For registered nurses (RNs) in Delaware seeking to enhance their earning prospects in a high-growth career, becoming a nurse practitioner (NP) is one attractive possibility. In addition to having a graduate-level education in nursing, NPs generally boast more responsibilities and professional autonomy in the workplace compared to RNs. As a result, they usually command a higher salary. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2015) reported that the 550 NPs employed in Delaware earned an average annual salary of $101,440, while the 10,370 RNs in the state earned a mean salary of $71,410, 30 percent less.
Additionally, job growth for NPs nationwide is expected to exceed that of most occupations; the BLS (Dec. 2015) estimated that there would be a 35 percent explosion in openings nationwide for NPs between 2014 and 2024, more than double the expected growth in positions for RNs during that same decade (16 percent, BLS). Also, Projections Central (2017) asserts that 150 new NP jobs will be added in Delaware alone between 2014 and 2024, an increase of 28.5 percent. In reality, NPs occupy the seventh fastest growing job nationwide.
Furthermore, NPs enjoy professional support from the Delaware Board of Nursing (DBN), which offers a wide array of resources for nursing professionals. For example, the DPN features an active job board, continuing education opportunities, legal counsel, and other services important to people in this dynamic profession.
Of course, it’s not possible for RNs to begin working as NPs without adequate preparation; RNs must meet several prerequisites before they are able to work in this capacity. Specifically, an RN must already hold an undergraduate degree in nursing and retain a current RN license, and then must continue on to obtain a graduate degree in nursing. Here, an aspiring NP can choose between either a master of science in nursing (MSN) or a doctor of nursing practice (DNP); there are certainly benefits and drawbacks to both, but in general, the former generally takes less time to complete, while the latter, although more time intensive, may open up additional career opportunities in academia or management.
Similar other other educational endeavors, aspiring NPs have various academic pathways to completing the requisite education in this field; to be sure, students may enroll in a traditional, on-campus program that requires physical attendance, or they may instead decide to obtain a degree in an online program. Although the former is still a popular option, an ever-greater number of aspiring NPs in Delaware (DE) are choosing distance-based learning, as it allows for greater flexibility while obtaining a professional degree. As of February 2017, there were two institutions which offer online NP degrees in Delaware: Wilmington University and the University of Delaware. That said, a number of institutions based in other states may accept Delaware residents into their distance-based programs while the student completes his or her clinical hours in a facility close to home.
This guide examines how to become a nurse practitioner, including a discussion of all necessary credentialing, what to know about practice authority in the profession, and a detailed overview of the online NP programs in Delaware.
Though individual paths to becoming an NP in Delaware vary, there are similarities. For example, all NPs must first become licensed RNs, which requires successful completion of the NCLEX-RN, the national RN professional examination. Furthermore, aspiring NPs must also graduate from an accredited nursing graduate program and subsequently obtain licensure through the Delaware Board of Nursing (DBN).
Here is a detailed overview of the five steps necessary to become an NP in Delaware (DE):
To begin, all aspiring nurse practitioners must first obtain an undergraduate degree in nursing. Here, students may choose either an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN); both fulfill the undergraduate requirement, although a BSN is often preferred (or required) to gain admission to online NP programs. Furthermore, a BSN often includes more hands-on training and thorough coursework over the duration of four years, including classes in biology, chemistry, nursing theory, anatomy & physiology, and other subjects relevant to this field. It’s worth noting that Delaware law requires aspiring RNs to graduate from a state board-approved nursing program before they achieve licensure; the DBN provides a list of DE Board-approved nursing programs from which aspiring nurses can choose. Also, prospective students should ensure their program has received accreditation through one of two national organizations: the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, Inc. (ACEN). Graduating from a CCNE- or ACEN-accredited undergraduate program is a prerequisite to enroll in most NP programs.
After completing an undergraduate degree in nursing, the next step in the process is to complete the NCLEX-RN examination through the DBN for RN licensure in the state. Along with the application, candidates must submit the following:
Once RN licensure has been achieved, the nurse should begin working in the field, ideally under the supervision of someone in one’s specialty of interest (e.g., pediatrics, women’s health). Many graduate programs require applicants to have at least one year of relevant work experience, often two years for neonatal acute care NP programs. Not only does having work experience set an aspiring NP up to apply for graduate programs, but it also offers professional exposure to a healthcare setting to get a feel for the day-to-day of being a healthcare provider.
Once an individual has obtained RN licensure and has at least one year of work experience, it’s time to apply for a graduate program in nursing. As previously mentioned, an aspiring NP has two options: a master of science in nursing (MSN) or a doctor of nursing practice (DNP). Both degrees meet the prerequisites for licensure as an NP in Delaware, although a DNP is generally pursued by those who wish to work in management or academia. Regardless the program chosen, NP students generally choose one of six tracks:
There is a variety of campus- and distance-based programs available. The latter comprise web-based coursework with in-person clinical training completed at approved preceptor sites close to a student’s home. This guide examines the distance-based programs based in DE; to learn about the wealth of academic pathways, degree levels, and specializations, please visit the main online NP schools page.
Once a student has a graduate degree in nursing, he or she must obtain specialized NP certification through one of the following national credentialing organizations:
Aspiring NPs who hope to learn more about these specific tracks should visit the “specializations” section of the main online NP schools page.
Similar to the process of becoming an RN, this requires the submission of an advanced practice nursing (APRN) application to the DBN, along with proof of a graduate degree, transcripts, an application fee, and other necessary documents.
As mentioned above, there are two institutions in Delaware which offer online graduate degrees in nursing: Wilmington University and the University of Delaware. Online NP programs typically call for the following from applicants:
Depending on the program, applicants may also be asked to submit proof of standardized test scores (GRE or GMAT) or letters of recommendation from employers or professors. Some applicants may be asked to participate in a candidate interview with program coordinators or faculty, especially for the more competitive programs. Lastly, for online post-master’s certificate or MSN-to-DNP programs, applicants will also be required to show proof of national certification from one of the aforementioned organizations.
Prior to choosing an online program, aspiring NPs should verify two factors: program accreditation status and state authorization status. First, programmatic accreditation is bestowed by one of two national organizations:
Accreditation is not provided without a thorough vetting process. The ACEN and CCNE examine a program’s facilities, the quality of the education offered, standards of curricula, outcomes for students, and even management of the program’s finances.
Second, “state authorization” status is a necessary consideration for those students who are pursuing an online degree from an institution based in another state. Variations in laws concerning the offering of distance learning degrees may create an issue for aspiring NPs who study online through a school outside of their state of residence. State authorization information is usually available on program websites, or can be retrieved from program coordinators.
Emily Hauenstein is a professor and the Katherine L. Esterly Unidel Chair in Health Sciences at the University of Delaware, where she also serves as the senior associate dean for nursing and healthcare innovation. She has been awarded a number of grants, including the 2016-2019 “Reducing Health Disparities in SMI, Rural and Minority Populations.” She’s been published in the American Academy of Nursing on Policy, the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, the Journal of Professional Nursing, and a number of other high-impact scholarly journals. She’s received awards from numerous groups throughout her career, including the American Academy of Nursing 2012 and the International Rural Health Research Faculty Scholar Award in 2010, among myriad others.
Students at the University of Delaware have the opportunity to pursue a hybrid DNP in one of three NP tracks: psychiatric/mental health, family/individual across the lifespan, and primary care adult-gerontology. The admission requirements are slightly more demanding than other programs, as the school requires applicants to submit proof of a GPA of 3.5 or higher. It’s important to note that this program is hybrid delivery model; courses are delivered online with periodic on-campus intensives which require physical attendance. In both tracks, students take courses in population health, pharmacology, leadership in nursing, and evidence-based practice. Additionally, students complete a final DNP project. These programs cost $995 per credit hour.
Wilmington University offers an online MSN-to-DNP with no on-campus requirements. While not an NP program per se, Wilmington's is a terminal degree in nursing practice, and students in the program can present their final project virtually or on-campus. The program comprises 33 credits related to nursing, which include courses such as epidemiology in advanced practice, bioethics for advanced practice nursing, informatics in healthcare, and a final DNP project. This program costs $455 per credit hour or $300 for active-duty military members.
Finally, all aspiring NPs in Delaware should understand that the state provides a “reduced practice” environment for nurse practitioners. In other words, NPs in Delaware can partake in most aspects of their practice according to their education and clinical experiences, although some are limited. Specifically, NPs in Delaware:
In sum, while NPs in Delaware are limited in their practice in some capacities, they enjoy more professional autonomy than those residing in “restricted practice” environments, such as Texas, California, and Florida. Also, due to the tireless advocacy efforts of NPs in Delaware and beyond, this practice environment may change in coming years, allowing NPs ever-greater privileges of practice consistent with their level of professional training.
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