For many registered nurses in Connecticut (CT), becoming a nurse practitioner (NP) can lead to higher pay and a wealth of employment opportunities. By illustration, RNs earn a median wage of $70,000 annually according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2017), and NPs earn a median salary of $103,880 (BLS), 48.4 percent higher.
Furthermore, job opportunities for NPs are rapidly growing. As proof of point, the BLS (Dec. 2017) predicted a 36 percent growth in job openings for NPs between 2016 and 2026, an increase of 56,100 jobs nationwide. Projections Central estimated a similar increase in NP job opportunities in Connecticut specifically with an expected growth of 28.6 percent over the same ten year period, or an addition of 720 fresh openings. To put this into perspective, the statewide growth is almost four times greater than the projected average increase in openings across all occupations at 7.4 percent (BLS).
In general, NPs in Connecticut enjoy support from both the Connecticut Advanced Practice Registered Nurse Society (CAPRNS), as well as the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH). The former offers events throughout the year for NPs and other industry professionals, in addition to networking opportunities, conferences, scholarships, legislative information, and other membership benefits; the latter maintains the Board of Examiners for Nursing, through which aspiring NPs must apply for examinations and eventual licensure to practice in the state.
Not surprisingly, nurses can’t begin working in an advanced capacity without preparation and adequate education. Indeed, those wishing to work in this career must complete both undergraduate degree in nursing, become licensed as an RN, and complete a graduate program as well. Here, the aspiring NP has two options: a master of science in nursing (MSN) or a doctor of nursing practice (DNP). Both allow the degree-holder to qualify for advanced nursing credentialing, although the latter is often preferred by those seeking positions in management, leadership, or academia in the future.
And while many aspiring NPs choose to enroll in a traditional graduate program that requires them to attend courses on campus, a growing number are choosing to pursue a degree online. As of this writing in October 2018, there are two institutions in CT that offer online graduate degrees in nursing: the University of Connecticut and Sacred Heart University. It’s important to add that many distance-based NP programs based outside of the state also accept Connecticut residents.
This guide examines how to become an NP in Connecticut, including a discussion of the online NP programs in CT, admissions requirements, credentialing information, and what it means for NPs to have “full practice authority.”
Here is a brief overview of one pathway to becoming a nurse practitioner in CT:
STEP 1: Complete an Undergraduate Degree in Nursing (2-4 years)
First, aspiring NPs must complete an undergraduate degree in nursing. Students may choose between an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN); while both allow the graduate to take the RN licensure examination, a BSN is generally preferred by many online graduate programs. In addition, a BSN can better prepare a graduate for a career in nursing, as it includes instruction in nursing theory, chemistry, biology, and anatomy & physiology, among others.
Aspiring NPs should note that under Connecticut law, individuals must graduate from a nursing program that meets the requirements outlined in the Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies (RSA); the Connecticut DPH has a list of approved nursing education programs that meet these criteria. Additionally, all applicants should ensure that their programs has received accreditation either through the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, Inc. (ACEN). These organizations are the predominant accrediting agencies for nursing programs in the United States, testifying to the quality of education provided.
STEP 2: Obtain RN Licensure and Work Experience (1-2 years)
To become a registered nurse, candidates must apply through the DPH to take the NCLEX-RN examination. The application includes a standard fee of $180, as well as an official transcript of nursing education, verifying the award of a qualifying degree or diploma.
Upon obtaining licensure, the new RN should begin working as soon as possible, ideally in one’s future intended specialization. Many graduate programs require applicants to possess at least one year of experience as a nurse, so starting immediately can help expedite the process.
STEP 3: Complete a Graduate Degree in Nursing (2-4 years)
Following a year of experience as a nurse, an aspiring NP must then apply for acceptance to a nursing graduate program. Again, candidates can pursue an MSN or a DNP; keep in mind that the latter may be a better choice for those interested in positions in academia or management and will also take longer to complete.
In either program, students typically choose one of six specialty nursing tracks, namely:
Please note that all six of these tracks may not be available from every institution.
STEP 4: Achieve National NP Certification (up to 1 year)
After finishing a graduate degree in nursing, the aspiring NP is required to obtain national NP certification from one of the organizations on the list below. The certifying organization varies by specialty:
Anyone who is interested in learning more about the specialty tracks is encouraged to visit the “specializations” section of the main online NP schools page.
STEP 5: Obtain Connecticut NP Licensure (up to 1 year)
After receiving national NP certification, the final step in the process is achieving state licensure. To do so, the aspiring NP must apply through the DPH, submitting an application; a $200 fee; official verification of national NP certification; official transcripts from a graduate program in nursing; and proof of at least 30 hours of instruction in pharmacology. After the DPH reviews this information and grants the applicant a license, he or she may then begin working as an NP.
As mentioned above, three institutions in Connecticut offer online nursing graduate programs. However, there are many out-of-state online programs which accept Connecticut residents.
Here are the typical application materials for an online graduate programs in nursing:
In some cases, applicants may be asked to submit standardized test scores (either the GMAT or GRE) or letters of recommendation. Also, applicants may be asked to interview with the admissions committee. Finally, some programs—especially online post-master’s certificate or MSN-to-DNP programs—will ask applicants to submit proof of national certification.
Before selecting an online graduate program, aspiring NPs should perform basic research on two aspects of a program: its accreditation and state authorization statuses.
First, as mentioned above, accreditation is offered by one of two organizations: the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). These organizations examine a program’s standards of curricula and the quality of the education, student outcomes, the facilities, and how the program’s finances are managed, among other variables.
Second, “state authorization” status is whether or not an institution based in one state can offer distance-based education to residents of another state. Differences in regulations regarding online degrees may lead to inconsistencies for aspiring NPs who are studying out of state. This information is typically readily available on program websites or can be retrieved from program coordinators.
Dr. Bellini is an associate clinical professor at the University of Connecticut, where she also serves as the coordinator for the neonatal advanced practice program. Notably, she’s the editor of the 28 Days column and on the editorial board for Nursing for Women’s Health. She is also the chair of the “Practice Leadership Network” for the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).
Dr. Beck is the associate dean for online programs at Sacred Heart University, where she also serves as a clinical assistant professor of nursing. Presentations of hers include the 2011 “Incivility in Nursing Education” at the Connecticut League of Nursing and the 2011 “Incivility in the Workplace” at the Connecticut Chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses. Her 2010 thesis was titled Perceptions of Incivility: Differences Between Students and Faculty in Nursing Programs. She has also received certification from the Online Learning Consortium.
Dr. Nicholson is an associate professor of nursing at Quinnipiac University. He teaches courses on community and public health nursing, post-master’s additional graduate clinical sessions, and special topics in advanced practice nursing. He holds his BS, MPH, and MS from the University of Connecticut, as well as his PhD from Yale.
The University of Connecticut offers an online MSN degree for students who already posses a bachelor of science in nursing. Students in this program specialize in neonatal nursing and must have a minimum of 2 years, full-time, RN-level practice experience that took place in a level 3 neonatal intensive care unit before beginning their clinical practice courses. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis, and the school offers three start dates during the year. The program is offered online, both part-time over 6-7 semesters, and full-time over 5 semesters. The MSN degree requires 44 credits of coursework in areas such as nursing science & patterns of knowing, statistical methods in nursing, nursing research in advanced practice, advanced pathophysiology across the lifespan, advanced neonatal embryology, and a number of others. Students must also complete several hands-on clinical trainings at approved preceptor sites close to their homes. All coursework is completed online, although students are required to visit the campus three times throughout the duration of the program: once for an orientation, and twice more for the school’s specialized simulation experiences. Please note that the school also has an online graduate certificate in holistic nursing.
Sacred Heart University offers an online MSN degree with a specialization in family care. The online coursework is delivered asynchronously, meaning students have access to it whenever they need, offering a great deal of flexibility regarding their studies. The school offers three start dates throughout the year. Students may complete all of the coursework online, although three visits are required; one for an orientation visit, and two for competency evaluations. Students in this program can expect to take courses on the application of comprehensive health assessment methods; evidence-based practice for quality care; principles of healthcare research; and theory & professional roles for contemporary nursing practice, among others. Please note that due to a limited number of clinical placements available in Connecticut, and restrictions concerning New York, students in the MSN FNP program must find placements outside these states.
As a final note, aspiring NPs in Connecticut should understand that the state boasts a full practice environment for nurse practitioners. This means that NPs in Connecticut are granted the legal authority to fulfill their professional duties in accordance with their level of education and credentialing. Specifically, NPs in Connecticut may:
To learn more about differing practice environments for NPs, please visit the detailed NP state practice authority table.