Graduate Certificate Programs in Nursing
The nursing profession is structured hierarchically, with nurses who have higher levels of educational attainment holding more senior clinical and administrative positions compared to nurses who have less academic training. In many settings, nursing is also organized by specialization, where graduate training determines the type of patients, clinical settings, and specific roles and responsibilities that are assigned to professional nurses.
Master’s trained Registered Nurses (RNs) select their initial specialization as part of the process of earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, as the majority of MSN programs require students to select a specialization (there are very few MSN program in general nursing). MSN programs prepare RNs for licensure in an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) specialization and/or qualify RNs to work as nurse administrators, nurse educators, Clinical Nurse Leaders (CNLs), and other types of non-APRN specialists in areas such as nursing informatics, and patient safety and healthcare quality (PSHQ). Among APRNs, there are additional specializations, including Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM), Nurse Practitioner (NP), Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)*, and Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)*. NPs are further broken down into Adult-Gerontology (acute care and primary care), Family, Neonatal, Pediatric (acute care and primary care), Psychiatric Mental Health, and Women’s Health NPs.
At every step along the pathway from RN to APRN, there are accredited academic training programs that provide RNs with the necessary didactic instruction and clinical experience for career advancement and/or the addition of a new practice specialization. Graduate certificate programs fulfill this role for RNs with MSN training or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree who want to add a new specialization without having to repeat the graduate coursework in general nursing practice that is integral to MSN and DNP curricula.
A graduate certificate in nursing program is a non-degree program offered by an accredited school of nursing that provides MSN/DNP-trained RNs and APRNs with an efficient and affordable means of completing the didactic coursework and clinical training required to add a new specialization. These programs are typically comprised of four or five courses that can be completed in under a year, and generally include a clinical practicum or/or supervised internship in order to prepare students for licensure.
Graduate certificate in nursing programs, which may also be referred to as post-master’s or post-graduate certificate programs, are typically designed for practicing RNs who intend to continue their work while in school. Some programs accomplish this by scheduling classes at times that are less likely to conflict with work hours, and others offer all or most of their didactic coursework via online instruction. Thus, RNs who hold an MSN or a DNP degree in one specialization can typically find graduate certificate programs that provide the training needed to add a new specialization, complete the program requirements, and qualify for licensure/certification in approximately one year while continuing to work full- or part-time.
*Note: Registered nurses interested in becoming CRNAs and CNSs should note that these professions will require a DNP for licensure starting in 2025 and 2030, respectively. As such, graduate certificate programs designed to train nurses for these professions will most likely be combined with MSN to DNP programs so that students can earn their DNP while preparing for their new specialization.
Graduate Certificates in Nursing
Learn more about graduate certificate programs in nursing by exploring the programs listed below.
RNs, NPs, and other practicing nurses who have already completed their MSN or DNP training can train to become Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioners (AGACNPs) in one to two years via AGACNP graduate certificate programs. These programs provide students with the courses and clinical experiences required to become certified and/or licensed in adult-gerontology acute care nursing.
Nurse practitioner (NP) graduate certificate programs with an AGPCNP specialization prepare MSN and DNP graduates to practice as adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioners. These programs offer a curriculum that includes the didactic instruction and clinical training required to prepare RNs, NPs, and non-AGPCNP APRNs for state licensure and/or national certification as an AGPCNP.
Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) graduate certificate programs provide RNs who have already completed their MSN degree with a direct pathway to becoming a CNL by completing four, five, or six MSN-level courses in order to prepare RNs for the CNL certification exam offered by the Commission on Nurse Certification.
Post-graduate certificate programs in nursing with an FNP specialization offer training and instruction in the advance clinical practice of family nursing, a primary-care specialty that involves working with a broad range of patients in hospitals, clinics, residential treatment facilities, private practice, and other medical settings. These programs prepare students to apply for the FNP-BC credential administered by the AANC, as well as for state licensure.
Nurse educator graduate certificate programs prepare RNs who hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree and/or a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree for careers in nursing education. These programs, some of which are offered in a fully online format, provide training in pedagogy, student assessment, and curriculum design and may include a clinical teaching practicum.
Graduate certificate programs with an NP specialization are designed to offer Registered Nurses (RNs) and Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) who have already completed a Master of Science (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree with only the training and instruction required to add an NP specialization. These programs can prepare RNs who want to enter a new area of practice for licensure and/or certification in several NP specializations.
Nursing administration and management graduate certificate programs offer Registered Nurses (RNs) who hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and/or a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree with professional training in clinical leadership and managerial skills.
PACNP graduate certificate programs prepare RNs who have already completed a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree with the training and instruction required to become a licensed and/or certified PACNP.
PMHNP graduate certificate programs offer professional training in psychiatric-mental health nursing and prepare qualified Registered Nurses (RNs) and Advanced Practice RNs (APRNs) for licensure and/or certification in the PMHNP specialty. These programs are designed for RNs who have earned either an MSN or DNP degree, and can typically be completed in one to two years.
PPCNP graduate certificate programs provide RNs who hold a graduate degree with a direct pathway to becoming a licensed Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner. These programs can typically be completed in one to two years and require students to take only those courses needed to become a PPCNP, along with the clinical hours necessary for licensure in the pediatric primary care specialization.
Nursing graduate certificate programs with a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP) curriculum provide advanced didactic instruction and clinical training that encompasses gynecological and obstetrical care, as well as other areas of primary and acute care for female patient populations, such as medical care for pregnancy, menopause, and breast and ovarian cancer.