Becoming a nurse practitioner is one way for registered nurses in Arkansas to elevate their practice and take on additional responsibilities in their profession. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) defines a nurse practitioner (NP) as a “clinician that blends clinical expertise in diagnosing and treating health conditions with an added emphasis on disease prevention and health management.” These healthcare professionals are considered advanced practice registered nurses (APRN) and the majority hold graduate degrees as well as certification. By illustration, the AANP (2018) found that 97.8 percent of NPs nationwide hold graduate degrees, and 86.6 percent are certified in an area of primary care.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2017) found that there were 1,830 NPs employed in Arkansas with an average annual salary of $95,230. The BLS (May 2017) also anticipates a 36 percent explosion in NP openings across the country between 2016 and 2026, much higher than the average growth expected for all occupations during that time (7 percent). With this relatively generous salary and a growing demand in this profession, there is expected to be a wealth of opportunities in this field in the years to come.
Read on to discover how to become an NP in Arkansas, including a discussion of online NP programs and influential professors in the state.
In order to join this high-growth profession in the Land of Opportunity, aspiring NPs typically have to complete six-to-eight years of postsecondary schooling. Here is one possible path to becoming an Arkansas nurse practitioner:
STEP 1: Complete an Undergraduate Degree (Duration: 2 – 4 Years)Arkansas NPs typically begin by completing an undergraduate degree in nursing. There are two-year associate (ADN) and four-year bachelor’s (BSN) degrees available. ADN programs generally involve courses such as microbiology, pharmacology, and anatomy. For students hoping to complete their graduate NP education online, it is advisable to complete a BSN program since many distance-based graduate programs require applicants to have at least a BSN. These four-year programs involve classes such as chemistry for the health professions, ethics in nursing & health, and foundations of nursing practice. Additionally, students at this stage are encouraged to seek out programs accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, Inc. (ACEN). For more information on the organizations which approve programs, please check out the accreditation section below.
STEP 2: RN Licensure and Experience (Duration: 1 – 2 Years)As part of ADN or BSN programs, prospective NPs in AR typically prepare to take the NCLEX examination in order to begin working as a registered nurse (RN). RN licensure is available through the Arkansas State Board of Nursing (ARSBN) and there are testing sites in three AR cities: Little Rock, Fort Smith, and Texarkana. Please note that Arkansas is part of a compact with a number of other states, which means that those who have completed programs in states belonging to this compact may also be eligible for RN licensure in Arkansas. The ARSBN requires RN applicants to complete the following:
After achieving licensure, RNs typically garner at least one year of experience in a clinical setting to prepare for graduate school.
STEP 3: Graduate Education (Duration: 2 – 4+ Years)According to the ARSBN Rules and Regulations, NPs must successfully complete a “graduate-level organized program of nursing education that prepares nurses for the advanced practice role of advanced nurse practitioner.” There are two main types of graduate programs: master of science in nursing (MSN) and doctor of nursing practice (DNP) programs. Please note that MSN programs are also typically available as post-master’s certificates to NPs seeking a new specialty or certification. In MSN programs, NPs generally specialize in one of the six main NP subfields: adult-gerontology (acute or primary care), neonates, family health, pediatrics (acute or primary care), psychiatric mental health, and women’s health. In addition to specialized instruction, MSN programs share advanced nursing courses such as population health, biostatistics, and human development throughout the lifespan. These generally take two years of full-time study to complete. For students interested in becoming professors or assuming high leadership positions in healthcare settings, the DNP is the terminal degree of this field and typically requires four years of full-time (post-BSN) graduate study.
STEP 4: Obtain National Certification in an NP Specialty (Duration: Up to 1 Year)Following the completion of a qualifying graduate program, NPs in AR may be eligible for national certification in their specialty. Common certifying organizations include the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN), and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), among others. To qualify for national credentialing, candidates in all NP subfields typically need to have valid RN licensure; a graduate NP degree; at least 500 supervised clinical hours; and a passing score on a comprehensive exam.
STEP 5: Obtain Arkansas Licensure as an Advanced Practice Nurse (Duration: Up to 1 Year)Finally, once an individual has completed an approved nursing graduate program and received certification from one of the organizations approved by the ARSBN, he or she may apply for licensure as an advanced practice nurse (i.e., nurse practitioner) in the state of Arkansas. The ARSBN calls for applicants to submit an application; proof of a qualifying graduate NP degree and national certification; a background check; and a $100 fee.
The specific admission requirements vary by nurse practitioner program and institution. Here are some general application materials for online NP programs in Arkansas:
Undergraduate prerequisitesIn general, students need a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree to qualify for an online nurse practitioner program, but there are exceptions. For example, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences allows licensed RNs without bachelor’s degrees to “bridge” into the master’s program with additional coursework. It’s important to note that online ADN-to-MSN and ADN-to-DNP programs may require extra campus visitation for clinical work compared to post-BSN students.
GPA and test scoresMany online NP programs call for a competitive GPA (e.g., >3.0). Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or Miller Analogies Test (MAT) scores are not typically required for online NP programs, although there are exceptions such as the University of Central Arkansas.
Other common admissions requirementsOther typical requirements for online NP programs include having an unencumbered RN license and CPR certification, as well as writing a personal statement (500-600 words), sending a resume or CV, and being interviewed (in-person or by video).
There are two main types of NP accreditation available: programmatic and institutional. First, programmatic accreditation is available through the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, Inc. (ACEN) for both undergraduate and graduate level education in nursing. Additionally, the ARSBN Rules and Regulations (Chapter VI) describes the required structure of a program that must be completed in order to be eligible for licensure as an advanced practice nurse in the state. Arkansas NP students with questions about eligibility are advised to contact schools or the ARSBN directly.
Second, institutional accreditation is available through one of six regional bodies approved by the US Department of Education’s Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). In Arkansas, the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) is the main organization with this authority.
Susan Gatto is the director of the school of nursing at the University of Central Arkansas. In the welcome page for the school’s nursing programs, she states, “Commitment to excellence in nursing education and student success is our primary mission. Explore our website to learn more about our programs and activities – let us help you achieve your professional goals.”
Krista Susan Snellgrove is an associate professor of nursing at Arkansas State University, where she received her MSN and PhD. Her teaching specialties include gerontological nursing, perioperative nursing, test-taking, and forensic nursing. Notably, she’s a John A. Hartford Building Academic Geriatric Nursing Capacity (BAGNC) Scholar and her research focuses on three areas: violence in nursing homes, geropsychiatric nursing education, and dementia care.
Claudia Barone received her EdD from the University of Arkansas in Little Rock and is currently a professor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. She’s an Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS) educator and a grant reviewer for the Susan B. Komen Foundation, as well as a member of numerous professional associations such as the American Public Health Association and the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN). The main focus on her research is tobacco cessation.
There are three schools in Arkansas that offer online NP programs, although there are many accredited online NP programs outside of the state which are open to AR residents. Please check out the main online NP programs page for more information about schools outside of the state.
The University of Central Arkansas offers top-notch education to aspiring nurse practitioners. To be sure, students here may pursue a post-master’s certificate in either family nursing or primary care adult/gerontology. However, it should be noted that these are not conducted entirely online. Please note that while the courses are delivered predominantly online, the non-clinical courses require one-to-three campus sessions per semester. UCA is no longer offering the MSN degree in family practice nursing after Fall 2018, or the RN to BSN/MSN degree. They are currently awaiting approval for a BSN to DNP nurse practitioner program expected to go live Fall of 2019. Notably, these programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Students at this school are participating in a 50-year tradition; the school of nursing at the University of Central Arkansas was established in 1967, and the first class of 26 baccalaureate students graduated in the spring of 1969.
Students at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville can pursue an online DNP with a focus on family nursing and adult-geriatric acute care. Programs are available for students who already possess a master’s degree, along with bridging programs for students with a bachelor’s degree. One campus visit is required in August for the orientation. Any other campus visits, should there be any, will be prearranged with the student. The DNP programs are built upon standards set forth by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, among other sources, ensuring that students have access to high-quality education throughout the duration of their studies. Furthermore, students in this program are encouraged to identify a population of interest to focus on throughout the program in order to individualize their experience.
Aspiring online NP students in Arkansas are advised to verify the campus visitation requirements prior to enrollment. While efforts are made in distance-based NP programs to keep on-site visits to a minimum, they typically still require at least one campus trip per semester. This also applies to online MSN and DNP programs available at institutions outside of Arkansas. For Arkansas residents interested in online NP schools located outside of their state, it is crucial to verify the “state authorization” status of the institution. Due to legal restrictions on the provision of distance-based education, online NP programs in other states may not always be available to residents of AR. To ensure eligibility, prospective students should check “state authorization” pages on individual school websites or reach out to program coordinators.
According to the ARBSN, aspiring advanced practice nurses are not required to complete any number of preceptor hours in order to achieve licensure in the state, although preceptor hours are required to earn a graduate NP degree or achieve national certification. Additionally, a preceptorship is necessary for an NP to achieve prescriptive authority statewide; specifically, the advanced practice nurse must demonstrate proof of a total of 300 logged preceptorship hours in the prescription of drugs. Check out the ARBSN Advanced Practice Registered Nursing Rules for details.
Finally, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), advanced practice nurses in the state of Arkansas operate in a “reduced practice” environment, which means that state practice and licensure laws reduce the ability of AR nurse practitioners to engage in at least one element of NP practice. For details, please check out the AR Nurse Practice Act. Although AR is currently a “reduced practice” state, ongoing NP advocacy in the state may change that in coming years. By illustration, the Arkansas Nurse Practitioner Association (July 2016) states that its position on full practice authority: “All nurse practitioners in the state of Arkansas should be allowed to practice to the full scope of their education, certification, and training.” Only time will tell whether AR will join the ranks of the “full practice” states for nurse practitioners.