You may be ready to advance in your career or to provide more specialized types of nursing care. If so, a nurse practitioner (NP) education could be for you. Nurse practitioner programs require completion of at minimum a master’s of science in nursing (MSN) degree. If you already have an MSN degree, you can often seek NP education through a post-master’s certificate or even a doctoral degree. Why consider the NP role? Advanced practice nurses, such as the nurse practitioner, are moving into more sophisticated and independent healthcare roles these days as the demand for care increases due to a large Baby Boomer population and an increased emphasis on preventative care, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
In Alabama alone, NP demand is expected to increase 31.4 percent from 2012 to 2022, according to ProjectionsCentral.com, meaning that 550 new NP nursing opportunities could open up in the state during this time. Nationwide, growth of the demand for NPs is expected to hit 35 percent, according to BLS numbers, which also could lead to opportunities across the country for nursing students who complete graduate-level education.
Online nurse practitioner programs in Alabama are providing additional options to students, in particular working nurses, by providing opportunities to complete coursework through distance learning, often only requiring student presence for clinical hours at a convenient nearby healthcare facility. Some schools may also require students to travel to campus for orientation or intensives, but in general online learning provides greater flexibility of schedule, allowing students to complete coursework and to turn in assignments as time allows. While schools offering online NP programs and schools may be found nationally, here we focus on those offered by universities in Alabama.
Becoming a nurse practitioner in Alabama typically requires you to complete an undergraduate education followed by a master’s of science in nursing (MSN) or doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree. Read on to find out more about the requirements and steps to becoming an NP in Alabama.
STEP 1:Complete Undergraduate Education (duration: 2 – 4 years)
an associate or bachelor’s degree, all studWhether it’s an associate or bachelor’s degree, all students begin with nursing fundamentals and experiences in an undergraduate program. These range from learning how to administer medicine to understanding physiology, and how to assist at the bedside. At the bachelor’s degree level, you could take classes such as adult health nursing, health assessment, nursing concepts and more. Clinical hours and practical experiences round out the nursing education experience, providing hands-on experiences and contextual knowledge. While students can often sit for national exam testing to become a registered nurse (RN) either by completing an associate or bachelor’s degree, the bachelor’s degree typically is a necessary step to continue on toward the NP degree, although some bridge programs from the associate level to MSN degree can be found.
STEP 2: Obtain RN License (duration: less than 1 year)
RN licensing in the state is done through the Alabama Board of Nursing (BON). There are many steps that need to be taken to obtain RN licensure, all that are outlined on the BON website. The basic steps include:
Results on the NCLEX exam are generally available within 24 to 48 hours after testing. Finally, be sure to keep all of your information up-to-date with the state board of nursing.
STEP 3: Complete Post-Graduate Education (duration: 2 – 4 years)
An NP career in Alabama typically is built upon a graduate-level education. A bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) is the usual requirement for admission into an MSN program, but some programs may offer an associate to master’s bridge program, commonly called an RN-to-MSN bridge. The length of your program can depend on a variety of factors, including full or part-time enrollment, the number of courses required, and whether you are transferring in credits. Most master’s degrees take a minimum of two years to complete, and have the requirement of choosing an NP specialty field such as family care, adult-gerontology acute or primary care, or pediatric care.
Generally, you will know what specialty you are interested in before enrolling in a program, and you will want to ensure that your school of interest offers that particular specialty. Post-graduate certification may be available for those who already have graduate-level education.
STEP 4: Obtain Nurse Practitioner License (duration: less than 1 year)
Once you have finished your NP program, you will apply to the Alabama State Board of Nursing for NP licensure. In fact, you’ll seek advanced practice nurse (APN) licensure, which covers the practice fields not only of NP, but also of nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife, and clinical nurse specialist as well. To apply for APN licensure in Alabama, applicants need to:
APN licenses need to be renewed every two years of even-numbered years between the dates of September 1 and December 31. Six hours of pharmacology continuing education are needed for NPs to be able to renew their license.
The requirements for admission into online NP programs vary from school to school, but most requirements are aimed at giving admission counselors insight into your capacity for success and ability to complete a program. NP programs can be rigorous and require a significant effort on the part of nursing students, particularly those that continue to be employed full-time or may have other priorities, such as family. Some of the typical steps for admission into online NP programs in Alabama include:
Students need to complete an application to show their interest in a specific program. This application provides an overview of the applicant, including their place of residence and contact information, education, completed nursing programs, and other information that might be relevant to admission. Many schools, including the University of Alabama, have their initial applications available online. The University of Alabama at Birmingham actually uses a centralized site through nursingcas.org to manage applications. Most schools also require applicants to have a BSN from an accredited university. Some students may be able to bridge without having a bachelor’s in nursing, but schools will specify these requirements. For example, for admission into the MSN program at Troy University in Troy, Alabama, a BSN is required.
GPA requirements and needed test scores differ from school to school, but often this is a 3.0 grade point average and can include the submission of GRE scores. Troy University, as an example, requires candidates to the university and school of nursing to submit either GRE or MAT scores. However, at the University of South Alabama, neither the GRE nor MAT is needed to seek admission into the online NP program. At the University of Alabama at Birmingham, a cumulative GPA of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale is needed in the last 60 hours of bachelor’s level learning.
There may be many other materials that are needed to apply for acceptance into online NP programs in Alabama. This can include letters of reference, a curriculum vitae or an essay detailing desired goals and objectives. Troy University, as an example, requires two reference letters as well as at least one year of professional experience. By contrast, the University of South Alabama requires no letters of reference, but does require you to complete your MSN degree within five years.
You will want to ensure that your nursing program is accredited by an outside organization for two main reasons. The first is that seeking APN licensure through the Alabama Board of Nursing requires graduation from an accredited graduate-level program. The second is that graduation from an accredited program is also typically needed to seek national NP certification through an organization, like the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), which offers certification in a vast number of NP fields including acute care NP, adult care NP, Family NP and more.
Accreditation also has the advantage of ensuring students that they are graduating from a program that meets certain standards and expectations in nursing education, particularly those set by the independent accrediting agencies of the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Accredited online NP schools in Alabama and their accrediting agencies include:
Elizabeth L. Sharpe is an assistant professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s School of Nursing, instructing in its neonatal nurse practitioner program, which requires students to be on campus for orientation and for three multi-day intensives. She has more than 20 years of clinical experience as an NP, educator, consultant and transport nurse. She has been on staff at UAB since 2013, and has been published or co-published in periodicals such as Advances in Neonatal Care, Journal of Perinatology, and Journal of the Association for Vascular Access.
Micki Raber is an assistant professor in the school of nursing at the University of South Alabama. She has taught classes that include advanced nursing assessment, advanced family nursing and health promotion and disease prevention. Although her involvement with online learning is not specified, her specialties are in graduate level areas and the school’s MSN program is offered online. She also is pediatric NP and family NP certified through the ANCC.
Djuana Burns is an assistant professor for graduate level programming at Troy University. Although her involvement in online education is not specified, she does have a clinical interest in family practice and the school offers an FNP program that is available online. She received her DNP from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, but her MSN with a concentration in adult health administration and her post-master’s certificate in FNP from Troy University. She’s been published with others in the likes of Nursing for Women’s Health and Pediatric Nursing Journal.
Although you may enroll in an online nurse practitioner program in Alabama, you may still need to visit campus over the course of your MSN or DNP program to learn more about the program, become acquainted with expectations, meet professors or student cohorts or just to complete intensive training. Even when your coursework is available nearly entirely online, you will still be expected to complete your clinical hours at a healthcare facility in person and onsite.
At the University of South Alabama, for example, students are expected to be onsite on the campus only for a fall orientation before starting their clinical experiences. You will be notified in advance of these dates, and can find more information about the orientation on the school's specific NP specialty track pages. Although the coursework in the school's MSN program can be completed online, the school offers the flexibility of allowing students to complete their clinical hours in their region. Similarly, students attending the University of Alabama at Birmingham may be required to head to campus, including to attend an orientation and three multi-day intensive experiences as part of their online MSN program. Be sure to check beforehand to see what online NP programs in Alabama accept students from what states, as there may be some limitations.
Students of online NP programs in Alabama do need to complete clinical hours to finish their MSN degree and qualify for national certification and APN licensure. These clinical experiences provide you with direct-patient care and better equip you to work in your NP area of specialty. These hours are embedded as part of the MSN experience, but usually occur in the latter part of the program after the fundamental advanced knowledge in nursing has been obtained. The Alabama Board of Nursing does not report the number of clinical hours needed, but instead indicates in its APN licensing requirements that applicants need to meet the clinical experience requirements set up as part of an organized program of study to be eligible for licensure.
As well, in Alabama, nurse practitioners practice under a ‘reduced’ authority practice, meaning that they need to collaborate with a physician or doctors in order to provide care or authorize prescriptions. In fact, on the Alabama Board of Nursing website, it is reported that nurse practitioners, as well as nurse midwives, are required to have a collaborative practice agreement in place with approved formulary before they are allowed to prescribe legend drugs of any classification. (Legend drugs are those that are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and can only be prescribed by a licensed doctor or other type of licensed healthcare provider).