Nurse practitioners and specialized nursing occupations have a very bright future. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, Dec. 2015), opportunities for advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs)—nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners—are expected to swell 31 percent over the next 10 years, significantly faster than the average growth expected across all occupations during that time (7 percent).
Due to the high demand in this field, nurse practitioner schools across the country allow people to further their education and prepare them for this rewarding career. These programs have various academic points of entry, including options for RN-, BSN-, and MSN-prepared nurses. And for those seeking flexibility and convenience, there are online nurse practitioner programs which allow students to get clinical hours at preceptor sites located close to their homes.
To find out which educational pathway might be right for you, check out the specializations and subspecialities below.
There are APRN programs available at top nursing schools across the country. Some require that incoming students declare a specialty track during the application process, while others—particularly at the RN entry-point—may allow students to determine their specialty while enrolled. Some of the most common nurse practitioner specializations and subfields are detailed below.
Nurse practitioners (NPs) specialize in areas such as adult care, mental health, pediatric care, or emergency care. Clinical hours provide them with hands-on training to deepen their assessment, diagnostic, and treatment skills in their specialty area.
Pediatric nurse practitioners (PNPs) treat children’s diseases and injuries, as well as interface with patients' parents to provide holistic care. There are two common subspecialties: acute care (PNP-AC) and primary care (PNP-PC).
Acute care nurse practitioners (ACNPs) help patients with immediate, severe, and generally short-lived medical issues such as illnesses, injuries, or trauma.
Psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) examine, diagnose, and treat patients with mental illnesses. They also educate patients’ families on conditions to dispel any misunderstandings.
Adult gerontology nurse practitioners (AGNPs) work with adolescents and adults across many settings such as hospitals and community clinics. In addition to generalist AGNPs, there are two popular subspecialties: acute care (AGNP-AC) and primary care (AGNP-PC).
Emergency nurse practitioners (ENPs) work to assess, stabilize, and treat patients in hospital emergency rooms and urgent care centers.
Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) work as primary care nurses to patients throughout the lifespan. They’re often the first to diagnose illnesses or refer people with serious conditions to specialists.
Nurses considering a nurse practitioner track might also consider other APRN programs, like those listed below.
Certified nurse-midwives (CNMs) receive extensive training in gynecology and newborn care, as well as general women's health issues.
Clinical nurse specialists (CNSs) may focus on various areas of nursing, including treatment of certain age groups, specific illnesses, or common conditions such as stress and pain.
Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) are able to provide anesthesia and monitor patients during surgeries.
Finally, there are other advanced nursing degrees which prepare healthcare providers to take on leadership roles in clinical and academic settings.
Clinical nurse leaders (CNLs) coordinate health services, assess risk, measure outcomes, and implement evidence-based solutions to improve patient care.
Nurse administrators work at the intersection of nursing and business leadership, ensuring the smooth functioning of a healthcare team or facility.
The National League for Nursing (NLN) created the Certified Nurse Educator (CNE) designation in 2009 to identify educators prepared to engage in nearly every step of nursing education, from designing curricula and instructing students to evaluating and improving programs and outcomes.
PhDs in nursing help fill the growing demand for NP professors and research professionals across various institutions.
Find online programs offered by universities near you by selecting your state from the list below. Please note that in-state schools may provide advantages, including campus proximity (to facilitate any campus visitation requirements); a higher likelihood of your degree being recognized by the relevant state board of nursing for licensure; and for state schools, the possibility of having your in-state residency factored into your program tuition. Check out the list of online NP programs in your state with specializations, accreditation, and campus visitation requirements specified. Additionally, you have the opportunity to meet influential nursing professors virtually who are involved in the programs to get a better sense of what to expect.
Top nursing programs are not always located conveniently close to a student’s home. Luckily there are many distance-based NP programs which accommodate most specializations and academic points of entry. These programs involve a combination of online didactic coursework and hands-on local preceptorships which are supervised by licensed clinical professionals. Prospective students are encouraged to verify the “state authorization” status of programs to ensure that they’re eligible to enroll since there are varying local laws governing distance education. Explore the variety of online NP degree programs below.
For RNs with an ADN degree
For RNs with a BSN degree
For RNs with an MSN degree
Nurse practitioners are highly trained medical professionals, striving to accurately examine, assess, diagnose, and treat patients. They may also order medical testing, prescribe medications, and refer advanced cases to specialists. NPs work in doctors' offices, community clinics, hospitals, and other medical settings. In some states, they’re required to have a supervisory contract with a physician. NPs receive formal training beyond the typical registered nurse (RN) education. In fact, most NPs hold master’s degrees and as a result, they have higher salaries than RNs. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2014), the mean annual wage for nurse practitioners across the country is $97,990.
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) actively recommends the doctor of nursing practice (DNP)—the terminal degree of the field—as the most advanced preparation in nursing. The adoption of the DNP as the new standard may mean increased course loads and a longer training period for new NPs, but the result will be an even stronger foundation for professional practice upon graduation. While the DNP is not yet mandatory in the field, it may be recommended to enhance one’s job candidacy, opportunities for leadership, and earning potential. Learn more about the DNP and other common questions for nurse practitioners in the frequently asked questions (FAQs) below.
Researching various nurse practitioner programs doesn’t always give you a feel for the lived experiences in the profession. For example, what can you expect to do on a daily basis as a hospice NP? What are the emotional considerations of working as a family psychiatric NP? Or what credentials do you need to be a travel NP? While NP program descriptions can teach you about these fields in the abstract, it may be even more useful to experience a day through the eyes of these various healthcare professions. Check out the pieces below in our “A Day in the Life” series to get an idea of what to expect on the job.
The NP Education Blog is an excellent resource for those considering applying to a nurse practitioner school. It offers a wealth of resources, including program lists, interviews with professors, scholarship opportunities, and popular trends in the field.
The existence of “full practice authority”—i.e., the ability of NPs to work to the utmost extent of their education and credentialing, especially as it relates to prescriptive abilities and professional independence—varies widely by region.
One of the most contentious issues in healthcare today is the fight for full practice authority among nurse practitioners. NPs in Texas and beyond are trained to work as independent healthcare professionals, but they’re legally restrained from working to the utmost extent of their education and training.