What Are Nurse Practitioners?
Nurse practitioners are registered nurses with graduate degrees in advanced practice nursing. Depending on the state they work in, they may be able to provide a wide range of health care services without the direct supervision of a physician, including performing physical exams, ordering lab tests and procedures, diagnosing and treating diseases, writing prescriptions, educating patients about healthcare and performing certain procedures. For more information, see our page on nurse practitioners careers.
Nurse Practitioner Program Information
Many universities offer either traditional on-campus programs for nurse practitioners or hybrid programs, which combine online instruction and in-person clinical training. Even programs that deliver instruction primarily online typically require clinical rotations that must be completed at the school or an approved offsite location. The clinical component of a nurse practitioner program gives students the opportunity to gain experience working directly with patients and exercising the skills they have acquired in the classroom.
Most nurse practitioner programs have a specific focus, such as family practice, pediatrics or primary care, but many offer a core curriculum that provides a similar overview of advanced nursing practice and its applications various healthcare settings. The remaining component of the curriculum provides more specialized instruction tailored to the program's focus.
While researching nurse practitioner schools and programs, students should make sure they are approved by the board of nursing in the state in which they want to practice, as this is a vital part of gaining licensure.
Nurse Practitioner Program Types
Nurse practitioner programs are available at the graduate level and typically require students to already have their RN license, though there are bridge programs designed for individuals without no background in nursing. Degree options include:
- Master of Science in Nursing (MSN): MSN degrees represent the baseline entry into nurse practitioner careers. In addition to the standard MSN programs, there are also Registered Nurse to MSN (RN-MSN) and Bachelor of Science to MSN (BS-MSN) bridge programs for students without a bachelor's in nursing. Full-time students in MSN programs can generally complete there degree typically in as little as two years, while bridge programs tend to take longer.
- Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP): A DNP degree is a terminal nursing degree, and may take as little as one or two years for those with a master's. Students are expected to have work experience as a registered nurse before entering a DNP program. Unlike a Ph.D., which is more research-focused, a DNP program focuses on training students for a hands-on care, only armed with more advanced knowledge and skills than those with master's degrees.
Both MSN and DNP degree programs can help prepare students for state licensure and professional certification. Professional certification is usually given for a specific field and can be granted by a number of organizations, such as the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board and the American Nurses Association. State licensing requirements and the scope of practice for nurse practitioners vary by state, so students should investigate their state's requirements and prepare accordingly.
Nurse Practitioner Course Descriptions
Nurse practitioners generally specialize in a particular area, so the course content of nurse practitioner programs can vary greatly according to the student's chosen focus. However, certain general nurse practitioner courses may appear as part of the core curriculum, including:
- Advanced Health Assessment: This course helps prepare students for taking patients' histories, performing physical and psychosocial assessments, and interpreting and documenting findings.
- Foundations of Health Systems and Policy: This course helps student understand the current healthcare system, as well as the process of making health policy.
- Advanced Concepts of Pharmacology: This course helps students understand the pharmacologic concepts, including receptor theory, dose-response relationships, and mechanisms of action of certain classes of drugs. The course helps prepare students adapt to new pharmaceuticals that may emerge in the marketplace.
- Health Care Ethics: This course gives students the opportunity to examine the ethical issues involved in clinical medicine, including those related to euthanasia, abortion, reproductive issues, treatment of infants and children and genetics.
Nurse Practitioner Specialties
There are many specialty tracks within nurse administrator programs, including:
- Family Practice
- Women's Health
Related Career Options
Those interested in becoming a nurse practitioner may also be interested in the following careers:
- Registered Nurse: Work alongside doctors to provide patient care, perform diagnostic tests, educate patients about healthcare issues and teach them to manage illnesses.
- Physician Assistant: Practice medicine under supervision of physicians or surgeons, including performing examinations, making diagnoses and offering treatment.
- Diagnostic Medical Sonographer: Assess and diagnose patients using ultrasound technology.
These and other career fields have their own education, training and licensing requirements.
Links to Sources and Associations
The following websites can provide more information about nurse practitioners:
Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing: http://acenursing.org/
American Association of Colleges of Nursing http://www.aacn.nche.edu/
American Association of Nurse Practitioners, http://www.aanp.org
National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners, http://www.napnap.org
National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women's Health, http://www.npwh.org
Registered Nurses, Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Healthcare/Registered-nurses.htm
The National Institute of Health/ National Library of Medicine Nurse Practitioner Information Page, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001934.htm