The nursing profession has always been one of helping. Nurses help to care for, comfort, and heal people in a huge range of settings and many different ways. There are many different professionals who can be called nurses, and each devotes his or her life to caring for the sick and wounded.
Becoming a nurse practitioner is a great way for registered nurses to expand their professional possibilities and increase their earning potential through education and clinical experience. Nurse practitioners (NPs) in Massachusetts have a good deal of autonomy, including the ability to act as a primary care provider. In order to earn these treatment privileges, prospective NPs must complete a minimum of a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree through an accredited nursing program.
Because it is often essential for prospective nurse practitioners to continue working as they pursue an advanced education, online programs have proliferated, and universities around the country, including Massachusetts, are now offering NP programs online. Registered Nurses in Massachusetts now have the option to attend an online NP program while working, and complete the didactic portion online while completing the clinical component nearby, at a conveniently located facility. Keep reading for more information on how to become a nurse practitioner in Massachusetts and about online programs for MA nurses.
Not all nurse practitioners in Massachusetts or the U.S. take the same pathway to their ultimate career goal. However, there are some essential steps that must be taken for nurses that want to earn an NP credential and practice in MA. After graduating high school, potential nurse practitioners should expect to spend at least 6 more years in school, and up to 10 depending on the path they take. Many also choose to take time to practice as an RN before continuing their education, which adds to the total time required.
STEP 1: Earn an Undergraduate Degree (duration: 2 – 4 years)
An undergraduate degree in nursing is the first step towards a career as an NP. Most students choose to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or BS degree in a related field. However, to become a Registered Nurse in MA, only an Associate’s degree in Nursing (ADN) is strictly required. Bachelor’s degrees generally take 4 years to complete while an ADN should take only 2. However, it is important to note that in order to enroll in an NP program, nurses must have completed a BS degree, or must work to earn the credits for one as part of their ADN-to-NP “bridge” program.
Students should seek out a program that is accredited by a body such as the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, Inc. (ACEN) recognized by the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Nursing as this can have an impact on whether or not graduates are eligible for licensure.
STEP 2: Apply for RN Licensure (duration: less than 1 year)To register as an RN in Massachusetts, students who complete an undergraduate nursing program must sit for (and pass) the NCLEX-RN exam as well as pay an application fee and be deemed “of good moral character” by the Board of Registration in Nursing.
STEP 3: Earn a Graduate Degree (duration: 2 – 4 years)Becoming an RN is the ultimate goal for many nurses, and can certainly be a satisfying career. However, to continue on to become a nurse practitioner and earn the benefits that come along with that title requires further education. Prospective NPs can choose to pursue either a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. The former tends to take 2 years to complete, while the latter can take between 2 and 4 years. These time estimates may be longer for those that choose part-time programs.
STEP 4: Obtain Specialty Certification Credential (duration: less than 1 year)Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) in Massachusetts must earn a specialty credential from an approved source before they can register with the state and begin practice. The approved boards for nurse practitioners include:
Again, be sure to review the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Nursing website to determine which organization certifies which NP specialization.
STEP 5: Apply for APRN Registration (duration: less than 1 year)Nurses who have completed their graduate program and obtained specialty certification can submit completed applications to the Board of Registration in Nursing that includes their transcripts and an application fee. Upon approval, they will be able to begin practicing as nurse practitioners in their chosen specialty.
Registered nurses are eligible to apply for all online nurse practitioner programs based in Massachusetts. In order to apply, nurses should have their undergraduate transcripts available, in addition to letters of recommendation and a statement of purpose. Note that the terminology associated with the application process will differ for each school (e.g., statement of purpose may be called something else.)
Standardized test scores are also required for some NP programs, in particular UMass Amherst. Nurses who earned less than a 3.0 GPA during their undergraduate education are required to submit GRE scores along with their application.
In terms of timing, most programs accept applications in the beginning of the year for admission in the fall. Students should be sure to double check deadlines for their particular program of interest.
The application process for NP programs can be completed online although applicants should be prepared to speak to an admissions counselor either on the phone or in person at some point during the process.
In order to be eligible for licensure as a nurse practitioner in Massachusetts, applicants must graduate from a program that has been accredited by either the Accreditation Commision for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). This accreditation process ensures that the faculty and curriculum of the online program are suitable for preparing nurse practitioners to work in the field. Accreditation does not evaluate clinical experience such as preceptorships.
Readers should note that every online program featured in this post as of this writing has been accredited by the CCNE.
The University of Massachusetts Amherst offers an online DNP with nurse practitioner specialties for students with a BSN or ADN and non-nursing bachelor's degree. Specializations include family NP, psychiatric-mental health NP, and adult gerontological primary care NP. In addition, UMass Amherst offers an online post-master's certificate in psychiatric mental health. Each of these programs is offered entirely online with no campus visits required. Students must secure their own preceptors and complete the required clinicals. All online students pay the same tuition regardless of residency. Please note that there are some states from which UMass Amherst does not accept students.
Dr. Pamela Aselton PhD, MPH, FNP-BC is an Associate Clinical Professor at the DNP and CNL Program Director at the UMass Amherst College of Nursing. In addition to practicing part time as a Family Nurse Practitioner, she teaches or has taught classes such as Leadership of Public Health Systems, Nursing Ethics, and Advanced Pathophysiology. Dr. Aselton has also published research on DNP-level education for nurse practitioners, the NP's role in home healthcare, and teaching Advanced Pharmacology and Office Procedure Skills to FNP students. She has presented at a range of professional conferences such as the National Organization for Nurse Practitioner (NONPF) Annual Conference.
Dr. Jean E. DeMartinis, PhD, FNP-C is an Associate Professor and DNP Program Director at the UMass Amherst College of Nursing. Dr. DeMartinis has been awarded fellowships in Nursing Leadership (from the AACN) as well as in both Invasive and Preventative Cardiology. During her time at UMass she has been the recipient of the Outstanding College Teaching Award as well.
The University of Massachusetts Boston campus offers two fully online post-master's certificates: Family Nurse Practitioner and Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner. These programs comprise either 12 or 21 credits depending on the student's previous educational background. No campus visits are required. In addition, UMass Boston offers a hybrid MSN degree with the following specialties: Family Nurse Practitioner, Adult-Gerontological Nurse Practitioner, and Adult-Gerontological Acute Care Nurse Practitioner. This hybrid MSN degree includes both online and on-campus courses and can be completed both full-time or part-time. The MSN degree requires 48 credits and a minimum of 600 clinical hours.
Dr. Rosanna DeMarco, PhD, RN, PHCNS-BC, APHN-BC, FAAN is Chair and Professor at the UMB School of Nursing. During her time as an educator she has been awarded the Anne Kibrick Award for Excellence in Nursing Leadership, the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists (NACNS) Clinical Nurse Specialist Researcher of the Year and the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care (ANAC) Excellence in HIV Prevention Award, among others. Some of her research interests include HIV prevention and community based care.
Dr. Patricia Halon, DNP, FNP-C is the Graduate Program Director, FNP Track Coordinator and Clinical Assistant Professor for the Department of Nursing at UMB. Her primary research and clinical interests are college health and primary care with an emphasis on health promotion and disease prevention. Dr. Hanlon has been the recipient of the UMass Boston CNHS Award for Academic Excellence DNP Program as well as the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners State Award for Excellence.
At Regis College in Weston, aspiring graduate nursing students have a wide range of options to pursue, all of which are 100% online. Regis offers an ADN to MSN bridge program as well as a BA to MSN bridge option for those who have an undergraduate degree in a separate specialty. Additionally, Regis offers post-master's certificates, a BSN to MSN degree and a BSN to DNP degree. Each of these programs allows for specialization in women's health, pediatric nursing, family care, psychiatric mental health, and adult-gerontological care.
Aspiring nursing students at the graduate level have a host of options available through Simmons College in Boston. Specifically, Simmons offers a traditional BSN to MSN degree, as well as an ADN to MSN bridge program, and a bridge program for those who have an undergraduate degree in a field other than nursing. Each of these programs has a focus on family care. All students participate in one on-campus immersion experience in Boston, with activities such as advanced physical assessment workshop, a suturing workshop, and time for connecting with fellow students, advisors, faculty, and the clinical placement team. Simmons College has been offering nursing education since 1902 and has utilized this experience to help train competent and effective nursing professionals who attend the school.
Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, located in Boston, offers students the opportunity to earn an MSN degree in psychiatric mental health or family care. The FNP specialization also allows for an ADN to MSN bridge for those who do not possess a BSN. The BSN to MSN degrees require three on-campus residencies of 1-3 days at the beginning, middle, and end of the program. The ADN bridge option includes four, 1-3 day residencies including the mandatory orientation, MSN orientation, and a 3rd and final residency. The last immersion coincides with graduation on campus.
Online nurse practitioner programs do not uniformly report their campus visitation requirements. In fact, visitation requirements may change from year to year depending on course offerings and professors. Some degrees, such as those offered through Regis College are 100 percent online, whereas others may require one or more visits to campus, or may be hybrid. Sometimes a school will offer some programs in a completely online format while other specialties or degrees will require some on-campus courses. Each school's requirements are noted in the descriptions above.
An online education is an important foundation to work as a nurse practitioner in any state. The hands-on training that is part of every NP program is known as a preceptorship. While online programs may have resources to help nurses find a preceptor under whom they can work during this critical time, the reality is that nurses are largely on their own in finding someone to take them under his or her wing.
Specific preceptorship requirements for licensure are not explicit in the Massachusetts licensure language, rather it is expected that nurses who graduate from an accredited nurse practitioner program will have this clinical experience as part of the program’s requirements.
After graduating from an accredited online or campus-based NP program and completing a national certification exam to earn a credential in a specific area of practice, nurses are eligible to apply for nurse practitioner certification in Massachusetts. Nurse practitioners in Massachusetts are neither the most restricted nor the most autonomous of NPs in the U.S. While they are able to as a Primary Care Provider, NPs in MA are not able to work completely independently and must have a collaborative agreement with a physician to practice. NPs are also unable to prescribe medications independently. However, nurse practitioners in MA are able to sign death certificates and handicap placards, approve worker’s compensation claims and order physical therapy.