In the Mount Rushmore State, some registered nurses (RNs) and other aspiring healthcare professionals choose to pursue a career as a nurse practitioner (NP), a high-growth and lucrative occupation in the state. Some are driven by the greater responsibilities and autonomy NPs enjoy relative to RNs; others may be motivated by the challenge of this fulfilling career. Perhaps the most compelling reasons to become an NP, however, are the occupation’s relatively high salary and job stability. To these points, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2016) reported that the 12,130 RNs in South Dakota had an average annual salary of $55,920, while the 450 NPs boasted a mean salary of $97,490. Furthermore, Projections Central (Dec. 2016) anticipated a 24.3 percent increase in job opportunities for NPs in SD between 2014 and 2024, significantly higher than the average growth expected across all fields during that time period (7 percent). In short, it’s a high-paying field with expanding opportunities.
It’s important to note that all aspiring nurse practitioners must first obtain a graduate degree before working in an advanced capacity. Many NPs achieve a master’s of science in nursing (MSN), the minimum academic degree required for national certification and state licensure in this career; however, the most ambitious may opt for a doctor of nursing practice (DNP), especially those who hope to work in a high leadership or academic position.
Regardless the academic degree, it’s worthy of note that NPs in South Dakota enjoy a thriving professional support network once they’ve started their careers. In fact, the Nurse Practitioner Association of South Dakota represents NPs from the gamut of specialty areas, including adult-gerontology, pediatrics, and women’s health, among others. Established in 1997, this organization seeks to provide continuing education (CE) resources, networking, scholarships, political advocacy, and other tools to help NPs in this state.
So how does an aspiring NP join this rewarding and high-paying career? While many NP students in SD pursue a degree at a traditional brick-and-mortar institution, others may find the campus-based requirements cumbersome. Perhaps these students live in rural regions of SD or prefer to work during their graduate nursing program. Fortunately, there’s a wealth of online NP programs in SD to accommodate these students, and these options are accredited and standardized. Online NP programs typically combine distance-based classes with onsite clinical practicums to be completed at locally approved healthcare facilities.
This comprehensive guide examines the online NP schools in South Dakota, as well as the typical steps to join this career and how to become professionally credentialed.
As mentioned above, nurse practitioners in SD must have at least a master of science in nursing (MSN) degree to qualify for all necessary credentialing. There are varied paths to achieve this: some prospective NPs choose to get an associate degree in nursing (ADN) and garner a couple of years of experience in a healthcare environment; others choose a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) instead, the recommended route for those interested in an online NP program. While there are a few distance-based ‘bridge’ programs (i.e., ADN-to-MSN or DNP) available at schools such as the exceptional KY-based Frontier Nursing University, the vast majority of online NP programs—including all web-based schools in SD—require students to have at least a BSN to qualify for enrollment. That said, for aspiring NPs who have completed an ADN program, there’s an excellent online BSN completion program available through the University of South Dakota to prepare them for the online NP school application process.
Here is one possible path to become an NP in South Dakota:
STEP 1: Complete an Undergraduate Degree (2-4 years)
According to the South Dakota Board of Nursing, RN candidates in the state must have completed either an ADN or BSN program. The SD BoN provides a list of programs that have received Board approval on a full, interim, or probationary basis. Some of these programs have also achieved accreditation from one of two entities—the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)—which is typically a requirement for NP school applicants’ undergraduate degree. Accredited BSN programs involve clinical hours in various healthcare settings and feature courses such as anatomy & physiology; microbiology; statistics; pathophysiology; health promotion; and pharmacology.
STEP 2: South Dakota RN Licensure & Experience (1-2 years)
Once an aspiring NP has obtained an undergraduate degree, he or she must then take the steps necessary to achieve RN licensure in South Dakota. In general, this requires the submission of an application to the SD Board of Nursing to take the NCLEX-RN, the national certifying examination for registered nurses. Applicants are also asked to send the following:
Upon receiving licensure as an RN in South Dakota, the person should begin working in the field as soon as possible, as many graduate programs require applicants to possess at least one year of full-time experience as an RN, ideally in one’s intended NP specialization (discussed below).
STEP 3: Graduate Education (2-4+ years)
Pursuing a graduate degree is the third step in this process. As mentioned above, graduate students in nursing generally have two degree options: a master’s of science in nursing (MSN) or a doctor of nursing practice (DNP). The latter often allows the holder to work in the field of academia or management, while the former takes a significantly shorter amount of time. It’s worth adding that the DNP has been recommended as the preferred level of academic preparation for NPs since 2004 according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, and while it hasn’t been formally adopted as of December 2016, this may change in coming years.
At this stage, NP candidates generally choose one of six NP specializations, several of which have sub-specializations: adult-gerontology (primary or acute care), neonatal care, family health, pediatrics (primary or acute care), women’s health, and psychiatric-mental health. Much of the specialized coursework is completed at the MSN level, which also includes instruction in health promotion & disease prevention; nursing theory; advanced statistics; advanced health assessment; health across the lifespan; epidemiology; enhancement of the community & population health; and advanced pharmacotherapeutics, among others. DNP programs are more grounded in leadership and management preparation and have classes such as evidence-based practice; quality improvement & patient safety; healthcare economics & finance; health policy; and the legal & ethical environment in healthcare. In addition to coursework, MSN programs generally involve at least 500 practice hours, and DNP typically programs may have 1,000 or more.
The SD BoN also provides a list of approved graduate NP programs. Again, students at this stage are strongly encouraged to seek out CCNE- or ACEN-accredited NP programs; again, graduation from an approved program is a typical prerequisite for national certification and state licensure as an NP.
STEP 4: Achieve National NP Certification (up to 1 year)
The fourth step in this path involves achieving NP certification through one of several national organizations. The certifying institution will vary by one’s chosen specialization, and candidates must submit official transcripts from an accredited NP program; proof of RN licensure; an application fee; and passing scores on a comprehensive examination. Here are the main national credentialing organizations for NPs:
To discover the career path to a specific NP specialty (e.g., pediatrics, women’s health, psychiatric-mental health, etc.), please visit the online NP programs page.
STEP 5: Obtain State Licensure as a Nurse Practitioner (up to 1 year)
Finally, once an aspiring NP has obtained a graduate degree in the field of nursing and has received national certification, he or she must take the final step of obtaining licensure in the state of South Dakota. To become a state-certified nurse practitioner (CNP), an individual must submit an application to the SD BoN along with a fee ($100), results from a criminal background check, proof of RN licensure, official transcripts from an accredited NP program, and proof of national certification through one of the above entities. Upon receipt and approval of this application by the Board, the applicant is then considered licensed as an NP, and may begin working in this capacity right away. Please note that SD is a ‘reduced practice’ environment (AANP 2016), and can perform certain duties and medical functions only under the terms of a ‘Collaborative Agreement’ with a licensed SD physician. For more details, please visit the SD BoN page.
While application materials and admissions procedures vary by academic institution, there are some commonalities among online NP programs. Here is a list of typical prerequisites to be considered for enrollment:
As mentioned above, many online NP programs accept only those with a bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) with proof of having completed specific coursework (e.g., statistics, anatomy & physiology, lab courses). That said, a select few online NP programs accept applicants with an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor’s degree in another field and with a current RN license. These may be referred to as ‘bridge programs’ and ‘direct entry programs,’ respectively.
Many online MSN programs admit candidates with a GPA of 3.0 or higher, and for many online DNP programs, this jumps to 3.2. It’s worth noting that some online NP schools may relax this requirement if the candidate submits additional application materials such as a clinical portfolio or test scores (GRE or MAT). These requirements vary widely by program, and can usually be found on admissions websites.
Though not all schools will have the same admissions requirements, many call for a resume or CV with at least one year of nursing experience; a personal essay; letters of recommendation from employers or professors; and an application fee. Some schools may also ask aspiring NP students for proof of immunizations/health insurance, additional certifications (e.g., CPR), or test scores; additionally, the most competitive programs may require candidate interviews with faculty or staff, either in-person or online.
When searching for a graduate program in nursing, aspiring NPs are strongly advised to seek out NP programs accredited by the aforementioned Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Accreditation is a process which ensures a program has met baseline standards in areas such as student outcomes; curricula comprehensiveness; and program facilities, among other variables. As mentioned above, completing an approved program is a typical prerequisite for national NP certification. To learn about how NP programs are accredited, please visit the above websites.
At CCNE-accredited Mount Marty College of Yankton, students have the opportunity to pursue an online master’s of science in nursing (MSN) in the family nursing specialization; those who already possess an MSN can also enroll in a post-graduate certificate program in the same field. The latter option may be ideal for NPs seeking to change specializations or add a new certification. While much of the work can be completed entirely online, students are required to participate in two face-to-face seminars each semester; the program website states that many current students enroll in the program while still working in their field. Coursework includes units in advanced pathophysiology across the lifespan; advanced practice roles & leadership; and advanced concepts of care of older adults, among others. The MSN program takes six semesters to complete, and those who acquire their degree may be eligible to take certification examinations through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP).
The small class size of Mount Marty College and the low student-to-faculty ratio at the school are notable. Indeed, the total graduate nursing enrollment is only 27, which means that students will study in a small group of peers with direct access to their teachers. And the quality of instruction is highly regarded, as well; indeed, the nursing school was ranked among the top 220 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, unusually good for a school of this size.
Students at South Dakota State University in Brookings can choose from two online/onsite hybrid nurse practitioner programs: an MSN and a post-master’s certificate with a family nurse practitioner (FNP) specialization. While much of the coursework is delivered online, students are asked to visit the campus periodically throughout the duration of their studies. The blended MSN and post-master’s certificate programs have a family health focus, featuring courses such as foundations of advanced nursing; health promotion & disease prevention; health policy & legislation; cultural competence in healthcare; and more. Students are also required to participate in an internship and a clinical practicum during their later years of study. Applicants must possess an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 before they will be granted admission.
The university also offers several DNP programs with nurse practitioner tracks in partnership with the University of Missouri (KC and Columbia) across four NP specializations: family health, neonatal care, psychiatric-mental health, and pediatrics. These programs feature entire courses that are face-to-face, thus they require more campus visitation and are more accurately described as traditional onsite programs with some courses available via distance learning.
Lastly, while these two schools are the sole SD-based institutions with accredited online NP programs, there is an abundance of distance-based MSN, post-master’s certificate, and DNP programs across all specialties open to students residing in the Mount Rushmore State. Prior to enrolling in any online program, NP students are encouraged to check out the ‘state authorization’ status of the institution since local laws governing the delivery of online education differ. To discover the varied options and NP pathways, check out the main online nurse practitioner programs page.
Although some online graduate programs in nursing allow students to complete the entirety of the program without visiting the campus, this is not always the case. For example, students at South Dakota State University must visit the campus periodically throughout the course of their studies, whereas those at Mount Marty College are required to participate in two face-to-face seminars each semester. Because of the variance in required campus visits, aspiring NPs who are planning on applying to an online graduate program should thoroughly research their options to decide which type of program schedule is the best fit for their goals and schedules.
Throughout their studies, students in online graduate programs will be required to complete a specific number of preceptor hours before they will be awarded with a degree. Although this number is not always the same, a South Dakota Board of Nursing FAQ sheet asserts that this requirement is usually set around 500 hours, although it is determined by individual certifying and licensing bodies.
Finally, aspiring NPs in South Dakota should note that the state is considered a ‘reduced practice’ environment by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), which means that NPs cannot engage in specific elements of their practice as determined by state laws and regulations. Although this may not be the most important factor for those interested in pursuing a career in this field, it should be one consideration among many for aspiring NPs who intend on practicing within the state of South Dakota.