Best Online Nurse Practitioner (NP) Master’s Programs of 2021

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September 24, 2021

Edited By Jordan Stewart-Rozema

Reviewed by Brandy Gleason, MSN, MHA, BC-NC

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If you're an RN who wants to become a nurse practitioner (NP), earning an advanced degree in nursing, such as a master of science in nursing (MSN), is essential. You can begin your career as an NP once you've earned your degree, completed the required number of clinical hours for your specialty, and passed a national certification exam.

MSN programs with a nurse practitioner focus typically include approximately 30-60 credits of coursework and at least 500 hours of clinical practice, though some programs require as many as 800 clinical hours. A student entering with a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) may complete the program in as little as two years.

Although tuition costs vary, nurse practitioner master's programs (MSN-NP) typically cost $35,000-$70,000. In general, online and on-campus programs are comparable in price.

If you're considering a career as an NP, keep reading. We've identified the best online MSN programs for aspiring nurse practitioners.

Nurse Practitioner Programs That Might Interest You

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

What Can I Expect From an Online Nurse Practitioner Program?

The National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties has identified several core competencies for NPs. If you possess strong leadership and analytical skills and can stay calm under pressure, you can excel both as an NP and as a graduate student working toward your MSN degree.

Online nurse practitioner master's programs include 30-60 credits in advanced physiology, pathophysiology, assessment, and pharmacology. Students also take courses in specialty areas, such as pediatrics, gerontology, or psychiatric mental health.

MSN-NP programs typically include approximately 600-700 hours of clinical practice. If you earn your degree online, your program may help you find a facility near you where you can complete your clinical hours.

Many online programs allow students to complete coursework entirely online; however, some programs include limited on-campus requirements. Also, some MSN-NP programs require students to complete a final capstone project. Although program length varies, full-time students with a BSN can usually earn the degree within two years.

Types of Nurse Practitioner Programs

RN-to-MSN/ADN-to-MSN Programs
RN-to-MSN and ADN-to-MSN programs allow RNs with associate degrees in nursing to earn their MSN degrees without first earning their BSNs. Some RN-to-MSN programs award students BSN degrees en route to the MSN. Programs for nurse practitioners typically include approximately 60 credits of coursework and clinical practice hours. Students can often earn their MSN degree in 2-3 years.
BSN-to-MSN Programs
BSN-to-MSN programs prepare students with BSN degrees for both clinical and nonclinical roles. Programs for aspiring nurse practitioners typically include 30-60 credits of coursework and 600-700 hours of clinical practice. Full-time students can often earn their MSN degrees in two years.
Direct-Entry MSN/Accelerated MSN Programs
Direct-entry and accelerated MSN programs cater to college graduates who studied subjects other than nursing in college. Some programs award students BSN degrees while they work toward their MSN degrees, while others do not. Students enrolled in direct-entry MSN programs can sometimes earn their RN licenses, MSN degrees, and NP certifications within three years.
Nurse Practitioner Certificate Program
Nurse practitioner certificate programs allow MSN degree-holders to prepare for certification in a specialty other than the one they pursued while earning their degree. NP certificate programs typically include 18-35 credits of coursework and 500-700 hours of supervised clinical practice. Many NP certificate programs take students approximately 1-2 years to complete.

Learn More About Similar Nursing Programs.

What Courses Will I Take in an Online Nurse Practitioner Program?

Advanced Health Assessment

Students learn how to evaluate and monitor patients' health, record their medical histories, and approach healthcare holistically, taking social and cultural factors into account. Students may have the opportunity to apply what they learn in a lab setting.

Primary Care of the Childbearing and Childrearing Family

This course focuses on evaluating, monitoring, and caring for the health of women and families bearing and raising children. Learners study reproductive health, common health conditions in families with children, and health education for families.

Primary Care of the Aged and Maturing Family

This course covers common diseases and ailments among middle-aged adults and seniors. It also addresses health education and preventative care for older adults and the treatment of chronic and acute medical conditions.

Advanced Psychopharmacology

In this course, students specializing in psychiatric mental health learn how to prescribe medications following national health guidelines. The course builds on and integrates content covered in other classes, such as pharmacology, pathophysiology, and health assessment.

Clinical Concentration Course — Primary Care of the Child I

Focusing on children's healthcare, students develop decision-making and clinical management skills. Readings and discussions address health policy issues, healthcare access, and advanced professional practice in pediatric care.

What Are the Admission Requirements for an Online Nurse Practitioner Program?

Although admission requirements vary by program, requirements for online and on-campus MSN programs are generally the same. Students typically need a BSN to enroll in an MSN-NP program. Unless they are applying to a direct-entry MSN program, prospective students must also hold an active RN license.

Usually, students with bachelor's degrees in nursing meet prerequisites for MSN programs while earning their degree. However, some programs specify that students must complete undergraduate coursework in specific subjects, such as statistics. Students who do not have a bachelor's degree in nursing may be required to complete bridge credits as part of their coursework.

Test Scores

Many online MSN-NP programs do not require GRE scores. However, prospective students who wish to submit their GRE scores to strengthen their applications may be permitted to do so, depending on the program.

Letters of Recommendation

Online MSN programs often require applicants to submit 2-3 letters of recommendation. When choosing a recommender, consider professors and supervisors who can attest to your clinical knowledge and academic and professional potential.

Resume

MSN programs typically ask prospective students to submit a resume or CV detailing their educational background and professional experiences. Many MSN programs state that applicants should have at least one year of clinical nursing experience before applying.

Essays

Applicants are often required to submit an essay or statement of purpose detailing why they are pursuing an MSN and their career aspirations as nurse practitioners. In your essay, consider discussing your clinical experience, personal attributes and skills, and how you plan to advocate for patients as an NP.

Official Transcripts

Prospective MSN-NP students usually submit official academic transcripts as part of their applications. Many online MSN programs specify that applicants should have earned a minimum 3.0 GPA in previous coursework. Some MSN programs accept up to 12 transfer credits for select courses. RN-to-MSN programs may accept up to 18 transfer credits, but this varies by program.

Still Looking for the Right Fit? Discover Similar Programs.

What Can I Do With an Online Nurse Practitioner Degree?

Career Outlook

Nurse practitioners diagnose patients, develop treatment plans, and prescribe medications. NPs typically specialize in caring for a specific group of people, such as children, older adults, and those needing psychiatric mental health services.

The job market for advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) is growing at an impressive pace. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that jobs for NPs, certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), and certified nurse midwives (CNMs) will likely grow 45% between 2020 and 2030. According to the BLS, nurse practitioner is the fourth-fastest-growing occupation in the U.S.

NPs earn much higher incomes than RNs. In 2020, the median annual income for NPs, CNMs, and CRNAs was $117,670. In contrast, RNs earned a median salary of $75,330 that year. According to PayScale data from September 2021, nurse practitioners' average annual income is $98,860.

See where a nurse practitioner master's degree can take you. Learn more about nursing careers.

Career Paths

Graduates of an online nurse practitioner program can choose from several different career paths. Average annual salary data is sourced from PayScale as of September 2021.


Family Nurse Practitioner

Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) work with patients across the life cycle, including infants, adolescents, adults, and seniors. They maintain patient records, conduct physical exams, develop treatment plans, and prescribe medications. FNPs work in community health centers, private practices, universities, and other settings.

Average Annual Salary: $97,010


Gerontological Nurse Practitioner

Gerontological nurse practitioners (GNPs) work with aging patients to manage the physical, mental, and social effects of growing older. GNPs are certified as adult-gerontology nurse practitioners and can work as either primary care or acute care providers. They work in hospitals, nursing homes, senior centers, and patients' homes.

Average Annual Salary: $90,130


Acute Care Nurse Practitioner

Acute care nurse practitioners (ACNPs) work with critically ill and physiologically unstable patients and patients with complex chronic illnesses. Like other NPs, they diagnose and treat patients and prescribe medications. Most ACNPs work in hospitals and urgent care centers.

Average Annual Salary: $103,910


Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner

Pediatric primary care nurse practitioners care for children from infancy to young adulthood. They specialize in preventing and managing common pediatric conditions and work in various settings, including private clinics, schools, and hospitals.

Average Annual Salary: $91,670


Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) diagnose, treat, and manage mental health conditions like dementia, depression, and anxiety. They work in various settings, including psychiatric facilities, hospitals, and mental health centers.

Average Annual Salary: $111,570


Nursing Not For You? Check Out These Related Careers.

Licenses and Certifications

To become an NP, you must hold an active RN license, which you can obtain by earning your ADN or BSN in nursing, passing the NCLEX-RN exam, and meeting other requirements in your state. You can apply for licensure as an APRN once you have earned your MSN and completed other state-specific requirements.

In most states, NPs must take national certification exams to be eligible for licensure. Accredited certification boards include the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board, affiliated with the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), a subsidiary of the American Nurses Association.

Prospective NPs take exams to gain certification in their areas of expertise. For example, individuals who plan to work as PMHNPs take the psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner certification exam offered by the ANCC. The ANCC and AANP both offer exams in family and adult-gerontology primary care.

Below, we've identified some of the different certifications NPs can pursue. These include the women's health nurse practitioner certification offered by the National Certification Corporation, the PMHNP certification provided by the ANCC, and several others.

Continuing Education

NPs who wish to pursue a nursing doctorate may consider earning a Ph.D. in nursing or a doctorate of nursing practice (DNP). Ph.D. programs in nursing emphasize research, whereas DNP programs focus on developing students' clinical expertise.

The number of DNP programs in the United States is growing. In 2006, there were only 20 DNP programs; as of 2013, there were 251. This growth is perhaps attributable to efforts to increase educational requirements for NPs. Some professional organizations have voted in favor of requiring entry-level NPs to earn DNP degrees. However, the MSN remains the standard degree for NPs.

How Do I Choose an Online Nurse Practitioner Program?

Cost

Cost is among the most critical factors to consider when choosing a nurse practitioner master's program. Online programs are not necessarily more affordable than their on-campus counterparts. However, by studying online, you may save on housing, transportation, and other expenses, reducing the overall or true cost of earning your degree.

In general, public universities are more affordable than private ones, and some public schools offer in-state tuition, even to online students.

Program Format

Online programs use synchronous or asynchronous learning formats to deliver course content. Synchronous courses require students to log on at set times, while asynchronous classes allow students to complete course requirements at any time. Some programs offer a mix of both synchronous and asynchronous online classes.

When choosing an online nurse practitioner master's program, consider which format you prefer. While asynchronous classes offer flexibility, synchronous courses permit students and instructors to engage with each other in real time.

Location

Although many online nurse practitioner programs allow students to complete all course requirements online, some include on-campus requirements. You may, therefore, want to enroll at a school close to home or that you can easily travel to.

Also, if you're considering a program outside your home state, ensure the program accepts students from your area. Because regulations governing nursing education and practice vary by state, some online MSN programs are not authorized to provide distance learning to students in select states.

Accreditation

It's essential to choose a program and school that are independently accredited. To be eligible for certification and licensure in most states, RNs must graduate from an advanced degree program accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or the Commission for Education in Nursing.

Clinical Experience

Online MSN-NP students can usually complete clinical hours in their home state. However, if a suitable in-state location is unavailable, students may be required to travel out of state to meet their clinical requirements. When choosing an online nurse practitioner master's program, speak to admission advisors about clinical requirements and placement assistance.

School AANP Pass Rates

MSN-NP programs often advertise what percentage of its students pass their national certification exams. For example, Drexel University's MSN-NP program boasts a 100% pass rate on certification exams offered through the ANCC and AANP. If you're interested in a program, speak to a program representative about certification exam pass rates. Doing so can help you determine the program's quality.

Student Support

Consider choosing a nurse practitioner master's program that offers extensive support services to online students. These may include placement assistance to help you meet the program's clinical requirements, faculty mentoring and guidance, and professional development opportunities for graduates.

2021 Best Accredited Online Nurse Practitioner Master's Programs

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University of Southern California true View School Profile Los Angeles, CA

USC offers an online master of science in nursing (MSN) with a focus in developing holistic skills for advanced nurse practitioners. The curriculum combines online coursework, clinical experience, and on-campus intensives. Learners may choose full-time or part-time enrollment.

Admission requires an accredited bachelor of science in nursing or MSN and a minimum 3.0 GPA. Applicants also must pass a statistics prerequisite course and hold a registered nurse license in the U.S. for the duration of the program. They must have at least one year of clinical experience. Graduates can qualify to pursue national certification as a family nurse practitioner.


Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $2,035 per credit
  • Program Length: 21-33 months
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 49 credits
  • Instruction style: Synchronous
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School Status: Private
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: N/A
  • Program Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • School Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission
Texas A & M University-College Station true View School Profile College Station, TX

Texas A&M offers an online nurse practitioner master's degree for registered nurses (RNs) aspiring to be primary care providers. The master of science in nursing, family nurse practitioner track uses a hybrid learning model, requiring minimal campus visits and clinical rotations in addition to online coursework.

Applicants must hold a bachelor of science in nursing and a current, unencumbered RN license, preferably with 1-2 years of nursing experience. Additionally, students must complete an elementary statistics course and submit their cumulative GPA. Graduates can qualify to take the family nurse practitioner licensure exam.


Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Semester: $6,464 (in state); $12,818 (out of state)
  • Program Length: 6-8 semesters
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 48 credits
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School Status: Public
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 99.28% (2019)
  • Program Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • School Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
George Washington University true View School Profile Washington, DC

GW offers a variety of online nurse practitioner master's degrees. These options include adult-gerontology acute care, family nursing practice, and midwifery. Each nursing program uses a hybrid model, incorporating both online coursework and on-campus experiences.

Learners may choose from full-time and/or part-time enrollment, depending on the program. While individual requirements vary, all of GW's master of science in nursing programs prefer applicants with a minimum 3.0 GPA.


Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: About $1,400 per credit
  • Program Length: 2-3 years
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 48-50 credits
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School Status: Private
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 90% (2021)
  • Program Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • School Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Georgia College & State University true View School Profile Milledgeville, GA

Georgia College's online master of science in nursing features multiple concentrations. These include family nurse practitioner, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, and women's health nurse practitioner. While students complete the majority of coursework online, they also must attend Lab Immersion Week on campus in Milledgeville, Georgia.

Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree in nursing from a program accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing. They also must have a minimum 2.75 GPA during their final 60 undergraduate credits. Prospective students must hold a current, unencumbered license as a Georgia registered nurse.


Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $373 per credit
  • Program Length: 6 semesters (full time); 9 semesters (part time)
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 39-40 credits
  • Instruction Style: Synchronous and asynchronous
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School Status: Public
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 99.06% (2019)
  • Program Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • School Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Samford University true View School Profile Birmingham, AL

Samford offers an online BSN-to-MSN with a family nurse practitioner emphasis through its Moffett and Sanders School of Nursing. Students learn to deliver holistic, evidence-based care.

The curriculum consists primarily of online courses, along with three required campus visits. Students may start the program in January or August. Applicants must hold a bachelor of science in nursing with specialized nursing accreditation. They also should have a cumulative GPA of at least 3.0 and a current, unencumbered registered nurse license.


Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $888 per credit
  • Program Length: 5-6 semesters
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 42 credits
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School Status: Private
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 90.08% (2019)
  • Program Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • School Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Clarkson College View School Profile Omaha, NE

Clarkson offers an online RN-to-MSN program for associate degree-holders looking to earn bachelor's and master's degrees in nursing. Students must complete a sequence of general education, core, major, and optional concentration coursework online, along with minimal on-campus visits.

Learners can choose from concentrations like family nurse practitioner, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, and adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner. Applicants must hold an accredited associate degree or higher and pass an English language proficiency exam.


Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Semester: $7,076 (full time); $3,606 (part time)
  • Program Length: 10 semesters (full time); at least 14 semesters (part time)
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: Varies
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School Status: Private
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 98.1% (2019)
  • Program Accreditation: Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing
  • School Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
Maryville University of Saint Louis View School Profile Saint Louis, MO

Maryville's online master of science in nursing (MSN) program requires no entrance exams or campus visits. The curriculum combines core and concentration coursework in one of several optional specialities, including adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner, family nurse practitioner, pediatric primary care nurse practitioner, and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner.

MSN applicants must hold a regionally accredited bachelor of science in nursing with specialized nursing accreditation and a current, unencumbered registered nurse license. Students also should have at least one year of professional nursing experience and a minimum 3.0 GPA.


Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $813 per credit
  • Program Length: About 2 years
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 41-50 credits
  • On-Campus Requirements: No
  • School Status: Private
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 92.97% (2019)
  • Program Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • School Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
Concordia University-Wisconsin View School Profile Mequon, WI

CUW offers its online nurse practitioner master's degree from a Christian perspective. The program includes concentrations in adult/gerontology primary care nurse practitioner and family nurse practitioner. Students can choose full-time or part-time enrollment.

Applicants must have a minimum undergraduate 3.0 GPA and hold a current, active registered nurse license. Students also must complete a three-credit undergraduate statistics course within five years of applying to the online master of science in nursing program.


Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $779 per credit
  • Program Length: 2-4 years
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 41 credits
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School Status: Private
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 93% (2019)
  • Program Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • School Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
DeSales University View School Profile Center Valley, PA

DeSales' online nurse practitioner master's program emphasizes adult-gerontology acute care. Students can choose full-time or part-time class schedules. Online and hybrid learning options are available. DeSales offers simulation technology to prepare nurses for clinical practice.

Applicants must hold a bachelor of science in nursing with specialized nursing accreditation. They also must have a minimum 3.0 GPA. Prospective students also need a registered nurse license or licensure eligibility in Pennsylvania and at least one year of nursing practice within the last three years.


Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $910 per credit
  • Program Length: 2-3 years
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 50 credits
  • Instruction Style: Synchronous and asynchronous
  • On-Campus Requirements: No
  • School Status: Private
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 94.85% (2019)
  • Program Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • School Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Regis University View School Profile Denver, CO

Regis' online nurse practitioner master's degree includes an emphasis in neonatal nursing. Students complete the majority of coursework online through weekly virtual sessions, along with campus intensives and clinicals in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Graduates may choose to transition into Regis' online doctorate of nursing practice program.

Admission requires a bachelor's degree with specialized nursing accreditation, an active registered nurse (RN) license, two years of RN experience in a level III or IV NICU, a minimum 2.75 GPA, and completion of a statistics prerequisite course. Regis provides one-on-one admissions counseling for prospective students.


Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $910 per credit
  • Program Length: 5 semesters
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 44 credits
  • Instruction Style: Synchronous
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School Status: Private
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 96.15% (2019)
  • Program Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • School Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission

Frequently Asked Questions About Nurse Practitioner Programs

What do nurse practitioners do? true

Nurse practitioners offer primary, acute, and specialty health care services to specific patient populations. For example, pediatric NPs work with patients from infancy through early adulthood, and acute care NPs care for critically ill patients. Although the scope of practice for NPs varies by state, many NPs work as independent practitioners, diagnosing and treating patients and prescribing medications.

Is a nurse practitioner master's degree worth it? true

Earning your degree from an MSN-NP program can lead to a rewarding career with flexible hours, high pay, and plenty of job opportunities. In 2020, NPs, CRNAs, and CNMs earned a median income of $117,670. In addition, the BLS projects that jobs for NPs will increase 52% between 2020 and 2030, making it one of the fastest-growing professions in the U.S.

How long should I work as a nurse before pursuing an MSN-NP? true

Many nurse practitioner master's programs require applicants to have at least one year of nursing experience before enrolling. Some programs require prospective students to have two years of clinical nursing experience. However, applicants to direct-entry MSN programs do not need to be licensed RNs.

Is a nurse practitioner as good as a doctor?

Research suggests that NPs provide the same quality of care as physicians. However, in some states, nurse practitioners' scope of practice is reduced or restricted. In reduced practice states, NPs can diagnose and treat patients but can only prescribe medication under a doctor's supervision. In restricted practice states, NPs require physician oversight to diagnose, prescribe, and treat patients.

How much money can I make with a nurse practitioner master's degree?

According to PayScale data from September 2021, nurse practitioners earn an average salary of $98,860 per year. However, graduates of MSN-NP programs do not earn this much right away. To gain certification and licensure as an NP, graduates must complete additional requirements, such as passing a certification exam.

What are the highest-paying jobs with a nurse practitioner master's degree?

Based on PayScale data from September 2021, acute care nurse practitioners and psychiatric nurse practitioners are among the highest-paid NPs. Acute care nurse practitioners earn an average annual salary of $103,910 per year, while psychiatric nurse practitioners earn an average annual income of $111,570.

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Reviewed by:

As an assistant professor of nursing and entrepreneur with nearly 20 years of varied nursing experience, Brandy Gleason offers a unique perspective. She currently teaches in a prelicensure nursing program and coaches master's students through their culminating projects. Gleason brings additional expertise as a bedside nurse and nurse leader, having held past roles at the supervisory, managerial, and senior leadership levels. Her passion and area of research centers around coaching nurses and nursing students to build resilience and avoid burnout. Gleason is also an avid change agent when it comes to creating environments and systems that contribute to the wellbeing of students and healthcare professionals.

Brandy Gleason is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network.

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