Nurse practitioners and specialized nursing occupations have a very bright future. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, Dec. 2017), opportunities for advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs)—nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners—are expected to swell 31 percent from 2016 to 2026, 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.
Online RN to MSN - FNP
Online Bachelor's to MSN - FNP
Online BSN to MSN - FNP
Online MS - FNP
Online MS - AG-ACNP
Online MS - WHNP
Online MSN - FNP
For aspiring advanced practice nurses, there is a wealth of online programs organized along three main verticals. Please note that programs can accommodate various starting points, admitting qualified candidates with ADN, BSN, or MSN degrees, and generally have flexible starting dates with limited campus visitation. Discover all of the online program pathways in advanced nursing below.
This database comprises more than 640 online NP programs at the MSN, DNP, and post-master’s certificate levels. To qualify as online, each program had to require less than ten campus visits total. Gathered between 2015 and 2017, these are ranked by affordability using out-of-state tuition.
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
Practice authority is one of the most contentious issues in the nurse practitioner community. The ability to practice autonomously varies by state and prevents some NPs from working to the full extent of their education, training, and credentialing. Despite mounting evidence that NPs provide safe, quality, and cost-effective healthcare, this battle continues, leading to patient confusion and requiring expensive “collaborative agreements” with physicians to prescribe common treatments, among other negative consequences. Check out interviews with NP professors of all specializations and regions to find out how to get involved.
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.
For nurse practitioners in South Carolina and other “restricted practice” states, providing treatment to patients can prove a struggle. According to the South Carolina Nurse Practice Act, NPs must practice within 45 miles of supervising physician, making it impossible to provide healthcare services in rural regions without doctors.
The letters you see after a nurse’s name typically come from their education, licensure, certification, or a special achievement—and they should appear in that order. Typically only the highest level of each credential is included.