Online Nurse Practitioner Programs in Iowa

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For aspiring nurse practitioners (NPs) in the Hawkeye State, there is a lot to celebrate. First, NPs in Iowa (IA) command a relatively generous salary. By illustration, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2017) reported that the 1,660 working NPs in IA earned an average annual salary of $104,130, more than double the average salary across all occupations in the state ($44,730).

Second, Iowa nurse practitioners operate in a ‘full practice’ environment, the model recommended by Institute of Medicine and National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), among others. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP 2018) defines ‘full practice’ as the following: ‘State practice and licensure law provides for all nurse practitioners to evaluate patients, diagnose, order and interpret diagnostic tests, initiate and manage treatments—including prescribe medications—under the exclusive licensure authority of the state board of nursing.’ In sum, compared to ‘reduced’ and ‘restricted practice’ states, Iowa NPs enjoy relatively high autonomy and privileges of practice within their profession.

Third, there is expected to be an abundance of job opportunities for NPs in the coming decade. In fact, the BLS (May 2017) anticipates a 36 percent explosion in openings for NPs nationwide between 2016 and 2026, much more robust than the average growth projected for all occupations during that time (7.4 percent).

Lastly, Iowa boasts a thriving support network in this line of work. As proof of point, this state has two active professional associations for NPs: the Iowa Association of Nurse Practitioners and the Iowa Nurse Practitioner Society. Both are distinguished groups with long histories of legal advocacy and provide continuing education opportunities, networking, and other resources such as scholarships or grants.

To join this high-growth career, one must achieve licensure through the Iowa Board of Nursing and have at least a master of science in nursing (MSN) degree. Since attending an on-campus NP program may be difficult for people in more rural regions of the state, enrolling in an online NP program may be a preferable option.

This guide is a resource for aspiring nurse practitioners in Iowa who are interested in attending a distance-based NP school. Read on to discover how to join this growing career, as well as to examine the variety of accredited online NP programs and professional licensure information within the Hawkeye State.

How to Become an NP in Iowa

Not all aspiring nurse practitioners in Iowa will follow the same path. Some choose to enroll in an associate degree program to become a registered nurse (RN) and gain experience working in a healthcare setting. It may be advisable, however, for prospective NPs in IA to enroll in a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) program instead. These programs fulfill the typical course prerequisites for graduate programs in nursing. Furthermore, most online NP programs only enroll post-BSN students.

In addition to thinking about which undergraduate degree is suitable for one’s career path, there are several online graduate degree options for NPs in IA as well. There are online master of science in nursing (MSN) degree programs, which typically focus on one of six NP specializations: adult-gerontology (acute or primary care), pediatrics (acute or primary care), neonatal care, family health, psychiatric-mental health, and women’s health. The MSN programs also can generally be taken as online post-master’s certificates, an option ideal for working NPs seeking to change specialties or add a new certification. Finally, there’s the terminal degree in the discipline: the doctor of nursing practice (DNP), which is increasingly being adopted as the new standard of preparation in nursing.

As of October 2018, an MSN degree is still sufficient to pursue national certification and licensure as an NP in Iowa. Here is one possible path to joining this career:

  • 1

    STEP 1: Complete an Undergraduate Degree in Nursing (2 – 4 years)

    The Iowa Board of Nursing provides a list of Board-approved nursing schools at the associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degree levels. Students are encouraged to pick a program from this list to qualify for RN licensure in the state, the entry-level step to becoming a nurse practitioner. It may also behoove students at this stage to seek out programs accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Please read the ‘accreditation’ section below to learn more about this process of program-approval.

    As mentioned above, those interested in eventually attending an online NP program are advised to complete a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) at this phase since those programs fulfill many of the course prerequisites for distance-based education. BSN programs typically include classes in health assessment; pharmacology; pathophysiology; and introduction to evidence-based practice, among others.

  • 2

    STEP 2: RN Licensure & Nursing Experience (1 – 2 years)

    As described in the previous section, aspiring NPs must first pursue licensure as an RN before they can obtain an advanced practice license. As such, the next step in the process involves submitting an application to the Iowa Board of Nursing to take the NCLEX-RN, the national RN certification examination. Along with the application, aspiring NPs will also be asked to complete criminal background check and send in a required fee, along with other relevant information.

    At this stage, once an individual receives RN licensure, he or she should consider searching for employment immediately. Many graduate programs require applicants to have at least one year of experience in the field of nursing before enrolling. Furthermore, many online NP programs allow working RNs to complete their clinical practicum hours at their current place of employment, assuming they secure preceptor site approval from their college in advance.

  • 3

    STEP 3: Graduate Education in Nursing (2 – 4 years)

    Once a person has RN licensure and at least one year of experience, he or she must decide whether to pursue a master of science in nursing (MSN) or a doctor of nursing practice (DNP). The MSN is the entry-level academic credential to qualify for national NP certification and Iowa NP licensure; that said, the DNP may set a person up for increased responsibilities, earning potential, and leadership opportunities. Aspiring NPs should note that the Iowa Board of Nursing provides a list of approved graduate programs. MSN programs, both online and on-campus, typically include core coursework in subjects such as population health; study design & statistics; and physical assessment & diagnostic reasoning, as well as specialized coursework in one’s chosen NP field (e.g., family care, adult-gerontology, pediatrics, women’s health, etc). DNP programs at the post-BSN level typically require students to choose a specialization, while much of the coursework in DNP programs is the same at the post-MSN level, regardless of the specialty. These classes include the science & theory of nursing; organizational leadership; and biostatistics for evidence-based practice.

  • 4

    STEP 4: Achieve National NP Certification (Up to 1 year)

    The fourth step in this process involves pursuing national NP certification, which can be obtained through different organizations, depending on the person’s NP specialization. These certifying bodies include:

    This process typically involves submitting official transcripts from an accredited MSN, post-master’s certificate, or DNP program; showing proof of several hundred hours in one’s specialty; and passing a comprehensive examination. These certifications can be maintained by completing a set number of continuing education (CE) hours during each renewal cycle.

  • 5

    STEP 5: Obtain State Licensure as a Nurse Practitioner (Up to 1 year)

    At this stage, the aspiring NP must then submit an application for licensure as an advanced practitioner registered nurse (APRN) through the Iowa Board of Nursing. Along with the application, the aspiring NP must send in a copy of his or her certification card; a copy of an unencumbered RN license; proof of graduation from an approved program; information for a criminal background check; and an application fee of $81. Once the application is accepted, the individual will then be granted an NP license.

Admission Requirements to Online NP Programs

Admissions procedures and prerequisites vary between schools, but there are some commonalities. Here are some typical application requirements among Iowa’s online graduate programs in nursing:

  • Undergraduate RequirementsAs mentioned above, the majority of online master of science in nursing (MSN) and doctor of nursing practice (DNP) programs require applicants to have at least a bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) to get admitted. That said, there are a few online graduate nursing programs which admit ‘bridge’ students (i.e., RNs with associate degrees) or applicants with non-nursing bachelor’s degrees. One exemplary school which offers online ADN-to-MSN and ADN-to-DNP programs is the Kentucky-based Frontier Nursing University.

  • GPA and Test ScoresAlong with proof of an undergraduate degree in the field of nursing, many online NP programs call for applicants with an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher. Sometimes a candidate with a lower GPA can submit a clinical practice portfolio or be admitted on a probationary basis. Also, some online graduate nursing programs request GMAT or GRE scores, while others may have no standardized test score requirements.

  • Additional Admissions RequirementsApplicants to online nursing programs are generally asked to submit other documents, such as a copy of one’s RN license; a CV/resume; a personal statement (500-600 words); and an application fee. Some programs may also call for a candidate interview or letters of recommendation from supervisors, employers, or previous professors or teachers.

Iowa Online Program Accreditation

As previously mentioned, the Iowa Board of Nursing has compiled a list of Board-approved nursing graduate programs throughout the state. In light of this, anyone interested in working as an NP in Iowa should strongly consider attending one of these institutions, as that is one of the prerequisites for licensure.

Furthermore, there are two main accreditation agencies for nursing programs nationwide: the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Accreditation is the process of ensuring an NP program meets national standards of quality in areas such as comprehensiveness of curricula; facilities; faculty; and student outcomes, among other measures. Aspiring NPs in Iowa and beyond are encouraged to seek out programs accredited by one of those two institutions to qualify for admission to educational programs, certifications, and NP licensure nationally.


Influential Iowa Nurse Practitioner Professors in Online Programs

Dr. Susan Beidler
Ph.D. Nursing, M.B.E., Bioethics, M.S.N., B.S. Briar Cliff University Sioux City, IA

Susan Beidler is an associate professor of nursing at Briar Cliff University, where she also serves as the chair of the department of nursing. Impressively, she holds a BSN, MSN, a post-master’s teaching certificate, an MBE in bioethics, and a PhD in nursing. She has held positions as a nurse clinician, educator and/or researcher for over 35 years, and was previously the director of the national Nursing Centers Research Network. She also served on the steering committee for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) Practice Based Research Network. Finally, she has a wide array of publications to her credit, including the 2007 academic journal article ‘Confidentiality Challenges and Good Clinical Practices in Human Subjects Research: Striking a Balance’ in Topics in Stroke Rehabilitation, among many others.

Dr. Jackie Meyer
B.S.N., M.S.N., Ph.D., Nursing Allen College Waterloo, IA

Jackie Meyer is a professor of nursing at Allen College, as well as the assistant dean of the graduate nursing programs there. She has a BSN, an MSN, and a PhD, and she also is a Certified Nurse Educator (CNE). Her current research focuses on OB and women’s health, end-of-life care, and nursing education.

Online and Hybrid Nurse Practitioner Schools in Iowa

  • Allen CollegeCampus Location: Waterloo, IA

    Allen College of Waterloo, offers hybrid graduate nursing degrees as both an MSN and post-master's certificate. Nurse practitioner students can choose from four tracks: family nurse practitioner, family psychiatric mental health NP, adult-gerontology acute care NP, and adult-gerontology primary care NP. In addition students can combine the FNP or AGACNP specialty with community/public health for a dual degree. Students in the MSN program will be required to complete at least 600 clinical hours at an approved preceptor site in order to graduate. Core courses for all specialties may include Leadership for Advanced Nursing, Population Health, Evidence Based Practice, and Health Care Informatics. The program is considered hybrid since the theory classes are delivered both online and with face-to-face components. In addition all nurse practitioner students are required to attend a 3-day on-campus residency. Interested students should contact the nursing program coordinator with questions.

    • Briar Cliff UniversityCampus Location: Sioux City, IA

      Briar Cliff University of Sioux City offers students a three-year online master of science in nursing (MSN) degree in family care or adult gerontology, requiring the completion of 51 and 49 credit hours, respectively. Both tracks include courses such as research methods for advanced practice nursing; health promotion & disease prevention throughout the lifespan; pharmacology; foundations for advanced nursing practice; and advanced health assessment. Students earning the MSN degree through Briar Cliff must attend six on-campus lab days during the first summer for the advanced health assessment course. Other than that, all coursework is online. Students must also complete at least 540 clinical hours at local, approved preceptor sites before they will be awarded a degree. BCU’s programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), and students receive education from highly skilled and experienced faculty members.

      • Purdue University GlobalCampus Location: Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, Davenport, Des Moines, Mason City, IA

        Purdue University Global offers post-master's certificates in adult gerontology primary care and family nurse practitioner. In addition an online MSN degree is available in the following specialties: adult-gerontological acute care NP, adult-gerontological primary care NP, and family NP. Only one program requires a 2.5-day campus visit to the Indianapolis, IN campus: adult-gerontology acute care MSN. The rest of this degree specialty is online and the other degrees are 100% online with no campus visits required. Purdue University Global is part of the Purdue University system, and seeks to meet the needs of busy working adults throughout the country. The campuses located in Iowa do not offer any classes for the advanced nursing degrees, although other degrees may have courses held at these facilities. For the advanced nursing programs, these campuses offer student services such as financial aid services, admissions, student account services, tutoring, Purdue Global staff assistance, a lounge with computers and tables for study, and more. Students must complete clinicals at an approved facility and some states are restricted from the Purdue Global degrees.

        Lastly, aspiring NPs in Iowa may be eligible for online NP training schools based in other states. Prior to applying, students are advised to check the ‘state authorization’ status of their institutions of interest; since state laws vary in the provision of online education, it’s crucial to verify that there’s no conflict between a student’s state of residence and where the institution is based. To discover the wide array of accredited, distance-based NP programs of all levels and specializations, please visit the main online NP programs page.

Campus Visitation Requirements for Online Programs in Iowa

Campus visitation requirements should be an important consideration for anyone interested in pursuing an online degree. While Briar Cliff University requires students to visit the campus for 6 lab days during the first summer of the program, those who pursue a degree at Allen College have a mixture of online and face-to-face meetings, depending on the specific track they choose. Allen College’s website states: ‘All tracks in the master of science in nursing degree or postgraduate certificate require some face-to-face meetings. The core master of science in nursing courses are taught in an online format.’ In addition all nurse practitioner tracks must attend one 3-day on-campus residency.

Complete List Of Online NP Programs In Iowa

Degree Level
School Type

Iowa NP Preceptorships & Licensure

In Iowa, all students in pursuit of an online graduate degree will be expected to perform a specific number of supervised clinical hours throughout the duration of their studies. These are completed at pre-approved sites. While students are often asked to find or select their own preceptor, often the school will provide assistance in doing so.

Finally, all NPs in IA are expected to have the proper credentialing prior to beginning their work. In addition to getting national certification in one’s NP specialization through an organization such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), Iowa NPs must also get their advanced nursing practice (APRN) license from the Iowa Board of Nursing. The Iowa BoN requires NPs to maintain active national certification, as well as active RN and APRN licensure. Since renewal requirements for all of these credentials vary, please contact the relevant certification or licensing authority for the most recent information. To learn more about NP credentialing, check out the detailed ‘specialization’ section of the online NP programs page.