Many registered nurses (RNs) in North Dakota choose to take their career prospects to a higher, more autonomous level and become nurse practitioners (NPs). Working as a nurse practitioner allows an individual to provide a vital degree of care to a wide array of patients, while retaining a significant amount of responsibility and commanding a relatively high salary. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2016) reported that the 440 NPs across ND had an average annual salary of $95,260, more than double the mean wages across all occupations in the state ($47,130). Furthermore, Projections Central (Dec. 2016) projected a 40 percent explosion in NP openings across North Dakota between 2014 and 2024, nearly six times the average growth anticipated across all US occupations during that time (7 percent). In short, nurse practitioners represent a lucrative and high-growth career, not to mention the personal fulfillment involved in helping others.
Of course, in order to acquire this level of responsibility and commensurate compensation, an individual must first obtain a graduate degree in the field of nursing, and further receive national certification and licensure. Two NP graduate degree options are available: a master of science in nursing (MSN), which may be ideal for those eager to work in the field as a nurse practitioner; or a doctor of nursing practice (DNP), which, while more time-intensive, often allows the holder to work in management or academia. Furthermore, the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), among others, have advocated for the adoption of the DNP as the preferred level of preparation in the NP field.
When considering a graduate nursing degree, many aspiring NPs examine programs at traditional, brick-and-mortar campuses. However, in the era of modern technology, a number of accredited online programs exist in which aspiring NPs can pursue a graduate degree largely from the comfort of their own home. These programs typically combine rigorous distance-based coursework with clinical practica to be completed in approved healthcare facilities close to one’s home. Because of this, anyone interested in working in this career in North Dakota should become familiar with the steps to obtain all necessary NP credentials, as well as how an online program may fit into the process.
This guide examines the accredited online NP programs in North Dakota, as well as how to become a licensed NP in the state.
Not all aspiring NPs follow the same path into this career. Some aspiring NPs in the ‘Peace Garden State’ choose to pursue an associate degree in nursing (ADN) and work for a couple of years before working toward a graduate-level degree; however, for those who want to attend an online NP program, it may be advisable to pursue a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) instead. The BSN is typically an application prerequisite for online MSN and DNP programs, although there are a few distance-based ‘bridge’ programs (i.e., ADN-to-MSN or ADN-to-DNP) available at schools such as Frontier Nursing University.
Here is one possible pathway to becoming an NP in North Dakota:
STEP 1: Complete an Undergraduate Degree (2-4 years)
To begin, all aspiring NPs must complete an undergraduate degree in nursing; this is a requirement for licensure as an RN in North Dakota through the North Dakota Board of Nursing, which is necessary to later obtain licensure as an NP. The NDBoN requirements stipulate that the degree must be from a Board-approved nursing program, a list of which is provided on the website. It’s worth noting that there are two main nursing program accreditation organizations: the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Prior to enrolling in any nursing program nationwide, students are strongly encouraged to ensure that the school holds approval from one of these two entities. Approved BSN programs in ND typically include instruction in areas such as nursing research & informatics; pharmacology; physiology & anatomy; and health promotion & disease prevention.
STEP 2: RN Licensure & Experience (1-2 years)
Upon completing an accredited undergraduate nursing program, an aspiring NP should then apply to take the NCLEX-RN—a national certifying examination for registered nurses—through the North Dakota Board of Nursing. To qualify, candidates must submit their official nursing school transcripts and an application fee ($130). Along with achieving a passing score on the examination, the applicant should also be prepared to complete a background check.
At this point in the process, an aspiring NP should begin working in the field of nursing as soon as possible. Many graduate NP programs require students to have worked for at least one year, and any delay in beginning to work will only prolong the amount of time that it takes to achieve the final goal.
STEP 3: Graduate Education (2-4+ years)
RNs who have both obtained an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution and have at least a year of experience may be eligible to apply for a graduate program in nursing. As mentioned above, students at this step generally have two distinct degree options: a master of science in nursing (MSN), or a doctor of nursing practice (DNP). Aspiring NPs should weigh the benefits and drawbacks of each of these programs to ensure they are making the best decision for their future. While an MSN is still the minimum necessary education to apply for national NP certification and ND licensure, this may change in coming years as the push for adopting the DNP progresses.
MSN programs generally involve courses such as principles of client-centered care; human health & illness across the lifespan; community & population-based health; and advanced pharmacology. By comparison, DNP programs focus on more leadership-oriented coursework such as quantitative methods for evaluating healthcare; evidence-based practice; effective management of a healthcare setting; data-driven healthcare improvement; and health systems transformation. In addition to classes, students enrolled in both MSN and DNP programs may complete a capstone course (i.e., an original scholarly research project).
Regardless the degree, aspiring NPs typically must choose a specialization during their graduate studies. There are six main foci in the NP field: adult-gerontology (acute and primary care); pediatrics (acute and primary care); neonatal care; family health; psychiatric-mental health; and women’s health. To discover the range of distance-based programs in each subfield, check out the online NP programs page.
STEP 4: Achieve National NP Certification (up to 1 year)
All aspiring NPs must obtain a national certification in order to obtain state licensure in this field; however, the organization from which an individual acquires certification will depend on one’s nursing specialization. The following is a short list of some organizations through which it is possible to obtain NP certification:
To learn in-depth about how to achieve credentialing in any of the six main specializations, please visit the online NP schools page.
STEP 5: Obtain Licensure as a Nurse Practitioner (up to 1 year)
Once an individual has obtained licensure as an RN, completed a graduate degree, and achieved national NP certification, it is time to apply for an advanced practice (APRN) license through the North Dakota Board of Nursing. This requires the submission of the following: copy of RN license, official NP school transcript from an accredited program, proof of national certification, and an application fee ($100 + $50 for prescriptive authority). Applicants may also have to complete a criminal background check ($20). Upon approval, the applicant is then licensed as an NP in North Dakota and can begin practicing immediately.
After achieving all necessary credentialing, NPs in North Dakota have a thriving professional organization to support them in their work: the North Dakota Nurse Practitioner Association. This group has varied goals, including offering a legislative voice to issues affecting the industry, providing networking opportunities, and giving resources such as continued education (CE) to members.
Although admissions requirements vary generally by institution, although there are some commonalities. As mentioned above, the majority of distance-based graduate nursing programs only admit applicants with at least a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) from an accredited institution, although there are some ‘bridge’ programs available which admit nurses with associate degrees.
Here are some of the typical application materials required to gain entry into an online MSN, post-master’s certificate, or DNP program:
Applicants must send official transcripts from their undergraduate institution with proof of specific coursework such as statistics, anatomy & physiology, and college-level biology.
A majority of online NP programs request that applicants have at least a 3.0 GPA for MSN admission and 3.2 for DNP admission. That said, online NP schools may offer opportunities for applicants below those thresholds to submit additional materials to be considered for admissions such as clinical practice portfolios or test scores (e.g., GRE, MAT). Also, for candidates whose first language isn’t English, qualifying TOEFL scores are also generally required.
In addition to proof of an undergraduate degree and GPA, most schools will present other requirements, such as the completion of a personal essay or letter of motivation (500-600 words); a CV/resume with proof of at least one year of nursing experience; a copy of one’s unencumbered RN license; proof of immunizations and/or health insurance; and letters of recommendation from professors or workplace supervisors. Furthermore, for candidates to online post-master’s certificate or MSN-to-DNP programs, they may also have to have national NP certification to qualify for admissions. Lastly, depending on the program, students may also be asked to participate in an interview after submission of their application to determine if they are the right fit for the program.
As was previously discussed, the North Dakota Board of Nursing provides a list of approved nursing programs in the state. The NDBoN also offers a list of approved online NP programs in other states which have received approval for ND-based students to complete their clinical rotations in their own communities.
Furthermore, aspiring students should examine whether or not their selected institution has received accreditation from one of the aforementioned agencies—the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)—as this is a requirement to obtain national certification.
To learn about how programs are accredited, please visit the organizations’ websites or the ‘accreditation’ section of the online nurse practitioner schools page.
At the University of North Dakota of Grand Forks, students can pursue a graduate nursing degree online at various levels and specializations. Students may choose between two levels: a master of science in nursing (MSN) with a psychiatric and mental health NP specialization or a post-baccalaureate doctor of nursing practice (DNP) with a family NP or adult-gerontology primary care NP specialization The MSN requires 57 to 59 credit hours of coursework, taking two or three years to complete, depending on whether the student is studying full- or part-time. The courses are provided on a semester schedule, and students are required to visit the campus once per year in the MSN program, five times in the BSN-to-DNP program, for weeklong sessions, which may include traditional on-campus lectures, hands-on labs and simulations, or opportunities to interact with other students and members of the faculty.
MSN classes include evidence for practice; theories & concepts in nursing; advanced physiology & pathophysiology; advanced pharmacology; health assessment; and other coursework which varies by specialization. MSN students will also be required to complete at least 600 clinical hours, a requirement which can be met at approved facilities close to a student’s home. Upon successful completion of the MSN program, graduates may be eligible for national NP certification through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board. Notably, all UND students are offered in-state tuition rates, regardless of their residency status.
The department of nursing at the University of North Dakota has been educating students for over 100 years, and consistently produces many of the finest nurses in the country. U.S. News & World Report considers the University of North Dakota among the top 200 schools in the nation in its 2018 report, and also among the 25 most innovative universities.
Students at the Catholic University of Mary in Bismarck can pursue a family health BSN-to-DNP in a blended setting, completing program requirements both onsite and online. Specifically, while most of the instruction takes place online, the program does stipulate that periodic visits to the campus are required throughout the duration of a student’s studies. In addition to 1,180 clinical practice hours, this blended FNP-DNP program includes 86 credit hours of instruction in advanced pathophysiology; critique & design of nursing research; common health problems of maturing adults; healthcare law & policy; and scholarship in clinical practice (I-IV).
Lastly, as mentioned above, the ND Board of Nursing provides a list of schools located in other states which are open to students residing in North Dakota. These include Ball State University, Georgetown University, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Minnesota—Minneapolis. Additionally, the main distance-based NP schools page provides a detailed overview of online NP programs at all levels and specializations.
Aspiring online NP students should research the visitation requirements of their selected institution. For example, some programs in other states allow the students to complete their degree entirely online; while others, such as the two in North Dakota detailed above, ask students to visit from time to time. In the case of the University of North Dakota, these requirements are spelled out explicitly (e.g., four weeklong visits are required for the MSN); in the case of the University of Mary, however, ‘periodic visits’ are required, the duration of which is not specified and can be ascertained from program coordinators.
While many US states require NPs to perform a number of preceptorship hours before they may receive advanced practice (APRN) licensure to practice, North Dakota is not among them. That said, students must complete a significant number of clinical hours before they achieve a graduate degree from their selected institution. These generally range between 500 for an MSN and 1,000 for a DNP.
As a final note, all individuals interested in pursuing a career in this field should understand that North Dakota is considered a ‘full practice’ state by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, which means that nurse practitioners in ND can practice to the full extent of their education. In other words, NPs have the capacity to engage autonomously in activities related to their practice, including patient diagnosis and evaluation, ordering and evaluating tests, and initiating and managing treatments. Notably, the ‘full practice’ environment is the model recommended by the Institute of Medicine and National Council of State Boards of Nursing, among others.