Luckily for aspiring neonatal nurse practitioners (NNPs), there’s a variety of accredited online master’s degrees, post-master’s certificates, and doctor of nursing practice (DNP) programs to meet the training needs of these healthcare professionals. The National Association of Neonatal Nurses (NANN) reports that NNPs must have adequate education to fulfill their multivariate clinical practice role, taking on patient challenges such as prematurity, infections, cardiac abnormalities, birth defects, and other problems among our most vulnerable population: infants.
There are currently around 40,000 low-weight neonates born annually in the US, and thousands more with congenital deformities, chronic health conditions, and other serious issues. To meet the needs of this group, there’s a growing demand for NPs who specialize in the care of neonates.
The National Certification Corporation (NCC)—the predominant credentialing organization for NNPs—currently calls for at least a master of science in nursing (MSN) degree, although there’s a growing trend toward obtaining the terminal degree of the discipline: the DNP. In fact, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) found that the increasing complexity of the healthcare environment necessitates the “highest level of scientific knowledge and practice expertise to assure quality patient outcomes.” The AACN posited several reasons why the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Institute of Medicine, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (among others) have called for the widespread adoption of the DNP. These reasons included the rapid evolution of medical technologies and procedures; the rise of national concerns about patient safety; and an overall shortage of qualified nursing personnel. Furthermore, nursing is one of the last healthcare professions which does not yet require a doctoral degree for the highest echelons of practice. Other fields such as dentistry (DDS), psychology (PsyD), and medicine (MD) boast a long-established trend of doctoral-level preparation among practitioners.
As of April 2018, there were more than 303 DNP programs across the country, and 124 more in the planning stages. They’re available in all 50 states, and there are several online DNP programs available in the NNP specialty. While NNPs currently comprise only 1.3 percent of all NPs, there’s expected to be a strong demand in this subfield of nursing practice in years to come (American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP 2018).
Read on to discover what to expect from an online program in the neonatal specialty, including the prerequisites, coursework, credentialing, and an overview of distance-based NNP programs at the MSN, post-master’s, and DNP levels.
NursePractitionerSchools.com collected data from more than 640 online NP programs at the MSN, post-master’s certificate, and DNP levels between 2015 and 2017. To qualify as an “online program,” it had to require less than 10 campus visits throughout the duration. While this analysis includes only degree-awarding programs at the MSN and DNP level, a majority of online NP schools provide post-master's certificate options as well.
These schools are ranked by total (not annual) program tuition for out-of-state students and include a cost-per-credit calculation as well. Please note that program tuition is continually evolving and while the utmost efforts were made to ensure accuracy, aspiring NNP students are encouraged to contact program coordinators directly for the most up-to-date figures. To add programs or correct existing information, please contact us.
To qualify for a distance-based program in the NNP specialty, candidates must typically have at least a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), although there are exceptions. For example, the University of Illinois in Chicago (UIC) provides an online “DNP transition” program to registered nurses (RN) who hold bachelor’s degrees in other fields. There are also various online RN-to-DNP programs available for associate degree holders (e.g., the ADN bridge entry option at Frontier Nursing University), although this is not available in the NNP specialty. To discover more about distance-based RN-to-DNP programs, check out the online NP programs page.
Here are the typical admissions requirements for an online NNP program (MSN, post-master’s certificate, or DNP):
Some programs also require background checks and drug screenings. While most programs do not require Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores, there are exceptions (e.g., the DNP program at the University of Pittsburgh). Additionally, for the online MSN-to-DNP programs, some schools call for candidates who have achieved specialized certification through the National Certification Corporation (NCC), the main credentialing organization for NNPs.
The National Association of Neonatal Nurse Practitioners (NANNP) reported on the faculties desired in NNPs, which include performing thorough physical examinations on children from birth to two years of age; managing immunizations; planning for discharges; diagnosing & treating common diseases; and understanding developmental milestones, to name a few common topics of study. Coursework varies by one’s academic point of entry as well as the degree desired.
For online master of science in nursing (MSN) and post-master’s certificate programs in the NNP field, students typically complete at least 600 clinical practice hours, as well as advanced practice courses including:
Online NNP-DNP programs generally share much of their coursework with other NP specializations at the post-MSN level, focusing on developing leadership and management skills, as well as advanced research abilities and ironclad professional ethics. NNP programs at the DNP level typically include at least 1,000 clinical practice hours (post-BSN) and courses such as:
Many of the theoretical NNP courses contain clinical practicum components, which in the case of online programs, may be completed at approved healthcare facilities close to a student’s home under the guidance of a qualified mentor. Finally, MSN and DNP candidates may also be required to complete a supervised capstone project—an original, evidence-based research effort to contribute to the NNP discipline.
Below is a discussion of the online MSN, post-master’s, and DNP programs available for aspiring NNPs. Please note that most MSN programs can be taken as post-master’s certificates, an option for working NPs seeking to change specializations or add a new certification.
Although a majority of online MSN-NNP programs require candidates to have completed at least a BSN to qualify, there are a few exceptions for RNs with associate degrees (i.e., ADNs) or RNs with bachelor’s degrees in a non-nursing discipline. These “bridge” programs generally take three years of full-time study to complete.
For example, the University of South Alabama (USA) provides an online RN-to-MSN program in the neonatal nurse practitioner specialty, awarding a BSN en route. To qualify, candidates must have completed 19 prerequisite undergraduate courses, which may be taken online or at academic institutions close to a student’s home. In fact, USA is unique in that NNP students are not required to travel to Mobile, AL throughout the duration of the program. The online NNP-MSN program is broken into two phases. Phase One involves 31 semester hours of coursework to complete the BSN, and Phase Two is the MSN portion of the program, featuring classes such as accelerated advanced health assessment; evidence-based practice & informatics; health promotion & disease prevention in neonates; and nursing in community systems. Please note that residents of Delaware, New York, and South Dakota may be subject to restrictions based on their states of residence, and are urged to reach out to the advising office prior to applying. Impressively, this program is relatively affordable at either $459 (undergraduate) or $566 (graduate) per credit-hour.
Thomas Jefferson University of Philadelphia also offers a distance-based RN-to-MSN program in the NNP specialty to qualifying applicants. Classes include the pathophysiology of human disease; diagnostic reasoning & clinical decision-making for neonatal nurse practitioners; and advanced pharmacotherapeutics for neonatal nurses. Interested students are encouraged to reach out to the program coordinator to verify the number of required on-site visits.
Finally, the Stony Brook School of Nursing based in NY has an online NNP-MSN program open to RNs with non-nursing bachelor’s degrees who submit a clinical practice portfolio. Stony Brook’s NNP coursework includes organizational leadership & role transformation; health policy & advocacy; statistical methods & scholarly inquiry; and neonatal pharmacology. Please note that this program’s coursework is predominantly online, although there are some on-site requirements.
As stated above, a majority of online MSN-NNP programs require qualifying candidates to have at least a BSN prior to enrollment. Please note that the following programs can also be taken as post-master’s certificates. These programs take 18 months to two years of full-time work to complete.
Duke University of NC provides an online, 43-credit NNP-MSN program in a part-time format, including 616 clinical hours. Students are required to travel to campus at least once per semester for two- to five-day intensive sessions while completing classes such as population health in a global society; science development, study design & statistics; pathophysiology for neonatal & pediatric health; and advanced physiology across the lifespan. Duke’s program costs $9,082 per semester.
The University of Alabama—Birmingham offers an online MSN program in the NNP specialty, requiring 32 credit hours of coursework and 600 hours of patient care. Classes in this program include pharmacology & therapeutics; leadership in advanced nursing practice roles; translating evidence into practice; and advanced neonatal nursing. Throughout the duration of the program, students must visit the Birmingham campus four times: once for an orientation and three times for multi-day intensive sessions. Notably, this program is also one of the more affordable online NNP options at $555 per credit-hour with additional fees.
Vanderbilt University also has a competitive online NNP program in a “modified distance learning format” to accommodate students not based in Nashville. Classes in this MSN program include developmental & neonatal physiology; pathophysiologic concepts; neonatal nursing (birth through two years of age); and the conceptualization & integration of evidence for advanced nursing practice. Please note that this program typically requires six visits to Nashville for a total of 28 days on campus. Finally, this program costs $1,454 per credit hour.
Post-master’s certificates may be ideal for NPs in other subfields seeking to add a new certification or change the focus of their patient population to work with neonates. As mentioned above, the vast majority of MSN programs in the neonatal specialization are also offered as post-master’s certificates. Reciprocally, the following post-master’s certificates are also available as distance-based NNP-MSN degrees. And similar to MSN programs, these post-master’s certificates typically take 18 months to two years to complete.
The University of Missouri—Kansas City has an online post-master’s certificate in the NNP specialty, offered in both part- and full-time formats. It features classes such as cultural diversity & ethics; pathophysiology across the lifespan; healthcare policy & advocacy; and neonatal pharmacology. Students are required to travel to KC each semester during clinical courses, and the dates are arranged well in advance to give students time to plan their travel.
The University of Cincinnati provides a hybrid NNP program. Although it has more on-campus requirements than other online programs, it still offers a majority of its didactic coursework online. This six-semester, part-time program includes advanced instruction in research & best practices for clinical reasoning; newborn health assessment; pharmacology for advanced practice nursing; primary care to the age of two; and a capstone project. This program generally costs $7,707.25 per term for Ohio residents and $13,578.25 for non-residents.
Rush University of Chicago also offers an online post-master’s certificate in the NNP specialty, featuring classes such as neonatal pathophysiology; neonatal pharmacotherapeutics; and developmental physiology of the fetus & neonates. The program requires a three-day campus visit to interact face-to-face with program faculty and fellow students. Finally, Rush’s program costs $1,050 per credit hour.
As mentioned above, the vast majority of online DNP programs for neonatal nurse practitioners (NNPs) require applicants to have at least a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) prior to enrollment. This is particularly true in the neonatal specialization; not only do BSN programs fulfill many of course prerequisites for a DNP program, but they also provide valuable hands-on clinical exposure to the real challenges of working in NICUs.
Here are four accredited online BSN-to-DNP programs in the NNP specialty, which take three-to-four (full-time) years to complete and often award an MSN degree en route. Please note that many of these online schools also accommodate applicants with MSN degrees.
Vanderbilt University provides an online BSN-to-DNP program to qualified candidates with at least two years of experience working with high-risk neonates. This 74-credit program requires only one weeklong visit to the Nashville campus per semester and the completion of a scholarly project (i.e., capstone). Coursework in this competitive program includes advanced neonatal health assessment; developmental & neonatal physiology; pathophysiological concepts; neonatal nursing (birth through two years of age); advanced neonatal pharmacotherapeutics; and statistics in health sciences. This program costs $1,454 per credit hour for both residents and non-residents.
Baylor University of Dallas offers an online, CCNE-accredited DNP-NNP program. This 75-credit program requires only three campus visits total, featuring courses such as roles & the business of the APRN; scientific inquiry; global healthcare & missions; embryology & developmental physiology; and advanced neonatal nursing. Notably, Baylor’s program adheres to the curriculum guidelines established by the National Association of Neonatal Nurses (NANN) and the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF).
Creighton University of Omaha, NE has a hybrid BSN-to-DNP program for NNPs, requiring only a few campus meetings per semester. Creighton prepares its graduates for employment in level III NICUs through comprehensive training in evaluative methods for evidence-based nursing practice; leadership & policy core courses; care management & outcomes improvement; negotiation & conflict resolution; healthcare policy & law; neonatal assessment; and diagnostic & therapeutic procedures for NNPs. At $850 per credit-hour, Creighton’s hybrid DNP is relatively cheaper than most other programs for non-residents.
The University of South Alabama (USA) provides an online BSN-to-DNP which typically takes nine semesters to complete. Requiring only one campus visit for clinical orientation, USA’s track coordinators assist students in finding appropriate clinical practice sites. While the program doesn’t require a thesis or dissertation, students complete a scholarly project aimed at improving healthcare delivery and/or patient outcomes. Classes in the distance-based DNP-NNP at USA include scientific underpinnings of advanced nursing practice; evidence-based practice & quality improvement in healthcare; translating evidence into practice systems; and clinical prevention & population health. Additionally, USA offers four DNP subspecialties: palliative care, nursing education, clinical lipidology, and cardiovascular health. Please check with program coordinators to see which subfields accommodate the DNP-NNP degree-seekers. This program costs only $566 per credit-hour.
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) provides an extensive list of financial aid resources for NPs across the gamut of specializations. To learn more about online BSN-to-DNP options, please visit the online nurse practitioner programs and online NNP programs pages.
For candidates who have already received a master of science in nursing (MSN), there is a wealth of online MSN-to-DNP programs available in the NNP specialty. Since many of the foundational NNP courses are completed during a candidate’s master’s degree program, much of the DNP coursework is common to all specialties at this level of preparation. Please note that some of the MSN-to-DNP programs require candidates to have achieved professional credentialing through entities such as the National Certification Corporation (NCC).
The University of Pittsburgh provides an online MSN-to-DNP which is CCNE-accredited. It has advanced instruction in organizational & management theory; the science of healthcare delivery; public policy in healthcare; ethics in healthcare; family theory for NPs; manuscript development; and a capstone project.
Rush University also offers a CCNE-accredited, online DNP-NNP program to master’s prepared nurses. With minimal campus visitation required, Rush’s part-time DNP program involves preparation in subjects such as neonatal pathophysiology; effective project planning, implementation & evaluation; healthcare economics, policy & finance; and developmental physiology of the fetus or neonates. Rush’s DNP program costs $1,050 per credit hour.
The University of Tennessee Health Science Center also has a CCNE-accredited MSN-to-DNP program for NNPs which typically takes 1.5 years to complete. Requiring only three weeks of on-campus visitation annually, the UT Health Science Center focuses its instruction on areas such as healthcare economics; theory & philosophy of nursing; biostatistics & epidemiology for clinical practice; risk factors for neonatal health; and pharmacology. This program costs $766 per credit-hour for residents and $1,687 for out-of-state enrollees.
Before enrolling in an online NNP program, students must ensure that they qualify according to their state of residence. State legislation surrounding distance education differs by region. One large agreement in place is the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA), which allows distance education from members of SARA states to provide online education to members of other SARA states. The states in this pact include all, apart from US terriroties (e.g., Puerto Rico), California, and Massachusetts.
Overall, many DNP programs provide “state authorization” information directly on their websites (e.g., University of New Hampshire and University of Missouri—Kansas City), and for others, information may be obtained from program coordinators.
Prior to enrolling in any program, prospective students are advised to verify the accreditation status of their intended school or program. Schools can receive “institutional accreditation” from one of six regional bodies recognized by the US Department of Education: the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), or the Commission on Colleges for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
Perhaps more importantly, students are advised to seek out DNPs with “programmatic accreditation.” For this, there are two main entities: the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, Inc. (ACEN). To learn more about the accreditation processes, please visit the standards handbooks available on the organizations’ websites or check out the accreditation section of the online NP programs page.
As of April 2018, professional credentialing as a neonatal nurse practitioner (NNP) requires a minimum of a master’s degree to qualify, although this may change in coming years with the increasing adoption of the DNP. As mentioned above, the predominant credentialing organization for NNPs is the National Certification Corporation (NCC). This certification is valid for three years and allows NNPs to use the title “Neonatal Nurse Practitioner–Board Certified” (NNP-BC). Please note that there are also two subspecialty certifications available: Electronic Fetal Monitoring (C-EFM) and Neonatal Pediatric Transport (C-NPT).
To become a NNP-BC, candidates must:
The exam comprises four broad categories of questions: general assessment, general management, the disease process, and professional issues.
Finally, to maintain the credential, NNP-BCs must complete at least 45 hours of continuing education (CE) in their specialty, plus 15 hours of CE for a subspecialty (if applicable). These hours may vary based on a specialty assessment which identifies the specific areas a NNP needs to improve. To learn in depth about how to recertify, please visit the NCC’s Continuing Competency Initiative (CCI) page.
For RNs with an ADN degree
For RNs with a BSN degree
For RNs with an MSN degree
*Also requires a non-nursing bachelor's degree; please see the "Online Accelerated MSN – NP" programs page for more details.