For working registered nurses (RN) in the Mountain State seeking seeking greater job responsibilities and increased professional autonomy, attending an online nurse practitioner school can help achieve these goals. Not only can earning a graduate degree in this high-growth field significantly advance one’s career prospects, but it can also translate into higher pay. By illustration, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2016) reported that the 960 nurse practitioners (NPs) in West Virginia (WV) made an average annual salary of $92,820, well above the mean salary of the 20,880 RNs in the state ($59,380). Furthermore, NPs in WV and beyond are expected to have a wealth of job opportunities on into the future. The BLS (Dec. 2016) predicted that there would be a 36 percent explosion in NP openings across the country between 2016 and 2026; Projections Central (Dec. 2016) projected that this rate would be a more modest 16.9 percent within WV in the same decade, but both figures are more than double the average growth anticipated across all American occupations during that time (7 percent). In short, NPs in WV may enjoy a lucrative and opportunity-rich career.
One of the many rewards of becoming an NP is the thriving community of workers in this industry. In fact, the West Virginia Nurses Association boasts a special Advanced Practice Nursing (APRN) Congress, a group offering education for nurses and patients; legislative advocacy at all levels of government (especially for making WV a ‘full practice’ environment); and scholarly research analyzing the impact of proposed legal changes, among other benefits. Speaking to the last point, the WV APRN Congress estimates that the state would enjoy an $864 million boost to its state GDP if NPs were allowed to practice at the full extent of their training and education, an issue discussed in the final section of this guide.
In WV, NPs must have at least a master of science in nursing (MSN) degree, a prerequisite for national certification and state APRN licensure. However, some nurses who wish to work in academia or healthcare facilities management may earn a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) instead, the terminal degree in the discipline. Regardless the credential achieved, there’s excellent news for working RNs who want to keep their jobs while attending a graduate program in nursing: there are various online NP programs in West Virginia and beyond. These distance-based schools typically combine e-coursework with on-site clinical trainings (i.e., practicums) completed at facilities close to students’ homes. These online NP programs can also be ideal for residents of more rural regions of the state who find it difficult to attend a traditional brick-and-mortar institution.
This guide examines the online NP programs in WV, in addition to how to join this high-growth career and achieve all necessary credentialing for practice in the state.
There are various pathways to becoming an NP in West Virginia, but all aspiring members of this high-paying profession typically have an undergraduate degree in nursing; an RN license; a specialized graduate degree; national NP certification; and APRN licensure through the state. Here is one possible route to become an NP in WV:
STEP 1: Complete an Undergraduate Degree (2-4 years)
The West Virginia Board of Examiners for Registered Professional Nurses reports that all RNs must complete a Board-approved nursing program or one accredited by either the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, Inc. (ACEN). At this stage, some RN candidates pursue a two-year associate degree (ADN), but for prospective NPs interested in online graduate programs, achieving a four-year bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) may be advised. A majority of online NP programs require candidates to have at least a BSN to qualify, although there are some ‘bridge’ and ‘direct entry’ distance-based programs available. These admit ADN-holders and those with non-nursing bachelor’s degrees, respectively. BSN programs feature courses such as human physiology; microbiology; pathophysiology; health assessment & promotion; statistics; human anatomy; pharmacology; and several laboratory courses.
STEP 2: Obtain RN Licensure & Nursing Experience (1-2 years)
After graduating from an approved program, an aspiring NP must pass the NCLEX-RN examination to become an RN. This requires an application to the West Virginia Board of Examiners for Registered Professional Nurses, including the submission of the following:
After achieving RN licensure in WV, it’s advisable to complete at least one year of work experience prior to applying to a graduate-level program. This will be ideally in an NP candidate’s preferred specialty (e.g., adult-gerontology, women’s health, family care, etc).
STEP 3: Complete a Graduate Nursing Education (2-4+ years)
Upon completing an undergraduate degree and obtaining at least one year of experience as an RN, an individual may then pursue a graduate degree in nursing in order to be eligible for certification as a nurse practitioner. As mentioned above, there are two main graduate degrees available to NPs: a master of science in nursing (MSN) or a doctor of nursing practice (DNP). At the master’s level, students may choose to focus on one of six different specializations: pediatrics (primary or acute care), adult-gerontology (primary or acute care), neonatal care, women’s health, family care, or psychiatric-mental health. MSN programs generally involve practice-specific coursework as well as units in health promotion & disease prevention; advanced pharmacology; advanced health assessment; nursing informatics; and population health, among others. By comparison, much of the DNP coursework is focused on leadership and management, involving instruction in areas such as epidemiology & social determinants of population health; organizational leadership; and clinical decision-making. Both types of degree programs may also include a capstone course, where students complete an original scholarly research project. As with undergraduate programs, NP students are strongly encouraged to focus on programs that have received accreditation through either the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, Inc. (ACEN).
STEP 4: Achieve National NP Certification (up to 1 year)
Following graduation from an NP program, these healthcare professionals must achieve credentialing through one of the national certification organizations. To qualify, candidates need to show proof of graduation from an accredited NP program and pass a comprehensive examination, among other requirements. The certifying entity varies by one’s chosen NP specialization, and include the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP); the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC); the National Certification Corporation (NCC); the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB); and the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN).
STEP 5: Obtain Licensure as a Nurse Practitioner (up to 1 year)
Finally, once an individual has a graduate degree in nursing and national NP certification, he or she must apply online for state APRN licensure through the West Virginia Board of Examiners for Registered Professional Nurses. In addition to sending official transcripts from a qualifying NP program and proof of national certification, APRN candidates in WV must also submit an application fee, proof of RN licensure, and personal information, including whether the candidate has ever been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor.
Although admissions requirements vary by institution, the general prerequisites for most distance-based NP programs include:
As mentioned above, a common prerequisite for online graduate nursing programs is a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN), usually with proof of specific coursework (e.g., statistics, anatomy, physiology, etc). Other pathways exist for applicants without a BSN; for example, Wheeling Jesuit University offers a BA/BS-to-BSN program, as well as an RN-to-BSN/MSN program for those outside of the field of nursing. Aspiring NPs should note, however, that a majority of these ‘bridge’ or ‘direct entry’ programs are offered exclusively on-campus, or have only a few courses offered online.
The MSN programs at West Virginia University prefer candidates with a 3.0 GPA or higher, and many DNP programs ask for at least a 3.2. That said, some programs accept candidates just below the preferred GPA pending the submission of additional materials such as a clinical practice portfolio or test scores. Also, most programs don’t require the GRE or MAT, but there are exceptions such as the Wheeling Jesuit University, which asks for candidates with at least a score of 286 (two sections of the GRE) or 400 (MAT). Additionally, candidates whose first language isn’t English should also be prepared to submit TOEFL scores.
Along with sending in proof of GPA, test scores, and an undergraduate degree, applicants typically must submit a copy of an active RN license; a personal statement (500-600 words); a resume/CV; a verification of clinical practice form; letters of recommendation from professors or supervisors; proof of health insurance and/or immunizations; and an application fee. In some cases, students may also be asked to interview with members of the admissions committee either in person or through video-chat software.
The West Virginia Board of Examiners for Registered Professional Nurses provides a list of state-approved nursing programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels, two of which offer online graduate degrees in nursing. Those interested in pursuing a career as a nurse practitioner should highly consider applying to one of the programs on this list, or ones accredited by either the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, Inc. (ACEN). The accreditation organizations weigh several factors in their program-approval process, including how thorough the curriculum is; the quality of facilities or faculty; and student outcomes, among other criteria. For a full breakdown of how NP programs are approved, please visit the accreditation entity websites.
Dr. Bischof is an associate professor of nursing at Wheeling Jesuit University. Notably, she serves as the director of the MSN Education Specialist and Nursing Administration tracks, as well as the level coordinator of the RN-to-BSN program. She has been awarded three prominent research grants, including one from the Jefferson County Youth Advisory Committee for ‘A program designed to measure the effectiveness of specific over-the-counter medications,’ and another from the Duquesne University Center for her work in ‘Factors Influencing the Daily Lives of Working Women Who Are Poor and Uninsured.’ She has many publications to her credit, including a 2014 piece titled ‘Advancing Nurse Practitioner Preceptor and Student Engagement in Evidence-Based Practice at the Point of Care.’
Dr. K. Joy Buck is not only a prominent WVU professor, she was also the founder and principal investigator of ‘Bridges to Healthy Transitions,’ a community-based research initiative housed within the WVU School of Nursing (Eastern Division). She is the recipient of several awards and honors, including the 2012 ‘Outstanding Public Citizen of the Year’ award from the WV Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers; the 2012 ‘Outstanding Research Abstract’ award from the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association; and the 2012 ‘Excellence in Research and Scholarship’ award from the WVU School of Nursing.
There are only two institutions in West Virginia that offer students the opportunity to pursue an online graduate degree in nursing, both of which hold approval from the West Virginia Board of Examiners for Registered Professional Nurses and the CCNE.
West Virginia University has campuses in Morgantown and Charleston, providing online master of science in nursing (MSN) degrees and post-master’s certificates in four NP specializations: women’s health, family care, pediatrics, and neonatal nursing. Students in these 44-credit (MSN-level) programs take courses such as culture & health; leadership in healthcare; healthcare informatics; theory & disciplined reasoning; and lifespan health promotion, among others. Students must also complete two five-credit hour practicum courses over separate semesters, and may be required to visit the campus periodically throughout the course of their studies. Additionally, WVU has an online doctor of nursing practice (DNP) program in the family health and pediatrics specializations. Classes include health policy & resource management; organization & leadership; and nursing science theory & philosophy, among others. While many of the courses are offered online, DNP students may have to attend one of the campuses for advanced assessment workshops or proficiency exams throughout their studies. Conveniently, students in both the master’s and doctoral programs are given advance notice of all required campus visits. WVU’s nursing programs cost $602 per credit hour for residents and $1,393 for non-residents (2016-17 school year).
Wheeling Jesuit University provides an online MSN program in the family health specialization with coursework in nursing research; healthcare delivery systems & economics; pathophysiology; health assessment; pharmacology; and health promotion, among others. Limited campus visits may be required, and this program costs $665 per credit hour (2016-17). Additional fees may apply.
Please note that West Virginia Wesleyan University of Buckhannon also offers some NP coursework online for its MSN and post-master’s certificate programs in psychiatric-mental health and family health. That said, these programs require substantially more campus visitation and therefore are considered ‘hybrid.’ Other WV institutions such as Marshall University also offer online MSN programs, but only in education and administration (not practice).
Lastly, West Virginia-based NP students may qualify for online programs based in other US states. Prior to applying, all NP students are advised to verify the ‘state authorization’ status of all institutions of interest; due to the varying local legislation governing the delivery and provision of online education, it’s crucial to ensure that there’s not a mismatch between one’s state of residence and where an online program is located. To discover the range of accredited web-based NP programs and specializations available, please visit the online nurse practitioner schools page.
Aspiring NPs are not required to complete any specific number of preceptorship hours to be eligible for APRN licensure in the state. That said, national NP certification organizations typically require candidates to have at least 500 clinical hours in their chosen specialization.
Finally, as mentioned in the introduction, West Virginia is considered a ‘reduced practice’ state (American Association of Nurse Practitioners); this means that state practice and licensure law reduces the ability of NPs to engage in at least one element of practice. In other words, state law requires a regulated collaborative agreement with an outside health discipline in order for the NP to provide patient care, limiting the scope of one or more elements of practice. However, as groups such as WV’s APRN Congress promote a ‘full practice’ model—one which could potentially save the state millions of dollars on into the future—these regulations may evolve in coming years.