At every level, nurses are hardworking and compassionate individuals. Those nurses who have worked in the trenches as nursing students and RNs may desire to expand their practice and their autonomy to become nurse practitioners, but in order to do so they must further their education. It can be understandably difficult for nurses to quit work in order to go back to school, which is why the flexibility of an online education can be so helpful in these situations.
Thankfully, nurses who want to earn their NP licensure in Pennsylvania have a number of options, including fully online programs that can generally be completed on nights and weekends, or according to a nurse’s own schedule. For those who prefer some face time, hybrid programs are also available.
Keep reading to find out what steps are required to become an NP in Pennsylvania, where online NP programs are offered in Pennsylvania, and how they stack up to one another.
Nurse practitioners are a diverse group of a people and therefore they come to the career from different directions and take different paths. However, since nursing is a highly regulated profession, there are certain steps that each new nurse practitioner must take in order to become certified to practice in the state of Pennsylvania.
The necessary education and experience required from high school graduation through to nurse practitioner certification can take between 6 and 10 years, depending on the nurse and the choices he or she makes.
It is not possible to become a nurse practitioner in Pennsylvania without first earning an undergraduate degree, although not all nurses take this as their first step. While there is no requirement that nurse practitioners have a specific undergraduate major, many will choose to major in nursing or a related field such as biology.
Those students who are unable to complete an undergraduate degree immediately can choose to earn an Associate’s Degree before gaining experience as a nurse and ultimately completing an RN to MSN bridge program.
Students should ensure that the program they choose is approved by the state of Pennsylvania, as the degrees from those programs are the only ones accepted by the state Board of Nursing for RN licensure. A full list of approved programs is available from the Pennsylvania Department of State.
Graduates of an approved nursing program are eligible to apply for the RN license from the Pennsylvania Board of Nursing. Prior to applying, prospective nurses should plan to take the NCELX-RN exam as well as submit their fingerprints for background check purposes. After completing these steps and the RN license application, nurses will receive their license and can begin to work in Pennsylvania.
When nurses with existing RN credentials decide they want to further their career and autonomy by becoming nurse practitioners, pursuing a graduate degree is the next step they must take. Nurses with a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN, approximately 2 years) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP, approximately 2 years for master’s degree holders, 4 years for bachelor’s degree holders) are all eligible for licensing as a nurse practitioner in Pennsylvania.
In order to become licensed as an NP, nurses must complete their certification in their chosen specialty, such as Adult-Gerontology Acute Care, Women’s Health, or Psychiatric Mental Health. These credentials can be earned through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) by completing an exam and submitting school transcripts. Certification must be maintained through continuing education credits throughout the nurse’s career.
In Pennsylvania, nurse practitioners can apply for prescriptive authority. The application process is separate from the initial NP licensure and requires that nurses have a collaborative agreement with a physician as well as verification that the nurse has completed Advanced Pharmacology.
Online nurse practitioner programs for the most part have the same admissions requirements as their offline counterparts. Applicants must have an active RN license in good standing. Most programs also require that applicants have a Bachelor of Science degree, but there are bridge programs available for RNs who have not yet earned their BSN.
Applications are available online and may include personal statements, professional recommendations, official undergraduate transcripts, and an application fee.
The majority of Pennsylvania’s online nurse practitioner programs do not require any standardized testing for admission, but a few do require that applicants take the GRE and submit their scores as part of the application process.
Despite the increased flexibility offered by many online NP programs, they still tend to start in parallel with campus activities during the fall semester. For those programs with a standard application deadline, interested applications should be sure to have their completed applications submitted by the spring, though the exact date will vary depending on the school.
For an institution of higher learning, accreditation is essential because it demonstrates that the school and its programs have been evaluated by professionals for their curriculum, faculty and efficacy. Online nurse practitioner programs in Pennsylvania should be accredited by either the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) in order for nurses to be eligible for their specialty credentialing. There is no specific requirement that NP programs be accredited for Pennsylvania state licensure.
Dr. Katherine Anselmi is a highly accomplished nurse in addition to being an attorney admitted to the Bar in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Dr. Anselmi is the Associate Clinical Professor of Nursing, Assistant Dean of Accreditation / Regulatory Affairs & Online Innovation at the Drexel University College of Nursing and Health Professions, where she has earned numerous accolades, including publication in The Med/Surg Journal, The Nurse Practitioner Journal, Nurse Educator, Advance Online Editions for Nurses, Holistic Nursing Practice and the Journal of Nursing Law.
Dr. Deborah Kelly is an Assistant Professor of Nursing at the Clarion University School of Nursing in Clarion, PA. Dr. Kelly’s personal research interest include end of life care and workforce development. In 2009, Dr. Kelly was the recipient of the Recipient of the Pennsylvania Hospice Network, Nancy Bohnet Award for Excellence.
Dr. Susan Burke is an Associate Clinical Professor and track coordinator of the Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Program at the Drexel University College of Nursing and Health Professions. As a pediatric nurse specialist, Dr. Burke has particular research interest in families with children with special health care needs (CSHCN) as well as internationally adopted children.
Thomas Jefferson University has its campus in Philadelphia but offers online programs for nursing students, including both MSN Nurse Practitioner and post-graduate NP certificate programs in the Women's Health, Pediatric Care, Neonatal Health, and Adult-Gerontology Acute Care and Primary Care specialities. The programs have been accredited by the CCNE and offer flexible learning options for graduate students, allowing for both online and online/in-person hybrid options.
This school is highly ranked in both the East Coast and the rest of the country, even among a pool of highly regarded programs. Specifically, U.S. News & World Report, in its 2018 ratings, ranked the MSN degree 157th in the nation. The same publication ranked the Thomas Jefferson School of Nursing among the top 100 in the United States in 2015.
Dr. Sharon Rainer, PhD, APRN, FNP-C, ANP- C, CEN is an Assistant Professor in addition to be the Coordinator of the Family-Individual Across the Lifespan Nurse Practitioner Program at Thomas Jefferson University. She earned the New Jersey Academy of Nurse Practitioner State Nurse Practitioner Award in 2008 and is certified as both a Family and Adult Nurse Practitioner.
Based in Pittsburgh, Duquesne University offers both an MSN and postgraduate certificate program in the Family Nurse Practitioner Specialty. Applicants to this program should be advised that the program is not 100% online and requires 3 campus visits, minimum. The mandatory visits include:
Apart from these visits, courses and mentorship are offered online.
Duquesne is known for offering high-quality education, which is demonstrated by the success of graduates. Indeed, the school of nursing boasts a 95 percent pass rate on the AANPCP Family Nurse Practitioner certification examination for students from the program. In addition, the school was ranked 26th Best Online Graduate Nursing Program in 2017 by U.S. News & World Report.
Mary Ellen Smith Glasgow, PhD, RN, ACNS-BC, ANEF, FAAN, is Dean and Professor, Duquesne University School of Nursing in Pittsburgh, PA. She has developed many innovative, technology-focused nursing and health professions programs. In 2010, she was honored with the Villanova University College of Nursing Alumni Medallion for Distinguished Contribution to Nursing Education and in 2013, she was honored with the Distinguished Alumni Award from Gwynedd-Mercy University Dr. Glasgow was selected as a 2009 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Executive Nurse Fellow. She has over 70 publications, 135 national and international presentations, and recently co-authored two books, Role Development for Doctoral Advanced Nursing Practice (2011), the recipient of the 2011 AJN Book of the Year Award, and Legal Issues Confronting Today's Nursing Faculty: A Case Study Approach (2012), the recipient of the 2012 AJN Book of the Year Award. Dr. Glasgow was elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing and as a Fellow of the NLN Academy of Nursing Education.
Dr. Catherine Johnson, PhD, FNP, PNP is the Chair and Advanced Practice Programs Assistant Professor at the Duquesne University School of Nursing. As part of her nursing scholarship Dr. Johnson has published numerous articles in well regarded publications, including The American Journal for Nurse Practitioners. She also maintains her clinical practice.
At Clarion University, nurse practitioner students have the option of pursuing an MSN family nurse practitioner degree or a post-master’s FNP certificate online.
Overall, Clarion University was ranked 137th by U.S. News & World Report in the category of “Regional Universities North”. Additionally, in 2018, Niche named Clarion among the top schools in the state in regards to retaining the best professors and in terms of the best value for education.
Drexel University, located in Philadelphia, offers a range of online graduate nursing programs for students. For aspiring nurse practitioners specifically, Drexel offers an MSN and a post-master’s certificate with specializations in women’s health/gender-related care, psychiatric-mental health, pediatric care (primary and acute), adult-gerontological care (primary and acute), and family care focusing on the individual across the lifespan. Drexel also offers one highly specialized post-master's emergency nurse practitioner certificate as well.
Recently, the nursing programs at Drexel have received high acclaim nationwide. College Factual ranked Drexel’s nursing program 3rd out of 508 across the country, and U.S. News & World Report ranked Drexel among the top 100 of America’s Best Colleges in its 2018 rankings.
At Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, students are able to complete a master of science in nursing (MSN) or a post-master’s certificate with a nurse practitioner track. Students are also able to choose between two nurse practitioner specializations: adult-gerontological primary care and psychiatric-mental health. The school also offers an RN to MSN bridge program for applicants who do not already possess a BSN.
Originally established as a junior college in 1933, Wilkes University has since successfully been preparing nursing professionals for a career in the field. Indeed, U.S. News & World Report currently ranks Wilkes as 78th in its Regional Universities North category, sitting high in the rankings among many other quality institutions.
Because programs can differ from year to year, there is unfortunately not a uniform reporting process for how many campus visits are required for online NP programs in Pennsylvania. As such, the following table may not be able to give specific numbers as to what is required. Instead, the word "Limited" is used where there is no readily available concrete data, but rather the suggestion that some limited amount of campus visitation may be required. If you are unable to visit campus during the course of your studies, due to military commitments or another reason, be sure to check with the program before applying in order to determine your options.
While classroom education is certainly an essential part of the nurse practitioner education, in order to complete an accredited NP program and earn a license, students must complete a preceptorship. This process involves working closely with a supervising nurse practitioner and learning hands on clinical skills. While some online programs may assist in finding a suitable preceptor, the resources available to students can vary. Prospective nurse practitioners should expect to do their own due diligence in finding a willing preceptor to complete their education.
After graduating from an NP program and completing a national certification exam in his or her chosen specialty, nurses are eligible to apply for nurse practitioner certification in Pennsylvania. Nurse practitioners in PA do not have quite as much autonomy as they do in some other U.S. states. They must, for instance, have a collaborative agreement with a physician in order to practice. However, NPs in Pennsylvania are allowed to prescribe medication (with prescriptive authority as mentioned above) as well as sign handicap placards, and prescribe physical therapy.