Nurse practitioner


Accredited online nurse practitioner programs help registered nurses (RNs) prepare for advanced nursing (APRN) roles. Becoming a nurse practitioner (NP) often widens career prospects and improves salary potential. Through your studies, you may gain expertise as well as the ability to lead and collaborate.


Nurse practitioners may conduct research, teach staff, or provide consultation services. Many choose to work with specific groups such as adult and geriatric health, pediatric health, or psychiatric and mental health.


Also, as a nurse practitioner you may experience a decent boost in salary. Just to give you an idea of potential earnings, in 2017 the average annual salary for APRNs was $110,930. This was higher than the average annual salaries for RNs which was $70,000. That’s $40,930 higher.


It can also bring more autonomy in a medical setting and the freedom to choose a nursing niche. One example is Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP). FNPs often work in a cooperative practice with physicians and other providers. Becoming an FNP means you may fulfill a complementary role to the traditional medical care doctors provide.

Are nurse practitioners doctors? No, but NPs may diagnose and treat illness as part of a health team or on their own. Many promote wellness and disease prevention. Like doctors, they can order, perform or interpret lab work, x rays and more. Some NPs also prescribe medication. In other words, NPs take a more active role in patient care than registered nurses.

What credentials are needed for a nurse practitioner? A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is the entry degree rule for becoming a nurse practitioner. It is also currently the most common degree program in the field. Though some experts note that in the future all NPs may have to earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree.iii Apart from the degree, you’ll need to pass a national certification exam to earn a second license.iv


On the practical side, now is the perfect time to become a nurse practitioner. You’ll be building some in-demand skills. Because of an aging population, changes in health care and other factors, there’s a huge need for APRNs. In fact, overall employment growth for NPs and FNPs is 31 percent. That’s much faster than average.

Online NP Program SpecializationProgram DescriptionPerquisite Degree
MSN – Family Nurse Practitioner Primary Care PopulationStudy primary care for the management of acute and chronic health problems of both adult and pediatric patientsBSN/RN license
Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGNP)Certificate programPrimary care AGNPs focus their practice on clients 13 years of age and older. Students in this program will be proficient in care of older adults and internal medicineMSN, RN license
MSN – DNP LeaderFocus on the basics of personnel management, policy development and implementation, budgeting, and the use of information technology in advanced nursing roles. Students earn a Master’s and DoctorateBSN/RN license
DNP – Doctor of Nursing PracticeReadies advanced practice registered nurses as clinical expertsBSN and or MSN/RN license
Family Nurse Practitioner Primary Care CertificateThis program allows RNs to meld current nursing skills with training in the safe, effective practice of primary care for the supervision of acute and chronic health problems of both adult and pediatric patients.MSN/RN license
MSN – DNP Family Nurse PractitionerAn interdisciplinary and collaborative program with a clinical component. Helps nurses learn strategic leadership in tandem with expertise in areas like rural health, public health and homeland security.BSN/RN license
Accelerated BSN to MSNProvides associate’s- or diploma-level nurses the chance to satisfy specific core requirements for an MSN program while completing their bachelor’s degree in nursing.RN License
MSN – Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse PractitionerFocus on acute and chronic health problems of adult patients. Clinical practice in a real-world setting.BSN/RN license
Doctor of Nursing Practice – Family Nurse Practitioner Track (BSN to DNP)Prepare for the highest level of nursing practice and patient-centered care. Successful students earn their MSN and DNPBSN/RN license
Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) – Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (RN Track)Advanced courses and training to provide care for patients with psychiatric disorders, substance abuse problems or medical organic brain disorders.BSN/RN license
Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) – Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (BSN Track)Learn to provide care for seriously ill (complex acute and chronic medical conditions) for ages 13+BSN/RN license


There are many types of nurse practitioner programs and each option usually includes coursework, a guided practicum and/or clinical experience. Some also entail a capstone or nursing project which gives you the opportunity to research modern issues.

If you’re earning your nurse practitioner degree online, you might need to go to your campus for in-person skills intensives. You’ll likely complete clinicals in local settings.

The types of courses and number of supervised practice hours depends on a nurse’s prior education. Also, what s/he chooses as a major (nursing specialty).

We will therefore start out with a brief guide that explains the different entry paths for online NP programs. We will follow this with some common nurse practitioner courses. Then, take a look at some popular focus areas you’ll find when you earn a NP degree online.

Often a nursing school will offer a specific program such as Family Nurse Practitioner with several pathways to pursue it. Speaking with an advisor from a graduate school may lend more insight.

Five of the common entry paths for nurse practitioner programs are listed below:

  1. BSN-MSN: For registered nurses entering the program with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).
  2. RN-MSN: For registered nurses entering the program with a hospital diploma, associate degree in nursing, or a bachelor’s degree other than a BSN. Some schools refer to this track as ADN Diploma-MSN
  3. RN-BSN-MSN: For registered nurses who want the opportunity to earn their BSN while working toward their MSN.
  4. BSN – DNP: For registered nurses entering a Doctorate of Nursing Practice program with a bachelor’s degree in nursing. (also: BSN-MSN-DNP)
  5. MSN – DNP: For registered nurses with an MSN who want the opportunity to earn a DNP


Online nurse practitioner programs usually include balanced and evidence-based curriculums. The aim is to help students develop ‘core competencies’ which are standards for clinical practice. Mastery of these core topics may be useful for students who are preparing to sit for national certifications after graduation.

  • Scientific Foundation – These courses aim to help students meld research, theory, and practice knowledge. You can reasonably expect to study topics such as advanced pathophysiology, pharmacology, physiology, genetics, and communication skills.
  • Leadership – These courses may help nurses learn to assume more complex roles, initiate and guide change. They may help students learn how to manage conflict, negotiate and develop their personal (ethical) leadership style.
  • Quality – These courses are about quality improvement in nursing from the Quality Safety Education in Nursing (QSEN) principles and content. You might also learn about the different local, state and federal laws that govern care.
  • Practice – These types of courses focus on how to identify and solve clinical problems. For instance, you might learn how to review literature and use electronic health records (EHRs). Other topics may highlight team and inter-professional collaboration.
  • Technology – These topics often pertain to the electronic resources nurses use to enhance patient safety. They’ll often cover the information databases used by healthcare systems.
  • Policy – These course topics often provide nurses with the skills to advocate for ethical policies that promote access, equity, quality, and cost. They may cover global issues like infections and population health. You may also study the regulatory process and health policy.
  • Health Delivery – Many such courses focus on nurse informatics and how to use data to improve nursing practice. You might also study finance, business, billing and transitional care.
  • Ethics – These courses may study ethics and how to make ethical decisions. Topics may cover things like hospices and palliative care.
  • Independent Practice – These courses often discuss things like licensure, contract negotiation and regulatory issues. You might also explore different types of screenings, diagnostics and procedures. Other topics might delve into the preventative side of health care and the NP’s role in disease management.


Apart from core courses, NP students may choose to study a specific population group from among the followingv:

  • Adult-Gerontological
  • Family (Across Lifespan)
  • Neonatal, Pediatrics
  • Women’s Health-Gender Related
  • Psychiatric-Mental Health

Below you’ll find some details on common NP concentrations. We suggest you contact any school that draws your attention because clinical hours and specific requirements vary.

Adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner: Provides direct care for acutely and critically ill patients. Programs typically include topics such as pharmacology, health assessments, public policy in health care, and physiology.

Adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner: Promotes holistic health care to members of the adult and older adult population through assessment, diagnosis, and holistic treatment of chronic health problems.

Executive leader: Focus on the administrative side of nursing. This type of program delves into how to manage personnel, develop and implement policy, budget, and use information technology.

Family nurse practitioner, primary care: Promotes holistic health care to adults and children in a family systems context. May diagnose and treat children, adults and the elderly across the lifespan. Common courses include advanced health assessment, advanced pathophysiology and advanced pharmacology.

Neonatal nurse practitioners: Focus on care of newborns. Students might complete extensive clinical work and specialty courses. Some of these might include topics in advanced pediatric health, pharmacology, and nursing care for high-risk newborns.

Pediatric nurse practitioners: work with children from infancy through adolescence. Courses may cover pediatric primary care, child development, and psychopharmacology.

Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners: Provide care for patients with psychiatric disorders, medical organic brain disorders, and substance abuse problems

Nurse educator: Focus on teaching to other nurses. Courses may ready graduates to develop courses and programs which integrate nursing with educational philosophy.


To become a nurse practitioner, students must first complete a 4-year Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN). Post BSN, you’ll need to earn a master’s degree program that trains nurse practitioners. Called MSN or Nurse Practitioner (NP) degrees, these may take from 2 to 4 years.

Time to completion also varies with course load, full or part-time format and track (see above). For instance, some students who enter an MSN program with an ADN or Diploma rather than a BSN will be required to complete extra (e.g. 45 credit hours). The program typically can then be completed in about 2.6 years.



School# of Credits RequiredStart DatesMinimum Months to Complete
Bradley University36Not listed2 years
Purdue Global University49multiple2 years
Walden University63 (quarter credits)multiple27 months


The cost of an online nurse practitioner program often depends on the pathway. If you have fewer credits to accomplish, this may reduce overall tuition. Your tuition may depend on whether you choose an in or out of state program. Recent tuition figures for nursing practice degrees show the averages at $7,248 (in-state public) and $31,171 (out-of-state private). In both cases, tuition is going

School# of Credits RequiredCost Per CreditTotal Tuition Cost
Purdue Global University60 to 90$420$25,200 +
Bradley University36$850$30,600
Walden University63$710$44, 730


Last check, 4,493 degrees awarded to students in family nursing. The majority (3897) of these programs were granted at the master’s level.vii

School2017 Grads Total/Degrees AwardedTuition (Out of State) Graduate (souce: IPEDS)
Wilmington University454$8,388
MGH Institute210$46,925
Rush University160$34,654
Ashland University102$30,840
University of Rio Grande93$20,400
Universal Technology College of Puerto Rico83$8,115


Attending an accredited online nursing school may enable students to seek state or federal financial aid. Financial aid agencies do not fund non-accredited nursing programs. But that’s not all. Graduates of accredited online NP programs may also qualify to pursue advanced studies. This includes post-masters certificates and PhD or DNP degrees. State licensing boards do the same as schools and look at whether or not you earned your NP degree through an accredited nursing program. Accredited online nurse practitioner programs also have to prove they meet quality standards. This means their course plan has to ready students with the core competencies. More on that in the section above.

Plus, such programs must keep their standards up – or continue to better themselves. Accreditation lasts for a specific amount of time, then a school needs to submit to review. If they want to maintain their status, it may motivate a school to stay relevant or improve. Accrediting agencies often monitor the health industry, then form policies that impact a participating schools’ syllabus.


The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) are two major accrediting agencies. Both agencies have databases so you can determine the status of a program or school rather than relying on the school’s website.

ACEN – Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). The ACEN accredits all types of nursing education programs including master’s, baccalaureate, associate’s and diploma.

CCNE – Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). The CCNE accredits baccalaureate, graduate and residency programs in nursing. It does not accredit LPN, Diploma, or ADN programs while the ACEN does.

Career Options for Nurse Practitioners

In terms of the overall workforce, the average age of nurse practitioners is just over 43 years of age though this is declining by 0.88%. Of the 3.98 million people in the workforce, 88.9% are female. This may or may not change as the workforce is growing by 5.25%. vi


Below is a list of the states with the highest employment level of nurse practitioners.viii

StateEmploymentAnnual Mean Wage
New York13,450$117,210


Nurse practitioners are in high demand and reports point to an extra 56,100 jobs through 2026.ix


Nurse Practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNS). The role of a NP varies in each state. Yet often they can prescribe medications, order medical tests, and diagnose health problems. Some work on their own, others collaborate with medical professionals. NPs generally study to work with a specific population group (E.g. pregnant women, children, families, mental health).

Average annual salary (2017): $110,930
Job Growth to 2026: 36% (Much faster than average) Entry-level Education: Master’s degree


Adult Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioners (AGPCNPs) are APRNs who have advanced clinical training with the primary care of older patient groups. They may in fact work with patients from adolescence through adulthood and from adulthood to the elderly. In contrast, an AG-ACNP, works with adult patients who face chronic or acute illness.

Average annual salary (2017): $110,930
Job Growth to 2026: 36% (Much faster than average) Entry-level Education: Master’s degree and specific license(s)xi


Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) provide anesthesia and related care. Such care may come before, during, and after surgical, therapeutic, diagnostic, and obstetrical procedures. Before a surgery, a CRNA discusses medications with their patient. S/he may then administer general, regional or local anesthesia and monitor patient vitals

Average annual salary (2017): $165,120
Job Growth to 2026: 16% (Faster than average) Entry-level Education: Master’s degree and specific licensexii



© Education Connection 2019. All Rights Reserved.

EducationDynamics maintains business relationships with the schools it features.

Sources for school statistics is the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.

This is an offer for educational opportunities that may lead to employment and not an offer for nor a guarantee of employment. Students should consult with a representative from the school they select to learn more about career opportunities in that field. Program outcomes vary according to each institution’s specific program curriculum.