Nurse Practitioner (NP) Graduate Certificate Programs
To advance in the nursing profession, individuals require not only years of clinical practice, but also formal training and educational attainment. Licensed Registered Nurses (RNs) occupy mid-level clinical positions throughout the healthcare system and are typically required to hold either an Associate’s Degree in Nursing or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from a CCNE or ACEN-accredited institution (RNs are not required to have graduate training). Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN) represent the next level of career advancement for RNs who have completed graduate training in a clinical specialization and who have applied to their state board of nursing for licensure as an APRN in their chosen specialty.
The APRN designation applies to several classifications of graduate-trained nurses, including Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNS), Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNA), Certified Nurse-Midwives (CNM), and Nurse Practitioners (NP). It does not apply to RNs whose graduate training is in nursing administration, nursing education, nursing informatics, or any of several other non-clinical specializations. However, RNs who hold a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree in a non-APRN specialization can become APRNs by completing a graduate certificate program in an APRN specialty (as long as this graduate certificate program fulfills the requirements that their state’s board of nursing puts forth for APRN licensure in their desired specialty).
Current APRNs can add a new specialization via NP graduate certificate programs as well. These programs provide RNs who have already completed a graduate degree with only those courses and supervised clinical hours needed to qualify for state licensure and/or professional certification in an NP specialization. Thus, for qualified RNs who hold a minimum of an MSN degree and APRNs who want to add a new specialty, NP graduate certificate programs represent an efficient means of completing NP training without the expense and time commitment required to earn a second graduate degree in an NP specialization.
Advanced Practice Registered Nursing and Nurse Practitioner (NP) Specializations Explained
Advanced Practice Registered Nurses, or APRNs, are a category of licensed and/or certified senior-level clinicians who have graduate training in a clinical specialty and who are entrusted with greater responsibilities and a broader scope of practice than RNs. For example, APRNs are qualified to order and interpret diagnostic medical tests, manage and direct patient care autonomously and in consultation with physicians and other allied health professionals, and prescribe treatments and medications subject to the prescriptive authority granted by the state in which they practice.
Nurse Practitioners, or NPs, represent a broad category of APRNs who provide primary and/or acute care to specific patient populations throughout the healthcare system, in hospitals, medical centers, outpatient clinics, residential care facilities, private medical practices, and other clinical settings. NPs train in a specialization that aligns with a professional certification or credential (which are offered by several professional organizations* depending on the specialty) as well as with the requirements for licensure outlined by their state’s board of nursing. Licensing requirements vary by state, and most states license NPs by specialization. While professional certification is not required for NPs by all states, licensure through one’s state board of nursing is required by all states in order for an NP to practice. However, most employers require NPs to hold a professional credential in their area of specialization in addition to being licensed. These specializations include:
- Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AGACNP)
- Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP)
- Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
- Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP)
- Pediatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (PACNP)
- Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (PPCNP)
- Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)
- Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP)
There are also NP subspecialties, including but not limited to Cardiology, Emergency Medicine, Oncology, Orthopedics, and Palliative Care. However, NPs generally choose to train in a primary specialization in order to qualify for certification and licensure prior to training in a subspecialty.
Identifying and Classifying NP Graduate Certificate Programs
Nurse practitioner graduate certificate programs have several identifying features: 1) They are non-degree academic programs, typically offered by accredited colleges and universities that have schools or departments of nursing with programmatic accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN); 2) They provide didactic instruction and clinical training in a recognized NP specialization sufficient to qualify program graduates for national certification and/or state licensure in that specialization; 3) The didactic instruction and clinical training they provide focus primarily or exclusively on the skills and knowledge necessary to become an NP in a particular specialization, by building off of students’ previous graduate work in nursing; and (related to the previous point), 4) They require applicants to be licensed RNs and to hold a minimum of an MSN degree, although RNs with a DNP degree are also eligible for NP graduate certificate programs.
Among the programs that fit the criteria above and can thus be classified as NP graduate certificate programs, there are three main types that are defined by their admission requirements:
- Post-Master’s NP certificate programs that are designed for RNs who have completed an MSN or DNP degree in any specialization
- Post-Master’s NP certificate programs that require RNs to hold an MSN or DNP degree and to have successfully completed training in an APRN specialty
- Post-Master’s NP certificate programs that require an MSN or DNP degree with training in a specific APRN specialty
The above criteria are important because students with an MSN in nursing administration or nursing education, or students who are practicing clinical nurse leaders, who wish to become nurse practitioners need to look for graduate certificate programs that accept applicants with any type of MSN degree. Practicing APRNs have additional options in that they can also apply to programs that require an APRN degree for admission. In general, APRNs can explore both types of programs, as they will have similar curricular requirements (see below for more information).
In addition, some NP graduate certificate programs require applicants to have completed one or more years of post-MSN or post-DNP nursing experience, either in general RN practice or a specific area of nursing, such as family nursing, primary or acute care nursing, or pediatric nursing. Finally, while program names can vary, most schools use one of the following for their program names: NP graduate, post-graduate, post-master’s, or post-MSN certificate programs.
NP Graduate Certificate Coursework
The coursework required by NP graduate certificate programs generally consists of two or three didactic courses in the theories, principles, and evidence-based practices of advanced practice nursing in the program’s area of specialization (e.g., family nursing, pediatric nursing, women’s health nursing), as well as two or three clinical placements or practicums in which students learn under the guidance of a qualified preceptor. As a result, curricula vary by specialization, as well as by program, school, and the entry level of the student. RNs who have not previously trained in an APRN specialization, for example, may require general advanced practice nursing courses that students who have prior APRN training do not need to repeat in order to qualify for certification/licensure. Similarly, APRNs who have completed clinical rotations in one or more of the areas required by the program may be exempt from some of a program’s clinical requirements.
Regardless of a program’s designated entry point, most programs conduct a gap analysis for each student in order to determine the courses and clinical hours that students must complete in order to prepare for professional practice in their desired NP specialization. Licensure and/or certification in most NP specializations requires a minimum of 500 supervised clinical hours in that specialization, coursework that addresses relevant issues in that specialization, and general NP training in advanced patient care. This general training component does not vary significantly by NP specialization and includes coursework in the following areas:
- Advanced Pharmacology
- Advanced Physiology/Pathophysiology
- Advanced Patient Assessment
- Differential Diagnosis
- Clinical Decision-Making
Again, students who have already completed these courses are typically not required to take them again as part of the gap analysis process. Specialization coursework then covers topics pertinent to the specialization’s particular patient population group (i.e., pediatric acute care or pediatric primary care patients), contemporary issues and concerns in that specialization, and common diseases, illnesses, and medical conditions present within that patient population.
Online NP Post-Graduate Certificate Programs
NP graduate certificate programs are generally structured to accommodate RNs who intend to continue working while in school. Many schools allow students to enroll part-time or have policies that permit students to opt for full- or part-time enrollment, and some programs hold classes in the evenings or on weekends to minimize conflicts with student work schedules. In addition, it has become increasingly common for schools to offer NP graduate certificate programs online, which has the dual advantage of increasing the convenience of the program and extending its reach to students who do not live within commuting range of the school offering the program.
An online NP graduate certificate program is a program that offers all or most of its didactic coursework online, using either asynchronous instruction or a combination of synchronous and asynchronous instructional methods. Synchronous instruction is the term used to describe learning activities that take place in real time, such as live-streamed lectures and virtual class sessions. Asynchronous instruction encompasses a broad range of learning experiences that do not have a real-time component, such as the viewing of pre-recorded lectures and class modules. Programs that utilize synchronous instruction offer a more structured learning experience than programs that offer all of their instruction asynchronously. However, students must be able to set aside time to participate in the live sessions. Programs that offer all of their didactic instruction using asynchronous instruction afford more flexibility from a scheduling point of view, but they generally require students to exercise a greater amount of self-discipline and self-motivation in order to keep up with course materials and complete assignments on time.
Regardless of instructional method, online NP graduate certificate programs require students to complete in-person clinical hours at program-approved sites. Clinical placement policies vary by program, although most programs make an effort to help students find a suitable site that is convenient for them. Nevertheless, students who are considering an online program offered by a school in another state should contact a program administrator regarding potential clinical placements prior to submitting an application**.
While some online NP graduate certificate programs offer all of their didactic coursework online, others require students to attend a limited number of campus visits for orientations, workshops, seminars, hands-on skills labs, and other learning activities that benefit from face-to-face interaction. These campus visits, also called on-campus intensives (OCIs) and immersion sessions, are typically short in duration and may be scheduled over a long weekend or week during the summer to minimize inconveniences. While in person instruction can enhance an online program, campus visits require travel and may create scheduling conflicts for some students.
Online NP certificate programs that require more than three campus visits per year may not be practical for students who do not live within commuting distance of the school offering the program, and are classified as blended or hybrid online programs by GraduateCertificates.com. Blended and hybrid programs deliver a mix of online and campus-based coursework in a range of formats, from several courses that require weekly, biweekly, or monthly campus-based classes combined with regular online meetings, to programs that offer some courses on-campus and other courses fully online.
Examples of Online Post-MSN NP Certificate Programs
The schools listed below offer NP graduate certificate programs that provide a representative overview of the kinds of programs that are currently offered online.
The University of Cincinnati (UC) offers two online NP graduate certificate programs: an online Post-Master’s Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) Certificate program; and an online Post-Master’s Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) Certificate program. Both programs are designed for RNs who hold an MSN degree in any specialization, APRN or non-APRN, and both programs require applicants to have a minimum of one year of post-MSN clinical experience. Students enrolled in the programs must complete 504 supervised clinical hours as part of the curriculum. The FNP post-master’s certificate does not require any campus visits, while the PMHNP program requires students to attend one campus-based session at the UC College of Nursing during the first semester of the program. RNs who have already taken courses in advanced pharmacology, advanced physiology, and advanced patient assessment can finish either of the programs in four semesters. RNs who require these courses typically take five semesters to graduate. For further information on these programs, visit the UC College of Nursing at www.nursing.uc.edu.
The University of Massachusetts Boston (UMass Boston) has a Nurse Practitioner Post-Master’s Certificate program that is designed to accommodate qualified RNs who hold any MSN degree. The UMass Boston program has two specialization options: Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP); and Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP). RNs who do not have prior training in an APRN specialization are eligible for a 21-credit track. Licensed APRNs who have prior training in the FNP, AGACNP, PACNP, or PPCNP specialization are eligible for a shorter, 12-credit option. All students are required to complete a minimum of six credits of didactic study in their specialty area and 300 hours of supervised clinical practice. The program does not require any campus visits. For more information on this program, visit the UMass Boston College of Nursing and Health Sciences at www.umb.edu/academics/cnhs.
Johns Hopkins University (JHU) offers an online Post-Master’s Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) Certificate program and an online Post-Master’s Pediatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (PACNP) Certificate program. Both programs require applicants to have already trained and earned licensure in an NP specialization, and the PACNP program is designed specifically for licensed and practicing PPCNPs (i.e., NPs who have trained in the pediatric primary care specialization). The PMHNP post-master’s certificate program consists of 17 credits of coursework, including up to 500 clinical hours. The PACNP program requires the completion of 14 credits, including three practicums for a total of up to 672 clinical hours. For more information on these programs, visit the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing at www.nursing.jhu.edu.
More Nurse Practitioner Graduate Certificate Programs
|Barry University||Miami Shores, FL||Post-Graduate Nursing Certificates|
|Drexel University||Online; Philadelphia, PA||Post-Master's Nurse Practitioner Certificates|
|Duke University||Online; Durham, NC||Post-Graduate Nursing Certificates|
|East Tennessee State University||Online; Johnson City, TN||Nursing Graduate and Post-Master's Certificates|
|Georgetown University||Online||Post-Graduate APRN Certificates|
|Johns Hopkins University||Online; Baltimore, MD; Washington, DC||Nurse Practitioner Post-Master's Certificates|
|Maryville University||Online||Post-Master's Nurse Practitioner Certificates|
|The University of Arizona||Online; Tucson, AZ||Nurse Practitioner Certificates|
|The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill||Online; Chapel Hill, NC||Post-Graduate Advanced Practice Registered Nurse Certificates|
|The University of Toledo||Toledo, OH||Post-Graduate Nursing Certificates|
|University of California, San Francisco||San Francisco, CA||Post-Master's Nurse Practitioner Certificates|
|University of Cincinnati||Online; Cincinnati, OH||Post-Master of Science in Nursing Certificates|
|University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus||Online; Aurora, CO||Post-Graduate Nursing Certificates|
|University of Massachusetts Boston||Online||Nurse Practitioner, Post-Master’s Certificates|
|University of Pennsylvania||Philadelphia, PA||Post-Graduate APRN Certificates|
|University of South Alabama||Online; Mobile, AL||Post-Graduate Nursing Certificates|
|Vanderbilt University||Nashville, TN||Post-Master’s Certificate Programs|
|Wilmington University||Online; New Castle, DE||Post MSN Nurse Practitioner Graduate Certificates|
*Organizations that offer professional certification in an APRN specialty include: the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) (specialties: AGACNP, AGPCNP, FNP, PPCNP, PMHNP), the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB) (specialties: AGPCNP, FNP), the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN) (specialties: AGACNP), the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB) (specialties: PACNP, PPCNP), or the National Certification Corporation (NCC) (specialties: NNP, WHNP).
**For students considering an online program offered by an out-of-state school, it is also important to note that some post-master’s NP certificate programs do not accept applicants from all 50 states. In addition, licensing requirements for NPs vary by state and are set by each state’s board of nursing or health professions. Therefore, students should research the requirements for licensure in their state of residence and speak with an admissions advisor to confirm the program accepts students from their state and that the program offers the curriculum needed to meet their state’s licensing requirements.
Additional Graduate Certificates in Nursing
- AGACNP Graduate Certificate Programs
- AGPCNP Graduate Certificate Programs
- FNP Graduate Certificate Programs
- Nurse Educator Graduate Certificate Programs
- Nursing Administration Graduate Certificate Programs
- PACNP Graduate Certificate Programs
- PMHNP Graduate Certificate Programs
- PPCNP Graduate Certificate Programs
- WHNP Graduate Certificate Programs
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