Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) Graduate Certificate Programs
Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) graduate certificate programs are non-degree academic programs offered by accredited colleges, universities, and schools of nursing. These programs provide qualified Registered Nurses (RNs) with the clinical training and didactic instruction required to become licensed FNPs and are designed for RNs who already hold a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. In fact, they are commonly designated as post-graduate or post-master’s certificate programs. In addition to requiring applicants to hold a minimum of an MSN degree, some post-graduate certificate programs in nursing are designed specifically for Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) who are already licensed in an NP specialization other than advanced practice family nursing (i.e., these programs are specifically designed for practicing APRNs who would like to add a second clinical specialty).
Post-master’s FNP certificate programs are comprised of master’s-level coursework in the principles and practices of primary-care family nursing and typically do not require students who have already completed general advanced-practice nursing courses to repeat those courses as part of the certificate program. Once a student is accepted into a program, schools will often conduct a gap analysis of their transcripts in order to determine the specific courses and the number of clinical hours they will need in order to meet FNP training requirements. Students are then directed by a program administrator to complete only those courses and clinical hours needed to establish eligibility to apply for an FNP license and/or national certification. As a result, nurses who qualify for a post-master’s FNP graduate certificate program can typically complete the required coursework and clinical hours in one to two years, rather than the two to three or more years RNs generally devote to earning an MSN degree.
Family Practice Nursing Explained
Family Nurse Practitioners, or FNPs, are APRNs who have undergone graduate training in family practice nursing and have qualified for national certification and/or state licensure as an FNP. The scope of practice for FNPs is rather broad and includes patients across the lifespan, from infants and young children, to adolescents, adults, and the elderly. FNPs are employed throughout the healthcare system, in hospitals, clinics, community health centers, private medical practices, residential treatment facilities, and other settings in which medical services are offered.
The responsibilities FNPs are commonly entrusted with include the following: conducting physical examinations and patient assessments; ordering and interpreting diagnostic medical tests; initiating and monitoring treatment plans; and coordinating treatment plans with other medical and healthcare professionals. While scope-of-practice and prescriptive authority for APRNs varies by state, most state boards of nursing grant FNPs prescribing privileges for some or most medications.
Identifying and Classifying FNP Graduate Certificate Programs
There are three types of graduate certificate programs that provide training and instruction in NP specializations, including the FNP specialization. All three can be classified as post-master’s programs, as they require applicants to be licensed RNs and to hold a master’s (MSN) or doctoral (DNP/PhD) degree in nursing. Most programs are designed to accommodate qualified applicants regardless of their current area of specialization; however, some programs require candidates to be licensed in an NP specialization. There are also a limited number of programs that are designed for NPs with prior training in a specific NP specialization (for example, programs that require students to be practicing Women’s Health Nurse Practitioners (WHNP) who want to gain licensure as an FNP). These three types can be summarized as follows:
- Post-MSN certificate programs that accept any nurse who has completed an MSN
- Post-MSN certificate programs that require nurses to already be practicing APRNs in any specialty
- Post-MSN certificate programs that require nurses to already be practicing APRNs in a specific specialty
It should be noted that RNs who have an APRN can typically apply to any post-graduate certificate program for which they meet the admissions requirements. As noted above, a gap analysis will be conducted to determine coursework and clinical requirements to complete the certificate program.
The primary feature that distinguishes FNP graduate certificate programs from other graduate certificate programs in nursing is the focus of a program’s training. FNP graduate certificate programs, as detailed further in the section below, are designed to prepare students to sit for the Family Nurse Practitioner board certification examination administered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (AANC), which awards the Family Nurse Practitioner-Board Certified (FNP-BC) credential to those who pass the exam. While the FNP-BC credential is not required for licensure in every state, most employers require it and many states use AANC credentials as one of several eligibility requirements for FNP licensure. Thus, FNP graduate certificate programs provide students with only the coursework and clinical hours required for professional credentialing and state licensing, and do not require students to complete additional courses and clinicals that are part of full MSN, DNP, and PhD programs in nursing.
FNP Graduate Certificate Program Coursework
FNP graduate certificate programs are designed to align with the eligibility requirements for FNP Certification (FNP-BC), as detailed by the AANC, and generally meet state requirements for FNP licensure, although specific requirements vary by state. The AANC and most states require FNPs to meet several criteria. These include: a valid and unencumbered RN license; a master’s, post-graduate, or doctoral degree from a college, university, or school of nursing program accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN); a minimum of 500 faculty-supervised NP clinical hours; graduate coursework in advanced physiology/pathophysiology, advanced pharmacology, and advanced health assessment; and graduate-level instruction in health promotion, differential diagnosis, and disease management.
Accredited FNP post-graduate certificate programs are thus equipped to ensure that students can complete their 500 clinical hours and the courses necessary to qualify for the FNP-BC credential. This is accomplished through a gap analysis conducted by a program administrator in order to determine the number of clinical hours and specific courses each student needs in order to meet AANC criteria for FNP certification. Nurses who have successfully completed courses in advanced physiology, advanced pharmacology, and/or advanced health assessment in a prior graduate program are generally not required to repeat these courses in a certificate program. Nurses who have already logged NP clinical training hours with specific patient populations prior to enrolling in an FNP graduate certificate program are typically credited with those hours though the gap analysis process as well (assuming the certificate program requires clinical hours with those patient populations).
As a result, FNP graduate certificate program generally have three or four core FNP courses in the primary care of various patient groups (i.e., children, adults, women, the elderly) that all students are required to complete. Other courses that may be needed for FNP certification and/or licensure are required only for those students who have not received prior training in those areas (i.e., physiology, pharmacology, patient assessment, health promotion, differential diagnosis, and disease management).
The following are examples of courses that are typically part of FNP post-master’s certificate program curricula:
- Roles and Issues for Advance Practice Nurses – An exploration of contemporary issues in nursing and the roles and responsibilities of advance practice nurses.
- Population Health, Epidemiology & Statistical Principles – An introduction to the concepts of population and community health and the use of data, statistical analysis, and the principles of epidemiology to promote wellness and prevent disease.
- Healthcare Policy and Leadership – Exploring the current American healthcare system, its administrative policies, procedures, and regulations, and the role NPs play in providing guidance to patients and leadership for other nurses and healthcare professionals.
- Differential Diagnosis & Primary Care – Evidence-based approaches to assessing patients displaying one or more symptoms and identifying relevant causation in cases where symptoms may be associated with two or more illnesses.
- Primary Care of the Maturing & Aged Family – Common issues and considerations for the FNP when providing healthcare services to older patient population groups.
- Primary Care of the Childbearing & Childrearing Family – Common issues and considerations for the FNP when providing healthcare services to parents before, during, and after pregnancy.
Online FNP Post-Graduate Certificate Programs
Most FNP graduate certificate programs are structured and formatted with working professionals in mind. But some programs offer more convenience and flexibility than others. Traditional, campus-based programs that require students to attend in-person classes are at one end of the spectrum in this regard; online programs that offer all or most of their didactic instruction via interactive, multi-functional, web-based learning management systems (LMSs) are at the other.
An online post-master’s FNP certificate program is a program that leverages digital communication technologies to deliver lectures, instructional modules, and other class materials to students anywhere with a secure internet connection. Students in these programs use a school’s LMS to stream pre-recorded and/or real-time lectures, participate in virtual classroom sessions, interact with instructors and classmates, and complete assignments and exams. Programs that require students to log on to the school’s LMS for regularly scheduled, real-time instruction are said to be utilizing synchronous instruction. Programs that do not incorporate live lectures and/or virtual class meetings utilize a mode of instruction known as asynchronous instruction. While both modes of instruction are effective, synchronous instruction offers less scheduling flexibility than asynchronous instruction. Asynchronous instruction may be less rigid than synchronous instruction, but it requires students to exercise more self-discipline and self-motivation.
Campus visits are another factor to consider when exploring online graduate certificate programs. Most online programs are set up to allow students to complete supervised clinical hours at an approved site in any state or region from which the program accepts applicants*. However, in addition to in-person clinicals, some online programs require students to attend a limited number of campus-based sessions, sometimes referred to as intensives or immersion sessions. These campus requirements may include orientations, workshops, seminars, and/or clinical labs for hands-on training with specific types of procedures.
Campus sessions are typically scheduled for a long weekend or week during the summer and can be a valuable addition to an online program. However, they do require travel and may present an inconvenience to some students. In general, campus visit requirements are more common for online MSN programs compared to online graduate certificate programs. Programs that require more than two or three campus visits per year are classified as hybrid or blended online programs and, depending on the number of campus-based sessions and their frequency, may not be practical for students who do not reside near the school’s campus.
Examples of Online Post-MSN Family Nurse Practitioner Certificate Programs
Below are several examples of online FNP graduate certificate programs that are offered by regionally accredited, non-profit colleges and universities and that have programmatic accreditation from the ACEN or CCNE.
Georgetown University offers an online Post-Graduate Certificate (PGC) program with an FNP specialization. Licensed RNs who hold an MSN, DNP, or PhD in nursing degree are eligible for the program regardless of their area of specialization. The program consists of 19 credits of required coursework and 650 supervised clinical hours, contingent upon a gap analysis. Offered through the Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies (NHS), the program requires students to attend two intensives: one on the NHS campus in Washington DC, and one at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, VA. To learn more, visit Georgetown’s School of Nursing & Health Studies at online.nursing.georgetown.edu.
The University of Massachusetts (UMass) offers a Post-Master’s Nurse Practitioner Certificate with an FNP specialization through UMass Online and UMass Boston’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences. The program, which does not require any campus visits, has a 12-credit track for practicing Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (PNPs) and Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioners (AGPCNPs) that requires 280 hours of supervised clinicals. It also has a 21-credit track for RNs and APRNs who are licensed or certified in one of the following specializations: Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AGACNP); Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP); Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP); Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA); Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM); or Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS).
The 12-credit track can be completed in one to three semesters. The 21-credit track, which requires 560 hours of clinicals, takes a minimum of three semesters to complete. The UMass program accepts applicants who have not received MSN or doctoral training in a clinical specialization, provided the applicant first completes up to four prerequisites (assuming students have not already completed equivalent courses during their MSN program), which adds one or two semesters to the total completion time. To learn more, visit UMass Boston’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences at www.umb.edu.
Regis College offers an Online Post-Master’s Certificate program with an FNP specialization that has two entry tracks for students with varying educational and professional backgrounds. RNs who hold an MSN degree in a non-NP specialty are eligible for a track that takes 20 to 24 months to complete. Practicing NPs who want to add a new (or second) NP specialization can enroll in a shorter track that takes 12 to 20 months to complete, contingent upon the results of a gap analysis. Both tracks require students to complete clinical placements at program-approved sites, but the program does not require any campus visits. To learn more, visit Regis College at online.regiscollege.edu.
More Graduate Certificates in Family Nurse Practitioner
*Online graduate certificate programs in nursing may not accept students from all 50 states. In addition, licensing requirements for APRNs vary by state. Therefore, students considering out-of-state online programs should talk to an admissions advisor before applying to ensure the program accepts students from their state of residence. It is also a good idea for students to review licensing requirements for their state to ensure an out-of-state online program will provide the training to meet those requirements.
Additional Graduate Certificates in Nursing
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