APRN Nursing Programs by Specialty

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Advanced practice nurses are registered nurses who have obtained additional schooling beyond the basic two or four years in college to become a registered nurse. Because of this training, they have more responsibility in a physician’s office, hospital, healthcare facility or place where they choose to work and can collaborate on patient care and treatment with physicians and other healthcare professionals. They are also trained in an area of specialized health care, and can seek certification of their skills after completing a graduate level program. Often, they will need to take continuing education courses to keep their skills cutting edge and up-to-date. Advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) responsibilities vary, most often as defined by state law, but can include diagnosing health problems, doing physical exams, managing treatment and prescribing medication, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Advanced practice registered nurses must have a minimum of a master’s degree and graduate level programs often include coursework in pharmacology and physiology, as well as classes for a nurse’s field of specialization. There are four types of advanced practice nurses: clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners. There are also many different programs available to help RNs advance their education so that they train for one of these occupational fields. For example, registered nurses who have a bachelor’s degree can look for a master’s of science in nursing (MSN) program or even find a BSN-to-DNP program, leading to a doctor of nursing practice degree. Nurses with an associate degree can look for similar programs including an RN-to-BSN degree or an RN-to-MSN degree. Education has become pivotal in the world of advanced practice nursing. In fact, it has been recommended by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) that entry-level training for an APRN be moved to the DPN by 2015. A list of accredited schools offering the DNP is available on the AACN website.

Nurse Practitioner Specializations

A nurse practitioner will find there are many areas to specialize in. School programs may only offer a few specializations, but because some MSN programs are available through hybrid or online learning, registered nurses may find their needed option by looking at a number of schools. The list of specialty areas below is drawn from the nurse practitioner certifications available through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Nurse practitioner specialty areas include:

  • Acute Care Nurse Practitioner

    Treats patients who are in need of short-term care in places like mental health clinics, outpatient centers or emergency rooms. They assess illness, suggest treatment options and may consult with a physician when their knowledge is limited.

  • Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner

    Adult gerontology nurse practitioners provide care, education and disease prevention to older adults by assessing, diagnosing and managing many common problems. They may work in ambulatory care centers, community clinics, internal medicine offices and other types of care facilities.

  • Emergency Nurse Practitioner

    The care provided in an emergency room is very broad, which is why nurses interested in becoming an emergency room nurse practitioner must learn about the many facets of primary care to be able to work with such a variant population and understand a variety of health care needs.

  • Family Nurse Practitioner

    Meets the needs of families by providing direct care, health assessments and teaching to individuals and family members. The work of the FNP generally involves collaboration with primary care physicians and other health care professionals.

  • Neonatal Nurse Practitioner

    Neonatal nurse practitioners work in nurseries and in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs), providing generalized and critical care to newborns and infants while also taking leadership and advocacy roles and being an interface with parents and healthcare providers.

  • Nurse Practitioner

    Students in nurse practitioner programs specialize in areas as varied as adult care, mental health, pediatric care or even emergency care. Clinical hours provide them with the training they need and allow them to gain deeper assessment, diagnosis and treatment skills in their specialty area.

  • Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

    Helps provide care for children and adolescents across a wide range of settings, including in underserved communities and ambulatory care. They may treat children who are healthy or provide care to children who may be sick or have a chronic illness.

  • Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

    Works with families, individuals or specific populations who have mental health needs or issues. They provide case management, therapy and intervention treatments and can prescribe medication (given that it is allowed by state law).

  • Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner

    Whether you have an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing or an undergraduate degree in a completely different field, you can become a women’s health nurse practitioner (WHNP) by completing an advanced nursing degree. Some WHNP programs allow you to enroll with various degrees and others even offer part-time or online learning.

Other Advanced Practice Nursing Programs

Of course, there are other advanced practice nursing fields and the related educational programs for students interested in them. Like the graduate-level training required to become a nurse practitioner, these fields also require a graduate degree and sometimes also continuing education.

  • Certified Nurse Midwife

    Works with women during the pre-conception, pregnancy, delivery and post-partum stages. They can work in hospitals, birthing centers or with women who want to have at-home births as well as work closely with gynecologists or obstetricians. They can prescribe medications and treatments and seek certification through the American Midwife Certification Board (AMCB).

  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist

    Provides anesthesia to patients needing obstetrical, surgical and trauma care. They work in many kinds of settings and in collaboration with many types of physicians, administering approximately 32 million anesthetics each year to U.S. patients. They can seek certification through the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, becoming a CRNA.

  • Clinical Nurse Specialist

    Assesses and treats illness in specialty areas of care. They may be skilled in working with specific populations of patients, providing a certain type of care or treating a certain type of disease. Many specialty programs are available at the graduate level and can include adult health, geriatric critical care, pediatric health and public health. The AACC also provides certification in 10 CNS areas.


Registered nurses deciding to pursue a graduate level program will want to ensure that it is accredited through the proper board or agency. That's because attending an accredited program is often a requirement for seeking certification in a specialty area, Accreditation has the additional value of ensuring that the program a student has enrolled in has undergone deep review and has been found to offer a quality education to students.

Students interested in becoming a nurse anesthetist will want to look for programs accredited through the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Programs (COA), which accredits programs for master's degree, post-master certificates and doctoral degrees. The COA has accredited more than 100 programs in the U.S.

Registered nurses who want to study to become a nurse midwife can turn to master's degree and doctoral programs accredited through the Accreditation College for Midwifery Education. These accredited programs offer the training needed to sit for the exam available through the American Midwifery Certification Board, which is needed to become a Certified Nurse Midwife.

Nursing practitioner programs and clinical nurse special programs can be accredited either through the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, Inc. (ACEN), formerly known as the National League for Nursing Accreditation Commission (NLNAC). Both accredit undergraduate and graduate education and have search engines on their websites to look for schools. Nurse practitioners will want to be sure to attend a school accredited by either of these agencies as the certifications available through the ANCC do require applicants to have attended an accredited school. Nurse practitioners who seek continuing education after completing a graduate level program can look for workshops, lectures, and conferences that have been accredited by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners.

Barry Franklin

Barry Franklin


Barry is the Editor in Chief of NPS, operated by educational web publisher Sechel Ventures, which he co-owns. When not managing content, Barry sits on the board of a K-8 school, and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife, children, and dogs.