Nurse Practitioner Master’s Degree Program Guide
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Earning a nurse practitioner master's degree provides graduates with the knowledge and skills they need to enter the workforce. Master's programs also prepare future nurse practitioners for state licensure, which they need to practice in the field.
Read on for more information about schools that offer an online nurse practitioner master's degree. Readers can also explore potential courses and concentrations for nurse practitioners, career options, and program costs.
What Is a Nurse Practitioner?
Nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses who oversee patient health and disease prevention. These healthcare professionals can specialize in areas like women's health, gerontology, and pediatrics. Nurse practitioners maintain patient records and manage their patients' treatment plans.
Should I Get a Nurse Practitioner Master's Degree?
Almost all states require nurse practitioners to earn a master's degree to enter the workforce. Nurse practitioners offer more advanced care than registered nurses and need a higher level of education and training.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that nurse practitioners will see 45% job growth between 2019 and 2029 — a percentage much higher than the average projected growth rate for all jobs. According to the BLS, nurse practitioners earned a median annual salary of $115,800 in 2019.
In an online nurse practitioner master's program, students learn essential competencies in diagnosing health problems and analyzing test results. Degree-seekers also learn how to communicate medical information effectively, create and maintain care plans for patients, and promote healthy lifestyles.
What Will I Learn in a Nurse Practitioner Master's Program?
Master's programs prepare future nurse practitioners for the workforce, readying them to pass state licensure requirements. Master's programs build on the basic skills learned in an undergraduate nursing program.
Read on to learn more about courses and concentrations available in many nursing master's programs.
In this course, students learn how exploratory data analysis and probability statistics play a role in the health sciences. Coursework teaches learners how to test hypotheses, explore statistical models with multiple variables, and determine the accuracy of data models in healthcare.
In this course, students explore the history and evolution of the U.S. healthcare system for different demographics. Coursework focuses on the integration of new healthcare technologies into the healthcare system and the future trajectory of U.S. healthcare.
This course teaches nursing students how to make the best healthcare decisions by combining empirical, ethical, and theoretical models. Students learn how to evaluate variables and test their theories.
In this course, learners examine how normal physiology changes under the influence of injury or disease. Students learn important clinical reasoning skills and focus on how etiology, developmental and environmental factors, and pathogenesis present clinically.
During this course, students evaluate research using high-level analytical skills, turn that research into a practical methodology, and explore the impact of ethical reasoning on research applications. Learners may produce original research projects as part of the course.
Aspiring clinical nurse leaders learn how to manage care coordination among different professionals and departments. This concentration focuses on evidence-based practice, research, communication, and leadership skills. Additionally, it often meets requirements for clinical nurse leader certification from the Commission on Nurse Certification.
Nurse educators focus on teaching in colleges, medical schools, and clinical settings. This concentration explores essential skills for educators, including designing curricula and evaluating student work.
This concentration focuses on areas of risk assessment and strategies for improving healthcare quality within hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Students learn how to build a culture of safety and accountability. They also explore potential legal issues surrounding healthcare mismanagement.
Neonatal nurse practitioners care for infants with health issues, such as premature birth or chemical dependence. In this concentration, students learn how to administer medication and oxygen to infants, as well as how to assist with infant medical procedures and surgeries.
This concentration teaches students how to prepare patients for surgery, administer anesthesia, and assist doctors during surgeries and other medical procedures. Students also learn how to provide care instructions to patients and their guardians.
What Can I Do With a Nurse Practitioner Master's Degree?
A nurse practitioner master's degree allows students to specialize in a particular field of nursing — such as gerontology, anesthesiology, or pediatrics — to prepare for their careers.
The following section discusses a few career options for nurse practitioners.
Nurse anesthetists typically assist with surgical and diagnostic procedures by administering anesthesia to patients. These professionals need licensure as nurse practitioners and certification in their particular field. Many nurse anesthetists work in hospitals and outpatient care facilities.
Nurse practitioners in gerontology help patients with physical and mental changes that accompany the aging process. These professionals help aging patients develop treatment and therapy plans to address injuries.
Nurse practitioners in pediatrics work with children from infancy into their early teens. Professionals in this field may undergo specialized training, particularly if they plan to work with infants. Pediatric nurse practitioners often carry out physical examinations, take blood samples, and order diagnostic tests.
Emergency nurse practitioners deal with time-sensitive illnesses and injuries, helping to stabilize and diagnose patients. These nurses can specialize in a particular area of emergency nursing, such as neurological, burn, cardiac, or trauma.
Psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioners diagnose and create treatment plans for patients with mental health issues. These professionals typically staff mental health facilities or hospitals and can work with patients of all ages.
How to Choose a Nurse Practitioner Master's Program
Students should check if their chosen college and nursing program hold institutional and programmatic accreditation. Schools should be regionally accredited by a recognized accreditation agency. For programmatic accreditation, students should look for accreditation by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing.
Students should also determine if the program offers a concentration that meets their interests and will advance their career. Not all master's programs offer the same specialties.
How to Get Into a Nurse Practitioner Master's Program
Most master's programs in nursing require applicants to hold a bachelor's in nursing from an accredited nursing program and a valid registered nurse (RN) license. However, a bachelor's degree is not always required; some programs do offer RN-to-MSN pathways. Additional requirements may include a minimum 3.0 GPA, letters of recommendation, and experience working as an RN in a healthcare facility.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Nurse Practitioner Master's Degree?
A master's in nursing typically requires about 36 credits and takes about two years to complete. Many programs include a supervised practicum, during which students work in a hospital or other healthcare facility to gain experience in the field.
Students interested in completing their degree more quickly can enroll in an accelerated master's program, which allows students to take more classes in a shorter period of time. Students enrolled in accelerated programs must study full time.
Nurse practitioners need a registered nurse license and an advanced practice registered nurse license. They may also need to pass an examination. Additionally, to renew or maintain their license, nurse practitioners typically complete regular continuing education units. Requirements differ by state.
How Much Does It Cost to Get a Nurse Practitioner Master's Degree?
Tuition for a nurse practitioner master's degree often ranges from $35,000-$60,000. However, tuition costs differ depending on the type of school, the location, and whether a student qualifies for in-state tuition. Many programs also offer different tuition rates for in-person and online learners.
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