Pursuing a career as a nurse practitioner in Tennessee is an excellent choice for registered nurses (RNs) who wish to achieve a higher level of expertise and adopt greater responsibilities in their practice. Nurse practitioners provide critical care to patients in a variety of settings, specializing in NP subfields such as adult-gerontology, women’s health, family care, pediatrics, or psychiatric-mental health.
Although a master of science in nursing (MSN) is the minimum academic credential to qualify for most national NP certifications, a growing number of students are opting for the terminal degree in the discipline: the doctor of nursing practice (DNP). This degree is especially relevant to Tennessee NPs who are seeking management roles or professorships, and it may set a person up for higher earning potential as well.
While many individuals choose the traditional path of attending on-campus NP programs, others are discovering the efficiency and flexibility of online degrees. Distance-based NP programs are becoming increasingly common and standardized, and they can be a convenient option for students living in more rural regions of the state. For Tennessee residents interested in becoming NPs, this guide examines the steps necessary to become a nurse practitioner, including an an overview of accredited online NP programs, professors, and credentialing in the state.
The pathway to becoming an NP in Tennessee varies by subfield, degree program, and other factors. Here is one possible route to joining this rewarding field.
In order to become a nurse practitioner in Tennessee, a person must first obtain his or her undergraduate degree. This process takes between two and four years, depending on the degree desired. Associate degrees in nursing (ADNs) generally require two years of continuous study, whereas bachelor’s degrees in nursing (BSN) take four years. Aspiring NPs are advised to seek out programs approved by the Tennessee Board of Nursing in order to sit for the NCLEX-RN or the State Board Test Pool Examination (SBTPE) to obtain RN licensure.
Upon graduation from an approved undergraduate program, an individual must then sit for the NCLEX-RN or the SBTPE in order to be granted state licensure as a registered nurse (RN). Prospective RNs must apply for approval through the state Tennessee Board of Nursing (BON), a process that requires the following information:
Please note that Tennessee belongs to a multistate nursing compact. As of August 2016, there were 23 states covered in the Nurse Licensure Compact Law, which grants reciprocal RN practice privileges across state lines as long as multistate licensure conditions are met. Contact the TN BON for details.
Finally, to qualify for a graduate NP program, RNs typically garner at least one year of experience, preferably in their intended area of expertise (e.g., family care, pediatrics, women’s health, etc).
After at least one year of experience as an RN, aspiring NPs in TN typically pursue a graduate degree in nursing to ensure eligibility for national certification. Two typical degrees are the master of science in nursing (MSN) and the doctor of nursing practice (DNP). At the master’s level, NPs typically specialize in one of six recognized subfields which deal with specific populations: adult-gerontology (acute or primary care), pediatrics (acute or primary care), neonates, family care, psychiatric-mental health, or women’s health. The The American Psychiatric Nurses Association reports that there are four categories of advanced practice nurses (APNs) in the state, including NPs. An APN is defined as “a Tennessee licensed registered nurse who has a master’s degree or higher in a nursing specialty and has national specialty certification as a nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife, or clinical nurse specialist.” The Tennessee BON provides a list of approved nursing schools from which an individual may choose to obtain his or her graduate degree. Students are encouraged to seek out programs accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, Inc. (ACEN).
Depending on one’s NP specialization, there are several national certifications available through organizations such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), and the National Certification Corporation (NCC). To learn in-depth about this step, please visit the how to become an NP page.
Lastly, upon receipt of a graduate degree in nursing and fulfillment of national certification requirements, an individual may submit a notarized application to the Tennessee BON for NP state licensure. This requires the submission of an official transcript of graduate studies, a completed Declaration of Citizenship form, a Mandatory Practitioner Profile Questionnaire, proof of national NP certification, and a fee of $210.
While admissions processes vary, a majority of online NP programs in Tennessee call for the following:
Many online graduate NP programs call for candidates to have completed a BSN and prerequisite coursework (e.g., statistics), although there are exceptions. For example, there are online RN-to-MSN “bridge” programs such as the one at Austin Peay State University, which is open to RNs with non-nursing bachelor’s degrees. Please note that bridge programs typically take longer than traditional online MSN or DNP pathways and may involve more on-campus requirements.
It’s no surprise that online NP programs prefer candidates with competitive GPAs.Middle Tennessee State University, for instance, calls for applicants with an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or above. Other online NP schools such as East Tennessee State University call for GRE scores from applicants with GPAs less than 3.2.
In addition to submitting proof of an undergraduate degree, GPA, and test scores, applicants may be asked for the following: copy of unencumbered RN license, a personal statement, a curriculum vitae or resume, verification of a clinical practice form, letters of recommendation from healthcare professors or professionals who can attest to an applicant’s abilities, and an application fee. Finally, some online NP programs also require candidate interviews (on-campus or video).
The Tennessee Board of Nursing provides a full list of approved nursing programs, many of which are in the state of Tennessee, and a number of which offer online graduate programs. An aspiring advanced practice registered nurse is advised to ensure their choice institution is present on this list before enrolling, as obtaining a degree from a program not on this list could result in the applicant remaining ineligible for eventual licensure.
Lastly, most credentialing bodies which provide national NP certification call for candidates to have completed graduate NP programs accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, Inc. (ACEN). Prospective NPs are encouraged to keep this in mind while evaluating online program options.
Anne W. Alexandrov is a professor at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, where her research focuses on intracranial blood flow augmentation in acute stroke. She has received a host of honors throughout her career, including the 2013 American Association of Critical-Care Nurses’ Flame of Excellence Award for her work in understanding acute strokes.
There are several schools which offer online NP programs in Tennessee. Four of the following five universities belong to the Tennessee Board of Regents system — an association of colleges which jointly offer online programs—and there’s an abundance of educational opportunities at all degree levels, particularly in the family NP subfield.
Students at Austin Peay State University may pursue a master of science in nursing (MSN), which requires a total of 46 credit hours to complete. This family nurse practitioner program is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN), featuring courses such as advanced health assessment, pharmacology, and pathophysiology. Please note that this FNP program also available as a post-master’s certificate or an RN-to-MSN “bridge” program, although the latter pathway may have additional on-campus requirements. Austin Peay’s FNP master’s degree has received accreditation through fall 2019 from the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).
East Tennessee State University offers and abundance of fully online and "mostly online" nurse practitioner programs. To start, the university offers a fully online MSN and post-master's certificate with two different NP tracks: psychiatric mental-health nurse practitioner and family nurse practitioner. In addition, the school offers "mostly online" DNP and post-DNP certificates with three separate tracks: adult-gerontology primary care NP, family NP, and psychiatric mental health NP. The DNP programs accept registered nurses holding either a BSN or MSN degree.
All of the "mostly online" programs require students to visit campus once per semester for intensives. Those who enroll in the BSN to DNP program will thus need to visit campus 8-14 times throughout the program (8 for full-time students, 14 for part-time), while MSN to DNP students will need to visit 4-7 times.
ETSU also teamed up with Tennessee Tech to offer joint DNP programs in three additional specialization areas: adult-gerontology acute care, pediatric primary care, and women's health. Like ETSU's own programs, these joint programs require one campus visit per semester for intensives, and are open to registered nurses holding either a BSN or MSN degree.
MTSU allows students to pursue either a post-master’s certificate or a master of science in nursing (MSN), both with a family nurse practitioner specialization, entirely online. Please note that to qualify, candidates must be RNs living in Tennessee.
The university proudly claims that it is the number one producer of graduates for the Greater Nashville economy, and it is also the number one choice for the state’s adult learners. In addition, the school retains affiliations with a number of collaborating organizations, including the National League for Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International, and others.
This school has an online MSN program in the FNP subfield, a program which is also offered as a post-master’s certificate. Coursework includes healthcare policy, advanced nursing research, and advanced pharmacology, as well as three FNP clinical courses and a residency. Students will visit the campus about 10 times over the course of their studies, so while the program is mostly online, it does follow a hybrid format.
This school’s online DNP program is offered across several NP specialties: adult-gerontology (acute care), family nursing, psychiatric mental health, pediatrics (primary care or acute care), and neonatal nursing. Students also have the option to pursue a dual specialty: AGNP-AC/FNP or PMHNP/FNP.
Although the number of credits and clinical hours vary based on a student’s prior accomplishments, the post-BSN pathways feature 1,140 clinical hours and 62 credits of classes. The Health Sciences Center also provides a post-master’s certificate program in the AGNP-AC specialty.
The university's DNP programs are hybrid in nature, requiring 4 campus visits in the first semester, and then another 1-2 visits per semester after that, with certain specializations like PMHNP requiring additional campus visits in the final semester.
The University of Tennessee Health Science Center routinely ranks highly in the field of nursing programs. Indeed, the school’s nurse anesthesia program was ranked among the top 50 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report in 2018.
Campus visitation requirements for each online program depends on the institution and students should familiarize themselves with the on-site requirements before applying or enrolling. For example, DNP candidates at the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center are required to be on campus for three weeklong visits annually. Contact program coordinators for details about on-campus requirements in online or hybrid NP programs.
Aspiring advanced practice nurses in the state of Tennessee should be aware that the state’s BON does not require a number of preceptorship hours in order to pursue licensure, which is a departure from the process in many other states. Many other states require preceptorship hours in order to obtain state licensure or to be awarded prescriptive authority.
That said, the national NP certification bodies do typically require candidates to have at least 500 clinical hours in their area of expertise. Organizations which offer national NP credentialing vary by subfield, and include the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN), the National Certification Corporation (NCC), and the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB). Please check individual sites for certification prerequisites, or discover how to join each NP specialty through the detailed how to become a nurse practitioner guide.
Finally, aspiring nurse practitioners should also note that Tennessee is a “restricted practice” state; this means that state practice and licensure law restricts the ability of a nurse practitioner to engage in at least one element of NP practice. The as determined by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) reports that the “state requires supervision, delegation, or team-management by an outside health discipline in order for the NP to provide patient care.”