For healthcare professionals in Utah (UT) seeking new opportunities in a high-growth and high-paying career, becoming a nurse practitioner (NP) can prove an excellent option. First, there’s expected to be an explosion in job opportunities for NPs nationwide, particularly in UT; the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2016) anticipated a 36 percent increase in openings in this field around the country between 2016 and 2026, much higher than the average growth projected across all occupations during that time period (7 percent). The prospects look even brighter in the Beehive State. By illustration, Projections Central (2016)—an organization which leverages BLS data and state security agency employment data to create individual growth estimates for jobs in specific states—reported that there’s expected to be a 46 percent jump in NP openings across Utah between 2014 and 2024, significantly higher than the national growth figure. With the expected addition of 710 fresh openings in this field, there is expected to be a wealth of opportunities for Utah NPs on into the future.
Second, NPs in Utah command relatively generous salaries. As proof of point, the BLS (May 2016) found that the 1,390 working NPs in the state had an average annual salary of $102,070, more than double the average salary of all people employed in the state ($45,490).
So how does a person join this rapidly growing and lucrative career? In Utah and elsewhere, NPs typically must have at least a master of science in nursing (MSN) degree from an accredited institution, although some NPs hold post-master’s certificates or doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degrees (the terminal academic credential in the discipline). While an MSN is currently the minimum degree to qualify for NP certification and advanced practice (APRN) licensure with the Utah Division of Occupational & Professional Licensing, the DNP is gradually being adopted as the preferred level of NP preparation, particularly for those interested in leadership positions.
Whether pursuing an MSN or DNP, NPs typically choose one of six specializations within the discipline: adult-gerontology (primary or acute care), pediatrics (primary or acute care), women’s health, psychiatric-mental health, neonatal care, and family health. In an NP program, coursework includes training in advanced pathophysiology; health assessment; pharmacotherapeutics; health promotion & disease prevention; and population health. Online NP programs in Utah and elsewhere provide an alternative to campus-based education, giving nurses even more opportunities and flexibility to advance their education.
This guide serves as a resource for aspiring nurse practitioners, examining how to become an NP as well as the variety of online NP programs in UT and how to achieve all necessary credentialing in the state.
There are various pathways to become an NP in Utah. Some of these healthcare professionals attend an associate degree program and work as an RN for several years prior to pursuing a graduate credential. For those interested in online NP programs, however, it may be advisable to pursue a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree instead, the typical entry-level academic degree to qualify for a distance-based NP program. Here is one possible pathway to joining this high-growth career:
STEP 1: Undergraduate Education (2 – 4 years)
As mentioned above, at this stage it is advisable to complete a bachelor’s of science (BSN) degree from an accredited program. The two main accreditation agencies are the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), discussed at length in the ‘accreditation’ section below. These four-year degrees include classes such as chemistry for the health professions; anatomy & physiology; statistics; and introduction to genetics, among others. BSN programs not only prepare nursing students to sit for the NCLEX—the national credentialing exam for registered nurses (RNs)—but also fulfill many of the prerequisites for an online MSN degree program. That said, there are a few ‘bridge’ programs which allow a person with an associate degree in nursing (ADN) to complete an MSN in three-to-four years of full-time study, but there are limited distance-based options for this pathway. One exception is Frontier Nursing University (FNU) of Hayden, KY, which provides online ADN-to-MSN and ADN-to-DNP programs with minimal campus visits required.
STEP 2: RN Licensure (1 – 2 years)
As of February 2018, the Utah Division of Occupational & Professional Licensing still requires a paper application for RN licensure in the state. Other requirements for this application include:
Additionally, since many online NP programs require applicants to have at least one year of nursing experience, it is wise at this stage to secure RN employment prior to applying to graduate nursing programs.
STEP 3: Post-Graduate Education (2 – 4 years)
Online MSN degrees, post-master’s certificates, and doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degrees are available for aspiring NPs in Utah. Post-BSN master’s programs generally require students to choose one of the six aforementioned specializations (e.g., women’s health, pediatrics, adult-gerontology, etc.) and feature classes such as health promotion & disease prevention; evidence-based practice; and a research capstone. Post-master’s certificates generally have similar courses to MSN programs, and are ideal for NPs seeking to add a new specialty or change foci. Post-MSN doctoral programs generally share leadership-focused courses such as quantitative methods for evaluating healthcare; health systems transformation; and healthcare policy & advocacy.
STEP 4: Obtain Nurse Practitioner Certification (Less than 1 year)
After graduating from an MSN or DNP program, NPs typically apply for national certification in their specialty of choice. This process involves sending in one’s official transcripts, showing proof of several hundred clinical hours in one’s NP subfield, and passing a comprehensive examination. The organizations which award specialized national credentialing for NPs include: the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN), and the National Certification Corporation (NCC).
STEP 5: Obtain Nurse Practitioner License (Less than 1 year)
To apply for NP licensure through the Utah Division of Occupational & Professional Licensing, candidates must submit:
There is also an APRN intern license which requires a $35 processing fee. Details about renewal for licensing can be found on the Utah Division of Occupational & Professional Licensing website. Lastly, there is one main professional group for NPs in the state: the Utah Nurse Practitioner Association, which supports people in this profession with continuing education (CE) events, legislative advocacy, research, scholarships, and other resources.
While the application process and prerequisites for NP programs vary by institution, there are some commonalities. Here are some typical qualifications for an online NP program in UT:
Some NP programs require an application to both the graduate school as well as to the nursing school. Application fees are generally required, and there may be restrictions based on a student’s state of residence. Usually referred to at the ‘state authorization’ status of a school, this concerns state laws which may affect the ability of a student to enroll in a program located in another state. All distance-based NP students are strongly advised to verify the state authorization status of their online programs prior to enrollment.
Many MSN programs require a minimum 3.0 GPA in undergraduate studies or in nursing classes. Some students with lower or borderline GPAs could be considered for admission on a probational basis or pending the submission of additional materials such as a practice portfolio. The criteria for admission into a DNP program is even more rigorous at some schools. This is true at the University of Utah, which requires a 3.2 GPA for applicants seeking admission into its adult-gerontology (primary care), psychiatric-mental health, and other online NP programs. Some schools may require GRE or MAT scores, and for students whose first language isn’t English, the submission of TOEFL scores may be required as well.
Other common application materials include a resume/CV showing at least one year of nursing experience, a copy of one’s RN license, official undergraduate transcripts with proof of specific coursework (e.g., statistics), and a personal statement (500-600 words). Some schools also ask for letters of recommendation, and at the University of Utah, an interview is required for those seeking admission into DNP program.
Accreditation is important for multiple reasons. First, it shows that a school’s nursing programs have been assessed by an outside agency and found to be of appropriate rigor in areas such as curriculum, student outcomes, and the quality of program facilities. Additionally, graduation from an accredited program is usually necessary to qualify for national certification and state licensing examinations.
The two main commissions providing accreditation are the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN), formerly the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC), and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). The ACEN accredits programs from the diploma level up to clinical doctorates, while the CCNE accredits nursing programs from the bachelor’s level through advanced degrees.
Accreditation information typically can be found on a school’s nursing program page or website. The Utah-based DNP nursing programs at the University of Utah, for instance, are accredited through the CCNE.
Dr. Katherine Ward is the director of the women’s health NP program at the University of Utah. She received her doctorate, MSN, and BSN from the university, and also holds a PhD in biological anthropology from the school. She is nationally certified in women’s health and serves as an associate professor at the school. She has received several awards and recognitions, including ‘Outstanding Doctor of Nursing Practice’ from the University of Utah in 2010.
Valerie Flattes is an assistant professor in the college of nursing at the University of Utah. She earned her MSN and BSN from the school, and received the 2012 State Award for Excellence in Research from the Utah Nurse Practitioners in 2012. She joined the University in 2001 and is a current PhD candidate, practicing as an adult NP since 2003. She has been a member of the Utah Nurse Practitioners (UNP) since 2003 and has many other affiliations, including with the Gerontological Society of America, the Golden Key Society, and the American Association of Nurse Practitioners.
There are three schools in Utah that offer online or hybrid NP programs: the University of Utah (Salt Lake City), Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions (Provo), and a new hybrid NP program from Weber State University (Ogden). For more alternatives based in other states, interested students are encouraged to check out the online NP programs page.
This Salt Lake City-based school offers numerous NP specialty tracks at the doctor of nursing practice (DNP) level, some which may be completed entirely online and others which offer online learning for some courses, but not for the entire program. Open to BSN-prepared candidates, there are seven specialty areas available, but just five of these—family health (FNP), psychiatric-mental health (PMHNP), adult-gerontology primary care (AGNP-PC), neonatal care (NNP), and women's health (WHNP)—are available through distance learning, and only for students who live more than 60 miles away from campus in the ‘Intermountain West.’ These DNP programs require three years of full-time study, 1,000+ clinical practice hours at approved preceptor sites, and roughly two campus visits per semester. Coursework in these DNP programs includes classes in evidence-based practice; introduction to epidemiology & population science; and leadership & advocacy, among other track-specific courses. Finally, since tuition and fees depend on various factors, interested applicants are encouraged to check out the University of Utah’s tuition calculator to get an estimate of projected program costs.
Potential applicants should note that the nursing school at the University of Utah is known as one of the best in the region. Indeed, both the MSN and DNP were ranked among the top 35 in the country in 2018 by U.S. News & World Report; in addition, the midwifery program actually broke into the top 10 in the 2017 rankings.
This Provo-based school provides a ‘blended’ (i.e., onsite and online) DNP program with various on-campus visits required. Open to post-BSN applicants in the FNP subfield and post-MSN applicants, this program includes instruction in theoretical foundations & scholarly inquiry; quality improvement in healthcare; and a scholarly project. These programs cost $799 per credit hour.
Again, for a detailed examination of the distance-based NP program available and specializations, please visit the online nurse practitioner programs page.
Some schools offer programs entirely online, while others require occasional campus visits to allow for networking between staff and other cohort members and to gain valuable, hands-on skills. The University of Utah, for example, offers multiple distance-based NP programs. However, this option is only available to those living in the ‘Intermountain West’ region and 60 miles or more away from campus. The university uses both synchronous and asynchronous coursework, but also requires on-campus visits, typically two on-site visits per semester. These can be for orientations, intensives, exams, or to defend a thesis or academic project. The Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions provides a list of required on-site dates for its hybrid DNP program in its curriculum outline.
Bradley University and Maryville University, by contrast, do not require campus visits. In fact, on its website, Bradley University reports that its learning is 100 percent online and requires no campus residency. Students can choose their preceptor sites and complete clinical trainings locally. Maryville University touts its online education as being flexible and offering a ‘convenient 24/7’ distance learning model with six convenient program start dates throughout the year.
To become licensed as an advanced practice nurse (APRN) in Utah, candidates must apply through the aforementioned Utah Division of Occupational & Professional Licensing. Details are outlined on the Utah Administrative Code page, where it’s stated that aspiring psychiatric-mental health NPs, for instance, need 4,000 clinical hours with 3,000 of these hours completed after passing a national certification exam. Before enrolling in any school—either the ones mentioned here or elsewhere—students are advised to understand the guidelines for completing clinical practice. Utah also has specific rules for students enrolled in an NP school out of state. Please reference the ‘Standards for Out-of-State Programs Providing Clinical Experiences in Utah’ for more information.
Lastly, in Utah, NPs practice under a ‘reduced practice’ authority, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). This is neither as binding as the ‘restrictive practice’ environment in some states nor as autonomous as the ‘full practice’ available in others. According to the AANP, ‘reduced’ authority means that state law necessitates NPs to have a regulated collaborative agreement with an outside health discipline to be able to provide care or that there be a limit to the setting or scope of their NP practice. However, NPs in UT can prescribe medication, as long as they apply for the Utah Controlled Substance license while applying for APRN licensing. Please note that this does require completing a take-home examination and submitting an additional fee.