Question: How long is a Nurse Practitioner (NP) graduate certificate program?
Updated: February 3, 2024
Answer: The time it takes to complete an NP certificate generally ranges from 12 months to two years, depending on the student’s chosen specialization, their previous graduate-level training in nursing (including both coursework and clinical hours completed as part of their Master of Science in Nursing degree), and whether they pursue a full-time or part-time course of study. There are also a limited number of programs that allow students to earn their graduate certificate in as few as two semesters, or seven to eight months.
NP certificates, otherwise known as post-master’s nurse practitioner certificate programs, are an efficient way for nursing professionals who already hold an MSN and/or DNP to become a NP or add a new NP specialty. Ultimately, the goal of an NP graduate certificate program is to prepare registered nurses to sit for the national NP certification examination in their desired specialty*. Whether students are already certified and licensed, practicing NPs, or non-APRN nursing professionals, there are post-MSN graduate certificate programs designed to help them expand their scope of practice.
In general, NP certificate programs can be categorized into three different types:
- NP certificate programs that admit licensed registered nurses (RNs), as long as they hold a minimum of an MSN in any specialty (including non-clinical specialties) from an accredited institution. These programs tend to be comprised of a set of core clinical courses, followed by NP specialty courses and clinical practicums.
- NP certificate programs that accept licensed RNs who are already certified NPs in any specialty. These programs tend to be comprised of specialty courses and clinical practicums, as it is generally assumed that students have completed core clinical coursework in their previous MSN program.
- NP certificate programs that only accept licensed RNs who are certified NPs in a specific specialty (for example, pediatric acute care nurse practitioner, family nurse practitioner, or women’s health nurse practitioner). These programs typically consist of specialty courses and clinical practicums, as students who are admitted into these programs are generally expected to have completed fundamental clinical nursing coursework in their previous MSN program.
Nurse practitioners researching post-MSN graduate certificate programs should note that, in many cases, they may qualify for admission into more than one of the types of programs listed above. For example, practicing psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNP) would be eligible for admission to NP certificate programs that require an NP certification/ license for admission as well as programs that do not require an NP license for admission. Typically, schools of nursing conduct what is referred to as a gap analysis of an admitted student’s transcript to determine the specific courses and number of clinical hours needed to earn a post-master’s certificate. Therefore, practicing NPs typically do not need to attend a program that requires an NP license for admission.
*Note: NP certification examinations offered by nursing credentialling organizations are different from NP certificate programs offered by colleges and universities. NP certificate programs are designed to prepare students for national NP certification examinations and to meet state licensing requirements. For more information, be sure to check out our FAQ on What is an NP Certificate Program? Finally, requirements for NP licensure differs by state–while some states require NP candidates to obtain national certification and board of nursing licensure as an NP in their desired specialty, other states may only require state licensure. RNs and APRNs who are interested in working in a particular specialty should consult their state boards of nursing for the most accurate information about the required credentialing, including certification and licensure, for them to practice in their state.
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Length of NP Certificate Programs that Do Not Require an NP License for Admission
Post-master’s NP certificates generally take longer for students who did not earn their MSN in a clinical specialty and/or who do not practice as NPs. This is due to the fact that these students are often required to take core courses that cover the essential theories, principles, and methodologies of advanced practice registered nursing before embarking on their NP specialty coursework and practicums. For MSN-trained registered nurses who are not APRNs, most NP graduate certificate programs take between 16 and 24 months to complete, depending on whether a student enrolls full-time or part-time. Students may also be able to find programs that can be completed in 12 months of continuous enrollment.
Below is a sample 24-month curriculum for a Family Nurse Practitioner post-master’s certificate program for a student who has not completed a clinically focused MSN or DNP program, and who is enrolled full-time (for students who elect to pursue their course of study part-time, the time it takes to complete their certificate might span longer than 24 months, depending on how many credits they can take per quarter).
Two-Year Full-Time FNP Certificate Curriculum Plan
*Note: The precise number of clinical practicum hours that an NP certificate program in a particular specialty requires depends on that NP specialty’s certification requirements, which themselves are determined by credentialing bodies such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB), and others. For more information on NP credentialing bodies and their relevance to NP certificate requirements, please see our FAQ: What is an NP Certificate? In addition, students may be given credit for some of the clinical hours they completed as part of their MSN or DNP degree if the scope of practice of those placements (i.e., patient population) overlaps with scope of practice of clinical hours that are required as part of the graduate certificate program.
Length of NP Certificate Programs that Require an NP License for Admission
For practicing NPs (and other MSN-trained APRNs), an NP certificate may take between eight and 24 months, with many programs taking between 12 and 18 months on average. How long a post-master’s NP graduate certificate takes depends on whether students pursue a full-time or part-time course of study, as well as how many relevant course credits and clinical hours they can transfer into the program from previous MSN coursework and clinical experiences. Programs that accept NPs of any specialty and programs that only accept NPs within a particular specialty tend to have similar curriculum structures and times to completion, because each type of program, as mentioned previously, is generally comprised of specialty coursework and clinical practicums.
Post-MSN NP certificate programs that require an NP license for admission typically expect students to have completed key prerequisite courses, including but not limited to courses in human anatomy and physiology, advanced health assessments, human pharmacology, human pathophysiology and disease prevention, and disease management (prerequisite course titles and content vary by program). Many programs also require applicants to show proof of a certain number of hours of clinical experience, with some programs outlining specific requirements about the patient populations students have worked with. Students who have not completed the required prerequisites for their desired program must take these courses either at the institution at which they wish to enroll, or at a qualifying institution whose course credits are eligible for transfer into their NP certificate program.
To illustrate the curriculum structure and potential timeframe to completion for an NP certificate program that requires an APRN license for admission, below is a sample one-year, full-time curriculum and a sample 24-month, part-time curriculum for an NP certificate in psychiatric mental health nursing that teaches classes by the semester system.
12-Month Full-Time PMHNP Certificate Curriculum Plan
24-Month Part-Time PMHNP Certificate Curriculum Plan
*Note: See note above about variance in required clinical practicum hours for different NP certificate programs, depending on the certification requirements of the respective NP specialties’ credentialing bodies, and state board of nursing licensure requirements for specific NP specialties.
While the above sample curriculum plans for the different types of NP certificates available to different nursing professionals, both clinical and non-clinical, are meant to provide students with an idea of the time commitment necessary to complete these programs, prospective students should keep in mind that their graduate certificate experience will be unique to them, and dependent upon the factors explained above such as chosen nursing school, NP specialty, and past clinical and educational work. As a result, individuals should conduct thorough research by consulting directly with the admissions offices of the programs that interest them, in order to gain the most relevant and up-to-date information about whether a particular NP certificate program matches their career goals and timeline for pursuing a post-master’s NP graduate certificate.