designated a high need for the company or organization or offers full or partial tuition reimbursement upon completion of the degree. You should check with your current place of employment for policies on tuition coverage and/or reimbursement.
- Loan Forgiveness. Nurse practitioners, just like other nurses, are eligible for student loan forgiveness in certain selection conditions. Your chances for getting your loan forgiven increase if you work for a governmental agency, a qualifying area or school of need, or work for a National Health Service Corp. site for at least two years.
You can check with the Department of Education to see the full summary of what type of conditions apply for the loan forgiveness program and for details on how to apply for loan forgiveness or cancellation.
Is an NP Degree Right for Me?
As an RN considering an NP degree, the truth is, only you can answer the question if an NP degree is right for you.
Becoming a Nurse Practitioner may be the best path for you if you are a nurse who,
- Has the desire to gain more knowledge and additional skill sets in a specialty field
- Are looking for increased autonomy in order to better serve your patients
- Has a dream of opening your own practice
- Strives to further your career with an advanced degree
- Are seeking career stability and reliable employment
- Want a more rewarding and fulfilling career
The demand for qualified Nurse Practitioners will only continue to grow in the coming years and the field is evolving to be a highly respected field known for its independent practitioners who are also proving to have better post-treatment ratios than general practitioners.
Earning your degree as an NP may be the opportunity to advance your career, practice more autonomy as a medical professional, and become an expert in a field that you feel passionate about. If you do decide to pursue a career as a Nurse Practitioner, you can be assured that it’s a reliable employment path that many nurses find rewarding and fulfilling for both their professional and personal lives.
- Occupational Outlook Handbook: Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners
- Bureau of Labor and Statistics
- Registered Nurse Salary: US News & Money
- American Association of Nurse Practitioners
- AANP Policy statement
- Nurse Practitioner Core Competencies
- Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
- BCM Fam Practice Journal
- New America Education Policy Program
- Western University MSN/FNP Program