The Palmetto State hosts a number of online graduate programs for aspiring nurse practitioners. According to South Carolina’s Nurse Practice Act, a nurse practitioner is “a registered nurse who has completed an advanced formal education program at the master’s level acceptable to the board, and who demonstrates advanced knowledge and skill in assessment and management of physical and psychosocial health, illness status of persons, families, and groups. Nurse practitioners who perform delegated medical acts must have a supervising physician or dentist who is readily available for consultation and shall operate within the approved written protocols.”
The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) adds that South Carolina is a “restricted practice” state, meaning that NPs cannot engage in at least one aspect of practice without the delegation or team-management of a healthcare authority (e.g., a doctor). This may change in coming years with ongoing advocacy to expand an NP’s ability to practice through groups such as the South Carolina Nurses Association (SCNA). In the meantime however, there is a wealth of NP training options in SC—including online NP programs—which prepare these valuable healthcare professionals at the highest level.
Read on to discover how to become an NP in South Carolina, including the typical pathway to join the career, the array of online NP programs, and how to become professionally credentialed.
There are varied paths to becoming a nurse practitioner in SC. Some people earn their associate degrees and garner several years of registered nursing (RN) experience prior to enrolling in a graduate program. Others may pursue a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN), a step which may facilitate one’s entry into a distance-based NP program. Here is one possible route to join this high-growth career:
To begin, anyone interested in becoming a nurse practitioner in South Carolina must pursue an undergraduate degree. Some choose to get two-year associate degrees in nursing (ADN), and others choose four-year bachelor’s (BSN) degrees. It’s important to note that many online NP programs require applicants to have at least RN licensure and a bachelor’s degree, although there are exceptions at some out-of-state online NP schools such as Frontier Nursing University. In BSN programs, people take classes such as information technology & nursing practice; health assessment; anatomy & physiology; microbiology; and pharmacology. At this stage, aspiring NPs in SC are strongly advised to enroll in a program approved by the South Carolina Board of Nursing (SCBN) to ensure eligibility for licensure as a registered nurse (RN). In general, NP candidates should try to seek out nursing programs accredited by one of the two nationally recognized institutions: the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, Inc. (ACEN).
Upon completion of an undergraduate program, an aspiring nurse practitioner must pursue RN licensure through the South Carolina Board of Nursing (SCBN), which involves submitting proof of a qualifying undergraduate nursing education and achieving a passing score on the comprehensive NCLEX-RN examination. Once a person becomes an RN, it is common to get one-to-two years of experience prior to applying for a graduate NP program in South Carolina.
As mentioned above, the South Carolina Nurse Practice Act requires that an advanced practice nurse (e.g., a nurse practitioner) have a graduate degree in order to obtain licensure. There are two main types of graduate degrees available: the master of science in nursing (MSN) or the doctor of nursing practice (DNP). Graduate nurse practitioner programs typically involve courses such as healthcare policy; advanced pathophysiology; leadership of the advanced practice nurse; and specialized coursework depending on one’s NP specialty. There are six broad NP specializations which deal with different populations: adult-gerontology (acute or primary care), pediatrics (acute or primary care), neonatal care, family care, psychiatric-mental health, and women’s health. There are two schools in South Carolina which offer online NP training: the University of South Carolina and the Medical University of South Carolina. Additionally, there are out-of-state programs that may accept South Carolina residents depending on their “state authorization” status. For a discussion of the online NP programs in SC and what state authorization entails, please check out the sections below.
In order to qualify for advanced practice registered nursing (APRN) licensure in South Carolina, an applicant must have achieved national certification through an organization such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB), or the National Certification Corporation (NCC). A full list of approved organizations can be found on the SCBN website. To qualify for these NP specialty certifications, candidates must typically show proof of work within their subfield, send an official transcript from a qualifying graduate NP program, and pass a comprehensive exam. To learn in depth about the various certifications available, please visit the how to become an NP page.
Finally, after an aspiring nurse practitioner has obtained a graduate degree in nursing from an approved program and achieved national certification in an NP specialization, he or she may qualify for state APRN licensure through the SCBN. The SCBN calls for applicants to submit the following:
This state license must be renewed every even year before April 30th. Please note that prescriptive authority in South Carolina is granted separately to NPs, and interested candidates should check out the SCBN Prescriptive Authority Application for more information.
To gain entry into an online nurse practitioner program, candidates in South Carolina must typically have earned at least a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree from an accredited institution. While there are no online RN-to-MSN or RN-to-DNP programs in SC (i.e., programs open to applicants holding associate degrees or non-nursing bachelor’s degrees), there are some outside of the state. Check out the alternative pathways on the main online NP programs page for more information.
Aspiring SC nurse practitioners must choose between pursuing a master’s degree (MSN) or a doctoral degree (DNP); not surprisingly, the former takes less time to complete, but successful completion of the latter may accord a higher level of expertise and knowledge, as well as opportunities for management or leadership positions in healthcare environments. In online BSN-to-DNP programs, students typically earn an MSN on the path to a doctoral degree. Here are some typical application prerequisites for online NP programs:
Candidates for all online NP programs in South Carolina must have at least a BSN degree to qualify. Ideally, this degree will come from a program accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, Inc. (ACEN).
Online NP schools in South Carolina prefer applicants who have a GPA of at least 3.0 in both nursing and general studies. While some out-of-state programs require GRE scores, neither of the two online NP schools in South Carolina fall in this category.
Along with submitting proof of GPA and successful completion of a nationally accredited bachelor’s degree in nursing, applicants to these programs should expect to provide the following:
As mentioned above, there are only two schools in the state of South Carolina which offer online graduate degrees in the field of nursing: the University of South Carolina (USC) and the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). Both of these schools have graduate NP programs accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). The other acceptable institution to grant program-approval nationwide is the aforementioned Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, Inc. (ACEN). To learn about how nursing programs are evaluated, check out the CCNE and ACEN websites.
Jeannette O. Andrews is a professor at the USC, where she also serves as the dean of the College of Nursing. She is an American Academy of Nursing Fellow and a Robert Wood Johnson Nurse Executive Fellow, as well as an AACN-Wharton Executive Fellow. She has developed and taught various DNP courses at USC, including pathophysiology, pharmacology, and health assessment.
Ron Acierno is also a professor at the Medical University of South Carolina, where he serves as the associate dean for research. He is currently serving as the Clinical Training Director and Board Member of the non-profit Veterans on Deck. VoD is “an organization [Acierno] founded that uses sailing to impart socialization, teambuilding, and personal growth in veterans recovering from PTSD, substance use, and who have been victims of military sexual trauma.”
Julie Barroso is a professor at the Medical University of South Carolina, where she also serves as the department chair. She has been an educator in the field of nursing since 1989, and she’s won a number of teaching awards, including the Outstanding PhD Faculty Award from the Duke University School of Nursing. Notably, she is internationally renowned for her work in qualitative research methods.
There are three schools based in the state of South Carolina that offer offering accredited online NP programs: Anderson University, the Medical University of South Carolina, and the University of South Carolina. Even though each of these schools offers programs online, they still require students to visit the campus a number of times during the course of their studies. Also, applicants should keep in mind that several of the distance-based MSN programs are also available as post-master’s certificates for NPs seeking a new specialization and/or certification.
Anderson University offers myriad opportunities for online graduate nursing students. Nurse practitioner students may complete an MSN, a post-master’s certificate, or a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree. Students pursuing the post-master’s NP certificate will specialize in psychiatric-mental health, while specializations available for the MSN and DNP include psychiatric-mental health and family care. It’s also important to note that Anderson offers both an ADN-to-MSN and ADN-to-DNP bridge program for applicants who do not possess a bachelor of science in nursing.
According to the school’s website, Anderson has the only cadaver lab in the state that’s designed exclusively for nursing students. In addition, the school retains five simulation rooms to provide hands-on practice for students, and students will be provided the opportunity to work in a variety of clinical settings, both in South Carolina and abroad. And according to U.S. News & World Report, Anderson is among the top-tier Regional Universities in the South as of 2017, as well as one of the Best Value Schools in the South.
The graduate nursing programs at the Medical University of South Carolina offers registered nurses holding BSN degrees the opportunity to pursue an online doctor of nursing practice (DNP) in one of four NP specialization areas: adult-gerontology (AGNP), family health (FNP), pediatrics (PNP), or psychiatric mental health (PMHNP). This program can be attended part- or full-time and requires limited campus visitation (about 6 short visits will be required, total). Awarding both an MSN and DNP upon completion, this rigorous program typically requires three years of full-time study, including classes such as scientific underpinnings for practice; advanced health policy & advocacy; and informatics in healthcare delivery. Part-time students will have 4.5 years in which to complete the program.
As the school’s website reports, the DNP program has been ranked 2nd in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, and the school is known for having a low student-to-faculty ratio and expert faculty and preceptors. In addition, the school is also ranked within the top 100 in the nation for receipt of federal funding.
The University of South Carolina, located in Columbia, offers an MSN degree, a post-master’s certificate, and a DNP, all three of which are provided online. That being said, students may be required to visit the campus a minimum of twice per semester during clinical rotations. In these programs, students may specialize in family care, adult-gerontological care, and psychiatric-mental health.
The DNP programs at the University of South Carolina ranked among the top 65 in the nation according to the U.S. News & World Report 2018 rankings, and the nursing school was ranked 3rd in the state by Niche.
For a detailed discussion of distance-based NP programs located throughout the country, visit the online nurse practitioner schools page.
Although a majority of the NP courses at the South Carolina institutions profiled can be completed online, some campus visits may be required. At the Medical University of South Carolina, students in the DNP program will need to visit Charleston for an orientation, and periodically (about 5 times) throughout the duration of their studies for two- or three-day stretches. At the University of South Carolina, students should expect to visit campus a minimum of two times per semester. Interested NP candidates in South Carolina and beyond are urged to reach out to admissions departments to learn about specific campus visitation requirements.
The South Carolina Board of Nursing (SCBN) does not explicitly state that students must participate in any preceptorship hours in order to become licensed. That said, completion of clinical hours under the guidance of a qualifying preceptor is a requirement for graduate-level nursing programs, and students should be prepared to identify preceptors in their area. Additionally, NPs must typically complete at least 500 clinical hours prior to seeking national certification in their subfield. Since achieving a credential through an approved organization such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) is a prerequisite for South Carolina APRN licensure, NPs will have typically gotten preceptor hours already.
Finally, aspiring nurse practitioners should understand that South Carolina is considered a “restricted practice” state by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP 2016), which means that “state practice and licensure law restricts the ability of a nurse practitioner to engage in at least one element of NP practice.” Furthermore, the “state requires supervision, delegation, or team-management by an outside health discipline in order for the NP to provide patient care.”